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The Strength of a People

The Hill of Crosses, located in the diocese of Siauliai in Lithuania, serves as a testament to the suffering, endurance, and great faith of the Lithuanian people and the Catholic Church spread throughout the world. The Hill of Crosses began in 1831 as a way for Lithuanians fighting for their freedom against Tsarist Russia to honor their dead. More crosses were gradually added during the rebellion of 1863. However, the Hill of Crosses would soon endure destruction and annihilation. Fewer crosses were present on the hill throughout WWI. During the interwar period, the hill maintained temporary stability as Lithuania enjoyed independence, but during Germany’s occupation of Lithuania the hill grew stagnant again. The worst tragedies occurred under Soviet control, as the landmark of Catholic and Lithuanian pride stood in stark contrast to the atheistic and Russian occupants. In 1967 and 1975 the Soviets transported bulldozers to the hill and left behind ruins on the field. When the Soviets were not bulldozing the hill, they burned the crosses, turned them into scraps, and demolished them. For good measure the Soviets dumped garbage on the hill, posted troops on the surrounding plains, and closed nearby infrastructure. All these things they did to assure that the Lithuanians were both literally and symbolically defeated. Yet the hearts of the Lithuanians burned bright, and by night they restored the lost and destroyed crosses until they returned to and surpassed previous numbers. After all, the Hill of Crosses served as a place for Lithuanians to show their spirit of freedom and faith in a brighter future.

That day came in 1985 when Soviet harassment of the site stopped, and Lithuanians no longer had to risk injury and death to honor their God. In 1993 Pope John Paul II prayed at the Hill of Crosses and gave thanks “for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land”. In 2000 a Franciscan monastery established a chapel near the hill. Behind the altar there is a glass pane which allows the churchgoers to gaze upon the Hill of Crosses. Today the Hill of Crosses is known as a pilgrimage site, and it is common for pilgrims to leave a cross on the hill. The Hill of Crosses displays the power of a community devoted to God despite many difficult challenges. Now more than 100,000 crosses prevail over the enemies of Lithuania and Christ; those who wished to see both driven into the dirt.