Ateitis was founded on Feb. 19, 1910 as a secret student organization in Kaunas, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. It gained its name from the "Ateitis" magazine. After Lithuania gained its independence in 1918 and during the period between the two World Wars, the organization grew significantly and gained social and cultural influence in Lithuanian society. Several famous Lithuanian writers, philosophers, historians, and politicians were members of the organization. During the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1990, no Catholic organizations were allowed in Lithuania. The organization, however, continued to function in exile outside of Lithuania; for example North America. To this day, the Ateitis Foundation maintains a center in Lemont, Illinois.
After Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, Ateitis could return to Lithuania as an official youth organization. Due to the lengthy occupation, preserving the Lithuanian national heritage and culture has become a central element of the work and identity of Ateitis.
One hundred years later, still –
“With Christ into the future!”
Ateitininkai are members of the Ateitis Federation (Federation of the Future), which comprises four Lithuanian Roman Catholic organizations, namely, the Ateitis Association of Primary School Students (Jaunųjų ateitininkų sąjunga), the Ateitis Association of Secondary School Students (Moksleivių ateitininkų sąjunga), the Ateitis Association of University Students (Studentų ateitininkų sąjunga), and the Ateitis Alumni Association (Ateitininkų sendraugių sąjunga). This organizational structure was first adopted at the Palanga Conference in 1927 and included the last three associations listed above. The fourth – the Ateitis Association of Primary School Students – was added in 1979. The organization itself was founded in 1911, but its beginning is traced to 1908.
The Ateitininkai were the first organization to adopt the phrase Omnia instaurare in Christo [Renew all things in Christ] as their motto. The phrase, taken from an epistle of St. Peter, was emphasized by Pope Pius X in his first encyclical, E supreme apostolatus, on October 4, 1903. In this document, Pius X urged the faithful worldwide to a religious and moral renewal in the spirit of Christ. The Ateitininkai determined to work toward this goal among the Lithuanians. Strongly materialistic, atheistic, and nihilistic tendencies were prevalent in the schools of the Russian empire, and Lithuania was a part of that empire. Reacting against such tendencies, Lithuanian Catholic youth began to organize itself. In 1908, the first Lithuanian Catholic student groups were founded in the secondary schools of Lithuania and Russia. It also involved the universities of Russia and Western Europe. At that time, a Catholic youth periodical called Die Zukunft was published in Germany; L’Avenir in France; and The Future in England. They were dedicated to advancing the cause of the Catholic youth movement. Following this lead, a group of secondary school students in Kaunas, Lithuania, issued the first copy, written by hand, of the periodical Ateitis (The Future) in 1910. From 1911 on, Ateitis was printed and has been published regularly. The Lithuanian term for the members – Ateitininkai – derives from the name of this publication.
The goals of the organization were defined in an article entitled “Trys pamatiniai klausimai” [Three Fundamental Questions]. It was written by Pranas Dovydaitis, a student at the University of Moscow, and was signed Ateitininkai. This article defended theism and the compatibility of religion and modern scholarship. Because the Russian government banned such youth groups, the organization was clandestine until World War I. During that war, the Ateitininkai were active in Voronezh and Petrograd, Russia, where most of the evacuated Lithuanian school-age children were placed. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Ateitininkai supported Lithuanian organizations seeking to restore the independence of Lithuania. From 1918–1920, many Ateitininkai fought in the Lithuanian wars of Independence and in various ways contributed to the reconstruction of the country.
In the (interwar) Republic of Lithuania, the Ateitininkai became a major academic organization, with a membership drawn from secondary school pupils, university students, and university alumni. The secondary school students spread among the 82 chapters had 6,037 members. With the establishment of an authoritarian regime in 1926, their numbers declined. However, when the organization was banned in secondary schools in 1930, the membership increased significantly and continued to operate secretly. By 1940, there were over 10,000 pupils in the Ateitis Secondary School Association alone. The university students of the Ateitis Federation maintained chapters in all institutions of higher learning in Lithuania and in some universities abroad. In 1932, the number reached 800. Of the 4,535 students at the University of Kaunas, 596 were Ateitininkai. The Ateitis University Student Association was organized into seventeen societies, professional associations and other clubs.
The guiding principles of the Ateitis Federation were systematized by a Lithuanian philosopher, Professor Stasys Šalkauskis, who became known as the organization’s ideologist. He presented his main ideas in the key lecture at the Ateitis Federation’s second congress in Kaunas. In 1927, on the basis of this lecture, the Palanga Conference formally adopted five basic principles to guide the membership in their religious, national, cultural, social and family life. Members were to engage in political activities at their own discretion and on their own responsibility. The organization was primarily concerned with the spiritual and intellectual development of its membership and with Catholic Action.
The Palanga Conference united the three then existing associations into the Ateitis Federation. It also adopted a constitution that specified the federation was to be administered by a president, a governing board, and a council. Congresses of the federation were to be held every five years. Each of the three associations had its own officers, programs, and annual conventions. The Ateitis Federation had a house in Kaunas and published several cultural and scientific periodicals. Intellectuals who had matured in the ranks of the Ateitininkai were active in all areas of cultural and public life in independent Lithuania.
During World War Two, many Ateitininkai participated in the national resistance movement. Many were deported to Siberia, others were arrested and tortured to death in Soviet or Nazi concentration camps. After the war, the organization was revived in refugee camps in Germany in 1946. In 1947–1948, of 2,146 Lithuanian secondary school pupils in Germany, 797 were Ateitininkai. Of 1,768 university students, 375 were Ateitininkai. In 1950, the governing body of the Ateitis Federation was transferred to the United States. In 1967, there were about 3,000 Ateitininkai in the US, Canada, Australia and a number of countries in Europe and South America. The Ateitis Federation was a member of Pax Romana, an international organization of Catholic students and intellectuals.
The Ateitis Federation continued to be coordinated by its governing board while the council’s role was to interpret and guide the organization in matters pertaining to creative initiatives and ideology. The three associations of the Ateitis Federation continued to function, with the secondary school group being the most active and numerous. In addition, the Ateitis Relief Fund at first provided financial aid to needy students, but its role was later expanded to include financial assistance to various projects of the Ateitis Federation and its member associations. Noteworthy was the publishing arm of the federation started in 1955 that published numerous books over the years. In time there were two publishing initiatives – one for organizational and nonfiction works, another for literature and poetry.
However, the main emphasis of the various associations continued to be on the education and training of its members in moral development and character building. The “meat and potatoes” of the organized program involved topical meetings throughout the school year that included education, self-development and social activities. During the summer recess, the focus shifted to camps conducted by the four associations. In addition, through annual training seminars and special workshops sometimes called “ideological boot camps” offered by the Ateitis Associations of Secondary Schools and University Students, the participants were introduced to the importance of creative leadership and fellowship in the larger community. Both theological and practical aspects of the motto Renew all things in Christ were combined. In time, the successful graduates of these educational programs continued their involvement, many in leadership capacity, in numerous Lithuanian- American organizations and activities.
The tradition of Ateitis congresses continued. The Fifth Congress (the first held outside Lithuania) convened in Chicago in 1954. The keynote presentation emphasized the importance of remaining focused on the ongoing oppression and suffering in Lithuania. The following congress, in 1960, was also held in Chicago under the banner of Faithfulness to Christ, Faithfulness to Lithuania. The key presenters were representatives of the new generation that grew up and were educated in the West. Each congress attracted about a thousand participants. Five 29 years later, in 1965, the Seventh Congress was held in Toronto, Canada, under the banner of Openness to Time, Faithfulness to Ideals. The Eighth Congress returned to Chicago in 1970; the ninth was held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1977, and the tenth, once again, in Chicago in 1981. The motto for the latter congress was Future to Christ and Lithuania. Another congress was convened in 1985 in Chicago on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of the organization. Following the developments of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, in the fall of 1989 there was an organizational meeting of Ateitininkai in Vilnius. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania redeclared its independence as the Ateitininkai celebrated the eightieth anniversary of the foundation of the Lithuanian Catholic Student Association in Louvaine, Belgium. In time, all four existing associations in the West were reestablished in independent Lithuania.
The Twelfth Congress, attracting over eight hundred participants, took place in Vilnius in 1994, under the banner of We See a Happy Future for Our Country. The focus was on maintaining organizational continuity and consolidation. By 1998, the governing body of the Ateitis Federation had returned to Lithuania where the journal Ateitis joined it the following year. These moves created a temporary communication vacuum in North America. In response, the internet website (www.ateitis. org) was started in 1999. The organizational uncertainty was filled by the creation of the Council of North America’s Ateitininkai and the creation of the first board of directors, elected in 2000. The Thirteenth Congress was held in Kaunas in 2000, under the banner “Witness Christ in a New Age.” Also in Kaunas was held the Fourteenth Congress with an emphasis on the theme of “Opening Windows to the World.” The various themes of the congresses present the pivotal issues that the Ateitis Federation has dealt with over the years.
February 19, 1910 is considered the official birthday of the Ateitininkai organization. Thus, 2010 marks its one hundredth anniversary. Throughout the year there have been numerous events and festivities celebrating the centennial. Top events were a mega-camp and congress in Lithuania and a religious/ cultural/academic celebration in Chicago. The camp took place in Berčiūnai near Panevėžys on August 2-5, attracting both young and old members from far and near to renew or establish communal ties and finalize preparations for the upcoming congress. The Sixteenth Congress was held in Lithuania’s capital on August 6-8 under the banner “With Christ into the Future.” It continues in Chicago on November 26-28 with a solemn Mass at the Holy Name Cathedral and a banquet at the Marriott Magnificent Mile Hotel.
Volume 56, No.3 - Fall 2010
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas
Author: ROMUALDAS KRIAUČIŪNAS, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, formerly affiliated with Michigan State University. He is active in the Lithuanian American Community and has served as Secretary General of the Ateitis Federation. The author gratefully acknowledges editorial assistance by Dr. Aldas Kriauciunas, Purdue University.
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Lithuanian Catholic federation Ateitis
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