Bishop Justs Serves Latvian People in Many Ways

If someone had told Bishop Anthony Justs 10 years ago that part of his pastoral service would be to build a cowbarn for livestock in Latvia, "I would have told them, ‘you’re out of your mind,’" he said. But building the barn indeed became part of his ministry to the Diocese of Jelgava, he told the congregation at St. Leo Church in Fairfax on Nov. 13, where he celebrated the Saturday vigil Mass (right) and delivered a brief and humorous homily. The building he helped construct, earning him the nickname "Bishop Farmer," he said, was for the animals of Latvian elderly "farm people," who had become residents of the Catholic nursing home there. A priest in the Arlington Diocese for 30 years, he returned to his native Latvia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in the early 1990s when the Iron Curtain dissolved. Bishop Justs, who left Latvia when he was 13, "went (back) to look around, and was asked to help" restore his homeland, especially the Church. "I am not ready," he responded to those who asked for his assistance. However, God had other plans for him, he said. In 1996, "the pope made me a bishop and created a new diocese" in Latvia for him to shepherd at 60 years of age. "Why, God, are you putting all these burdens on old priests?" he asked. But by then, the bishop, he said has already aligned his will with God, and went forward to do his duties to the best of his ability. Bishop Justs also celebrated Mass with Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, and visited the parishes of St. Mark in Vienna, Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria and St. Catherine in Great Falls during his visit to the Arlington Diocese. At St. Leo’s, Bishop Justs made a fundraising appeal for four items in Latvia: the seminarians, the elderly, the orphans and the bishop’s quarters. The country of 2 million inhabitants is 30 percent Catholic, 40 percent Lutheran and 14 percent Orthodox. The seminary, known since 1938 as the Catholic Theology Faculty of the University of Latvia, was founded as the Riga Major Seminary after World War I. The institution, which currently has 45 seminarians, accepts 10-15 candidates annually and ordains five to seven priests. "The seminarians come mostly from non-Catholic backgrounds," said Bishop Justs. Because the parents of the seminarians were formed by communist rule in Latvia, "they have no spiritual values to pass on to their children," and these youth mostly "find the Church" through their grandparents, he said. "An ordained priest is a gift to the universal Church, but an especially extraordinary gift to the local Latvian Church, which has survived the communist persecutions," said Bishop Justs. "The seminary is preparing many young priests who will be the light and the salt for the Latvian Church. In the halls where communism once ruled, now a young priest celebrates the liturgy, instructs the people, opens the hearts of the people to the love and knowledge of God."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

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