Vice President Mike Pence recently visited the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. A few years ago I was also blessed to travel to this unique area of the world as well. I visited the Eastern European country of Lithuania for three days. This beautiful and incredibly small Catholic country of castles, cathedrals, and philosophical people made a profound impact on me.
Lithuania was at one time its own kingdom. At other points in time, Lithuania was a part of Poland. In 1918, Lithuania became its own state until the start of World War II when it was under Soviet control. During the war Nazi Germany briefly controlled Lithuania, but Lithuania would later be under Soviet control for a far longer period of time, for almost fifty years. Lithuania would only gain its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Day 1: Vilnius and the Old City
You will find that Vilnius, the capital, is filled with many architectural treasures and quiet courtyards. Stroll through the old section of the town; you will find a beautiful shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as a beautiful Catholic Church at the Gate of Dawn, in the Baroque style. You can also visit the oldest Catholic Church in Lithuania, St. Nicholas Church.
Given the incredible history of Vilnius, including occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the museum dedicated to the Cold War in Vilnius is a must see. One can see underground rooms, including places where missiles where stored, as well as view artifacts and photos from that era.
Stop by one of the many lively and vibrant cafes or restaurants in Vilnius to feast on Lithuanian cuisine. This type of food is hearty and filling. Try dumplings, borscht, sausages, potatoes, or pastries. A wonderful typical Lithuanian dish is blynai or crepes, which can be filled mushrooms, meat, cheese or a variety of other fillings.
Stroll through the amazing Europa Park in Vilnius. This wonderful place is filled with incredible artistic creations from over 100 artists. Lithuania is full of artistic types of people.
Day 2: The Seaside Resort of Palanga
Travel outside Vilnius to the incredible Baltic seaside resort of Palanga on the Baltic Sea, which dates back to the 1800s. The sand is a beautiful white color and there are beautiful pine trees and lovely dunes here. Here you can enjoy the sea and swimming. There are also many wonderful cafes on the lively Basanaviciaus Street. One can sightsee at the Palanga Amber Museum, which is housed in a beautiful neoclassical-style building. The museum has an enormous collection of amber, dating back to the prehistoric era.
Day 3: The Hill of Crosses and Kaunas
Visit the Hill of Crosses in northern Lithuania. This hill is an incredible symbol of Lithuania’s enduring Catholic faith and is well-worth seeing. St. John Paul II visited here on September 7, 1993. It is a place of pilgrimage. He proclaimed that this place was one of hope, endurance, faith, and sacrifice.
It is thought that the first cross was left here around 1831. Over time, pilgrims have left not only crosses of varying sizes, but also statues of Our Lady and rosaries here. The Soviets tried to destroy the Hill of Crosses over three times by bulldozing the area, but the pilgrims kept rebuilding the hill and putting up new crosses.
It is thought that there are more than 100,000 crosses on this hill currently. The Hill of Crosses is symbolic of the Lithuanian people’s love and belief of God in the face of despotism and continuous oppression. Love wins. God wins.
Also on day 3, you might also visit the charming city of Kaunas, which is a little smaller than Vilnius. Go see the medieval fortress-style Kaunas Castle. The Gothic Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in this town is also exquisite.
You should also pay a visit to the Church of St. Michael the Archangel and the Pazaislis Monastery, an Orthodox monastery which dates from the 17th century. The Presidential Palace houses a great deal of history and was the seat of the government between World War I and World War II. In addition, Kaunas has many museums dedicated to remembering Lithuania’s fight with foreign occupants, notably the Museum of Deportation and Resistance.
Aside from all the lovely places to visit in Lithuania, I encourage you to take time to talk to the people in Lithuania. They are wonderful people who have had a long history of suffering which has strengthened them. During the Cold War, they had very few material goods, which intensified their love for God and the Catholic faith. The people had to worship God in private. You will hear many stories of Lithuanian parents who had to have their children secretly baptized in other towns for fear of the Communists.
Lithuania is a unique country in Europe filled with castles, cathedrals, and museums from many different eras. As a Catholic single, I recommend this country for its rich Catholic heritage. Don’t miss it.