US-Born Lithuanian Archbishop Elected President of European Bishops’ Council

Following his election as CCEE president, Archbishop Grušas is expected to play a significant role in the continental stage of the two-year process leading to the synod on synodality.

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas celebrates Mass at the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Archbishop Gintaras Grušas celebrates Mass at the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Vilnius, Lithuania. (photo: Archdiocese of Vilnius. / Archdiocese of Vilnius)

ROME — Members of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences elected a U.S.-born Lithuanian archbishop as their next president on Saturday.

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius succeeds the Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who led the CCEE from 2016.

The 60-year-old archbishop was born in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 1961, to a family of Lithuanian origin. He spent the first half of his life in America, becoming heavily involved in Lithuanian Catholic organizations. 

Delegates also chose two new vice-presidents on Sept. 25 at the CCEE’s plenary assembly in Rome: Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Bishop Ladislav Német.

Bishop Hollerich, 63, is the archbishop of Luxembourg, the president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and relator general of the 2023 synod on synodality.

Bishop Német, 65, is the bishop of Zrenjanin, Serbia, and president of the International Bishops’ Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Belgrade.

The CCEE’s plenary assembly took place on Sept. 23-26 in Rome in honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary. 

The council, based in St. Gallen, Switzerland, was established in 1971 to strengthen cooperation between European bishops’ conferences.

The CCEE has 39 members, comprising 33 bishops’ conferences, the archbishops of Luxembourg, the Principality of Monaco, the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus, the bishop of Chişinău, Moldova, the eparchial bishop of Mukachevo, and the apostolic administrator of Estonia.

The plenary assembly opened with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

In his homily, the Pope said: “Let us help today’s Europe — faint with a weariness that is Europe’s current malady — to rediscover the ever-youthful face of Jesus and his Bride. How can we fail to devote ourselves completely to making all people see this unfading beauty?”

According to his official biography, Archbishop Grušas (pronounced “Grushas”) was active at the Lithuanian parish of St. Casimir in Los Angeles and in the Catholic Ateitis Federation, as well as serving as head of the World Lithuanian Youth Association from 1983 to 1987.

He studied mathematics and information technology at UCLA, before gaining a position at IBM. 

“I’m very thankful for my American experience and all that it gave me. I’m also very thankful for my Lithuanian heritage and roots. And I think it’s a blessing to have the mix. They’re actually quite different views of the world,” he told CNA in April. 

“My first language, however, was Lithuanian. When I was born, my mother didn’t speak English, so it was actually my mother tongue in a very strict sense. So I’m very much both [Lithuanian and American]. I think on two channels.”

Following his election as CCEE president, Archbishop Grušas is expected to play a significant role in the continental stage of the two-year process leading to the synod on synodality.

The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

Archbishop Grušas celebrated the CCEE plenary assembly’s closing Mass in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Recalling the Pope’s invitation to Europe’s bishops to “walk together,” the archbishop said: “Let us return today to our countries and dioceses with a renewed commitment to walk this path together into the future, guided by the Spirit of God and listening to God speaking through His Holy People.” 

“We walk listening to the movement of the Spirit in our hearts, first on a more local level, then on a diocesan level, on a national level and listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit we look at where God is leading us as God's people in Europe today.” 

“But we cannot stop here, because the Church is universal and neither national nor continental boundaries limit the people of God. Let us walk together as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church towards a future that God has prepared for us, all brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The CCEE plenary assembly issued a final message on Sept. 25 appealing for unity in Europe.

It said: “On this so important anniversary [of the CCEE’s creation], we invite everyone in Europe to walk together with us. Our words are those of the faith and also those of real reason; they come from the same source, the Word of God, Christ the Lord. There are no forgotten suburbs where He is to be found; there one finds God, believers, and people of goodwill.”

“Together with you we raise our eyes and look forward, far away into the distance so as not to lose our way and not to stop in the meanders of history. Together one sees better and one walks humbly towards horizons of light and peace.”
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