The Search for Spirituality in Maltesers’ Life
Lithuanian Maltesers are the part of the worldwide organisation, the Order of Malta, which follows the same motto: “Protect the faith and serve to the poor”. This motto has been passed down from generation to generation because caring for the poor is a work inspired by the Jesus Christ’s teachings: at the beginning of Maltesers’ history, being a knight was expressed through defending the Christian faith with the sword, and today it is expressed through daily helping others and seeking spirituality. Thirty years of social selflessness, accompanied by spiritual practices and pilgrimages, have successfully shaped citizenship and empathy – we truly need each other.
The expression of spirituality in social action
Helping those who are most vulnerable is the daily and greatest goal of Maltesers. Social, material and psychological assistance, enriched with the virtues of the Christian faith, becomes the pillar of the life of each disadvantaged – they are able to confide their problems and joys, feel needed and safe, know that they will always be supported and understood. Maltesers’ volunteers make a strong contribution to the spiritual development of the cared people: they pray together with the elderly, arrange a personal conversation with the priest and the sacrament of anointing of the sick, provide the opportunity to make confession, take the disabled people to church to experience the spirituality in a sacred environment, and order Holy Mass for people in care. Coordinator of Spiritual Education and Disability Affairs, Irena Beržinskienė, has experienced: “Spirituality is very important for lonely people, especially for people of faith – the priest is like the sun coming into their home.”
Maltesers’ care is not just a duty – it is a sincere, Christian faith-driven desire “to do good to others”. This attitude often changes the relationship between strangers into a close family one, which not only gives moral comfort to the poor, but also encourages the Maltesers to do not give up. And the greatest and the most important reward for Maltesers is gratitude.
Young Maltesers are on the path of spiritual growth, too: some of them go on pilgrimages, others read liturgical texts, sing in churches and participate in retreats. Young people who develop strong spiritual values grow up socially responsible, public-spirited and empathetic people, which is the foundation of a harmonious and happy state.
A chance to listen to ourselves
The periodic retreats can also help you to gain inner strength for selfless service. A time of intense prayer and concentration to listen to the words of the priest, to reflect in silence, to renew oneself morally, and after the sermon, to talk and share one’s thoughts.
The retreats are led by the priest of the Maltesers, Vytautas Rapalis. He highlights that the principle of evenness is important in Maltesers’ life: “The spirituality of Maltesers follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. If only social activities dominate and spirituality is supported weakly, the daily activities would not be Maltesers-like – we have a balance. Whatever we do, we must be concerned not only with the body, but also with the spirit – these are the foundations of Catholic spirituality. Without the Catholic Church’s teachings on social work, we will be diverted from our roots – after all, all Maltesers’ activities are based on the fundamental principle: “Protect the faith and serve to the poor”.”
The spiritual exercises also involve the Sisters of the Holy Family, Faustina and Kristina, who are accompanied by hymns and spiritual conversations, as well as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Prayers of Praise and Intercession, uplifting members spiritually and making the work more meaningful.
Common prayer in Šiluva
Every September, Maltesers travel with disabled people to Šiluva Feast to pray for the sick in mind and body and for the volunteers who generously care for them. Maltesers from all regions of Lithuania come to the Šiluva Feast in the Day of the Sick for their annual spiritual strengthening. Some come just for that one special day, while others walk the pilgrimage route to hear the testimonies of their companions, to experience the gifts of the Lord and the joy of being a Catholic together with the disabled.
Inga Filipovič, who is called the symbol of Maltesers, has been participating in the Šiluva Feast every year since 2015: “In Šiluva, I always feel peace, joy, goodness, and it seems that everyone has the same thoughts. Even after Holy Mass, when we go to the rectory to celebrate Agape, we don’t leave each other – we just don’t want to be separated. I always look forward to bringing us together and making us feel like human again.”
A soul-cleansing pilgrimage to Lourdes
By taking daily care for people who are hurt in life and wanting to give them hope to cling to life even more strongly, on the first weekend of May, Maltesers from all over the world gather in one of the most visited pilgrimage centres – Lourdes in the south of France. They come to Lourdes to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that God may heal not only them, but also all the sick, and bring coexistence to the world. All this is accompanied by the tradition of taking part in the Candlelight Procession, in which Maltesers from all countries pray a common prayer in all languages, in Prayer Adoration, and in the Way of the Cross. The Lourdes Candle Campaign has been taking place for several years prior to this journey: people unable to visit Lourdes physically are encouraged to purchase blessed candles distributed by the Maltesers and to write down their intentions, which are taken by Lithuanian pilgrims to the shrine of Lourdes and lit along with other candles. Inga Filipovič could not help but admire the view: “I was on the roof of a church in Lourdes when the Maltesers from other countries were giving their evening retreat, and they all lifted their candles up together, singing ‘Ave, Ave, Ave Maria’. That was the one of the most memorable views”. The candles are not only important for personal soul-soothing – the funds raised during the Maltesers’ Lourdes Candle Campaign are used to fund a trip to Lourdes for people with disabilities.
As stories of mysterious healing after bathing in the holy water of the spring spread, people with physical and mental health problems find the light of faith in life. Seeing this transformation also enriches those who accompany people with disabilities – a member of the Presidium of the Order of Malta’s Relief Organization, Rūta Voverytė, who organises Lourdes pilgrimages and volunteers there, shares: “Here, every cell is filled with unconditional love, because the people who volunteer here aren’t looking for benefits, and people with disabilities shares their overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s hard to describe – it is the brightest and most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”
The number of people who are wishing to go to Lourdes grows every year, and disabled people who have experienced the spiritual catharsis of Lourdes at least once are eager to go again next year. Diana Marijošiūtė, a disabled person, remembers: “I have been in Lourdes since I could walk, and it was the first time I travelled with Maltesers in a wheelchair. The experiences were very strong spiritually, although very different. Especially the Way of the Cross, when the Maltesers’ priest Vytautas suddenly came up to me and took my hand. It seems such a simple thing, but for me it was like a seal of Christ’s love, one of the most memorable spiritual experiences. After all, it’s not just about your disability – there are many beautiful things in the world that you can experience just by being.”
Although the pandemic that struck possibility to visit the holy Lourdes in 2021, the spirit of the people is stronger – for the first time, Maltesers gathered in the Lourdes of Palanga, which was built by the initiative of Countess Antanina Tiškevičienė, and prayed for deliverance from the grip of the terrible pandemic, and asked for the health of all of us. This is a great alternative for those who are not able to participate in the international pilgrimage – the national pilgrimage in Palanga should become a beautiful tradition to celebrate spiritual presence together. It is clear that spirituality is our guiding star, acting as the strongest link in the community, even in the most difficult moments of life.