Vilnius awaits you! 
Here is your home, 
Here, awaiting your return, 
Are your orphaned children.

It is a sad and distressing time for the citizens of Vilnius. It will soon be twenty years since the capital has seen its Shepherd; he is in exile. There is no cathedral, for it has been desecrated. A great number of young people have never seen their bishop; not allof the adults remember him.

Happy news, however, is very quietly being whispered from ear to ear: His Excellency Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius is returning to Vilnius to celebrate his twenty-fifth anniversary as a bishop! The young people went into action. "What would be the best way to meet the bishop?" Some made garlands of oak, others prepared a throne, while still others searched for appropriate flowers. All were united by one thought: to make their Shepherd as welcome as possible. But the buoyant mood did not prevail. Mysteriously, rumors spread: that the bishop's visit must not be publicized too openly because someone opposed it, that a large celebration was not allowed, that church exteriors must not be decorated, that a festive arch of honor must not be erected because there might be trouble for someone. Therefore, on the last Sunday, and with only several days re

maining before the anniversary, only the Churches of St. Nicholas and the Žvėrynas church in Vilnius dared to inform the people of the bishop's arrival!

At 6:30 p.m. on September 10 a throng of young people garbed in white or in national costumes, lined the churchyard of St. Nicholas Church with anticipation showing on their faces. They held flowers and wreaths. An arch of honor cannot be erected! No matter! Love is inventive. The young will form a living portal of honor! The path which the bishop will walk is blanketed with blossoms. Someone spreads a beautiful bouquet of blood-red carnations on the ground by the gate. The crowd's enthusiasm grows. Someone says: "He deserves having the loveliest flowers strewn at his feet. He has truly earned it!"

When His Excellency appeared, girls and young men clad in national costumes standing by the gate raised sashes and oak-leaf garlands, forming a living archway. After the clergy had greeted the guest, several small girls dressed in white presented the bishop with roses, saying, "The children of Vilnius congratulate you!", "The youth love you!", "The children are praying for you!" etc.

The procession moved around the church. Girls threw flowers, and the faithful knelt to receive their Shepherd's blessing. The joy was mixed with sadness; there were fewer people than might have been expected on such an occasion — they didn't know!

A mass was then concelebrated by His Excellency Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, Fr. Stanislovas Valiukėnas, and Fr. Pukėnas. Several guest priests participated in the ceremonies. During his sermon, the bishop boldly explained the reason for his exile from Vilnius: he had refused to accept the demands dictated to him; he had tried to build the Church, not destroy it.

Following the solemn mass, the guest of honor received many congratulatory wishes. The children were not about to be outdone by the grownups. One small girl, perhaps about five years old, began in a clear, still-lisping voice:

"Greetings to our Shepherd!"
The children say to you. 
They rejoice today 
That you visit them.
Vilnius awaits you! 
Here is your home, 
Where our hearts have long 
Been filled with yearning.

Older children continued:

We have grown up mid storms, 
So far from you. 
May our prayers of love 
Lead our Father back.
Vilnius awaits you, 
Where children pray! 
May your road of suffering 
Blossom with roses!

The youth of the Valkininkai parish, the children of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, a large group of young people who arrived from Kaunas, from the Dubičiai parish, and elsewhere greeted the bishop warmly. The youth presented flowers to the bishop with amazing sincerity, and with these flowers they seemed to give him a part of their hearts. It was an atmosphere of youth, flowers, and enthusiasm. Everyone was exhausted by the crush, but everyone smiled, and no one hurried home. After the ceremonies, the faithful again spread out into the churchyard, wishing to show once more their love for their Shepherd by giving him a gala send-off. Once again the young people fell into an endless line, again flowers were strewn, and as the bishop stepped into his automobile, the crowd began to applaud and to chant  spontaneously the one phrase which expressed everything — love, suffering, and hope: "We're waiting! We're waiting! We're waiting! We're waiting!" For a long time this heart-rending phrase sounded forcefully in the dusk; it echoed from the walls of Vilnius and failed to move only the hearts of those stone-faced individuals who slunk about watching everything. The crowd's enthusiasm grew. Suddenly the men began to shout, "Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!" But the car began to move, and the Shepherd-Exile drove off. The ovations died down, the youth dispersed, and hearts were left with a wound — again we are orphaned, without the father who loves us, suffers for us, and who wants to be with us.

The following day, simple ceremonies were held in the Aušros Vartai (Dawn Gate) Chapel at the miraculous picture of the Blessed Mother. The mood was marred by unexpected incidents, as well as by a noisy group who showed up either intentionally or by accident and almost kept the faithful from hearing the very courageous and meaningful sermon of Father Jonas Lauriūnas.