By Tim Harfmann
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is undergoing a complete renovation thanks, in part, to the Lithuanian community.
“They’re very much a part of this parish. They’re very much a reason why this parish is in existence today,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello. He is the church’s pastor.
Raimundas Slizys, better known as Ray, is part of that community. In all of New York State, there are less than 50,000 people who identity as Lithuanian.
He’s the recipient of this year’s Lithuanian Shining Star, a prestigious honor presented by Catholic Migration Services.
The annual event acknowledges Catholics for their contributions to immigrant communities and the Church. There are 28 honorees this year.
“It’s a tremendous honor to me. I feel like I’m continuing in the footsteps of my parents and the Lithuanians that migrated to the United States following World War II,” Ray said.
“Ray is the official spokesperson for the Lithuanian community here in the parish,” said Monsignor Gigantiello. “I get a call or an email from Ray almost every other day.”
That’s because Ray believes it’s important to continue the legacy of his ancestors, like his parents, who fled Lithuania.
“What they wanted to do was preserve a community here in the United States where they could keep their religious and cultural traditions.”
Ray is active at the Williamsburg parish, which includes serving on multiple committees and organizing events.
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is believed to be the only Catholic Church in the five boroughs with a weekly Lithuanian Mass.
“It’s really important for us to be a welcoming community.,” Ray said. “We have people here who have lived in the United States for the past 50 years, and other people have just come directly from Lithuanian. We want people to feel welcome. That they have a home away from home.”
Ray and 11 other honorees received their Shining Star Awards on October 12th at Garguilo’s Restaurant in Coney Island. Catholic Migration Services recognized the 16 additional recipients on October 19th.