The Rev. Casimir Pugevicius, 71, leader, champion of Lithuanian religious rights

March 03, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Casimir Pugevicius, a champion of Lithuanian religious rights during the Soviet era, died Tuesday of cancer at St. Vincent de Paul's rectory in downtown Baltimore. He was 71.

Born to Lithuanian immigrant parents in Southwest Baltimore near Carroll Park, he was a strong voice for his family's Baltic homeland.

"Father Pugevicius was always the symbol of courage and the truth," said Rolandas Kacinskas, Lithuanian Embassy press secretary.

The Lithuanian government recently awarded him the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas for his years of activism in the 1970s and 1980s, when church activity was not officially banned, but those who attended Masses were observed by Soviet KGB agents and faced other forms of harassment.

"He was one of those people who decided to sell all he had to work for the religious rights of the people of Lithuania," said Marian Skabeikis of New York, a former official of Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid.

Father Pugevicius edited and distributed the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, which exposed the persecution and criminal trials of prominent Roman Catholic believers and the troubles of Catholic schoolchildren and their parents.

"I benignly presided over this bit of religious espionage," he said in an interview last year with The Sun. "Our job was to translate and distribute any information we got from Lithuania and help get into there as much as we could."

Armed with news from his Chronicle, Father Pugevicius testified before congressional committees, petitioned the United Nations and sought support of the U.S. Catholic Conference.

"He had an absolutely first-rate mind," said the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent Roman Catholic Church, where Father Pugevicius had lived for the past several months. "He was the only man I knew who was threatened by both intelligence agencies -- the CIA and the KBG."

In April 1997, he went to Vilnius and served at the Church of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis there for two years.

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1953, Father Pugevicius served at several parishes -- St. Martin's and St. Peter the Apostle in the western section of the city, St. Alphonsus on downtown Saratoga Street and at St. Pius X in Rodgers Forge.

He wrote a column for Baltimore's Catholic Review and was director of radio and television work for the archdiocese from 1965 to 1974. He was a co-founder of Ecu-Media, an interfaith broadcasting office. He also served as president of the Maryland Citizens' Council for Educational Television and the Catholic Broadcasters Association.

In 1975 he was named director of Lithuanian Catholic Aid, a position he held until 1992.

He was a graduate of St. Alphonsus Parochial School in downtown Baltimore, St. Charles College Seminary in Catonsville and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he received degrees in philosophy and theology.

A Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, Saratoga Street and Park Avenue.

Father Pugevicius is survived by cousins.

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