Washington native named archbishop in Lithuania

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has named Bishop Gintaras Grusas, a 51-year-old Washington, D.C., native, to be the new archbishop of Vilnius, Lithuania.

The new archbishop, who has served as head of Lithuania's military ordinariate since 2010, succeeds 76-year-old Cardinal Audrys Backis.

The Vatican announced April 5 that the pope had accepted Cardinal Backis' resignation and had appointed the former IBM technical consultant for marketing to succeed him.

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI named him a bishop in 2010, Archbishop Grusas told Catholic News Service, "I'm not sure if the marketing world took it from Jesus, but there are some basic principles that apply like: People buy from people they like."

"When you evangelize, you don't want to come around with a stick and beat it into people. It just doesn't work," he said.

The new archbishop was born to Lithuanian immigrants and grew up in the Los Angeles area.

His parents were separated by World War II and, after 16 years of being caught behind the Iron Curtain, his mother and 17-year-old sister were among just 200 families allowed to leave the Soviet Union to be reunited with family in the United States. His mom and sister joined his father in 1960, and he was born a year later.

Archbishop Grusas earned a degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of California at Los Angeles and spent five years working as a technical consultant of marketing for IBM, which, he said, helped prepare him for the management and project-planning skills that are necessary as a pastor. During his time at IBM, he also served a four-year term as president of the World Lithuanian Youth Association.

He entered the seminary hoping to serve other Lithuanians outside their homeland. He spent a year at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, then moved to Rome, where he studied at the Pontifical Beda College, the Pontifical Lithuanian College and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was ordained to the priesthood and incardinated for the Archdiocese of Vilnius in 1994.

As a seminarian, he went to Lithuania in 1992 for what was to have been a brief summer pastoral program. Instead, Cardinal Backis asked him to interrupt his studies and stay on to help prepare for Blessed John Paul II's visit in September 1993.

He earned his bachelor's in theology from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1994. Later, he received a license in canon law from the university, and he completed his doctorate there in 2001. Since 2004, he has served as secretary-general of the Lithuanian bishops' conference, a position he also held from 1994 to 1997.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970