Living the Faith: Rima Girnius

SOUTH BOSTON -- Rima Girnius knows what it is like to live in a world without faith.

“I am from the Soviet Union,” she told The Pilot. “There was no faith. People were not allowed to have religion, but people by their nature have to believe in something.”

“In the Soviet Union, they made God of a person -- Lenin -- and it didn’t work at all,” she continued.

Despite the ban on religion in her native country of Lithuania, Girnius recalled how as a child, she and her family kept their Catholicism alive, often travelling to little villages outside of the big cities to receive the sacraments in places where the government didn’t have a strong presence.

Practicing Catholicism in Lithuania, she explained, was not at all easy to do.

“I wanted to have faith, because it’s scary when you don’t have it,” she said.

Though she did not know it then, that strong foundation in her faith would help her navigate through one of the most trying experiences of her life: emigrating to the United States in 1994.

Newly married to her husband, Tomas, an American-born Lithuanian who had traveled to his family’s native land “in search of his roots” and fallen in love with Girnius, she came to live in Massachusetts, with no knowledge of the language, the culture or the people. In addition, Girnius, who had been a radio journalist with her own program in Lithuania, found herself unable to find work.

“I felt like I was on a train in a tunnel that had no end,” she recalled. “Every day, I felt like I was waiting for something bad to happen. That’s it, only bad.”

Unsure what to do, Girnius sought solace at St. Peter Church, a Lithuanian national parish in South Boston.

“The Church for me became something to hold on to,” she said. “For the first time in my life, I understood that at the time of peace, people give you peace so that you can go on to live your life that week in peace.”

Her involvement in St. Peter’s grew, and Girnius began to feel called to help others deepen their faith, particularly young people.

“Young people do not often go to the church, so what we decided to do was to learn different hymns -- hymns from monasteries in Europe, hymns that are maybe more modern as well,” she explained, adding that “singing the liturgy is as important as prayer.”

Today Girnius, 49, heads the “Young at Heart Ensemble,” an eight-person ensemble that sings at the Mass two times a month. Also in the ensemble is Girnius’s 13-year-old daughter, who was initially reluctant to sing, but now loves being a part of the ensemble.

“At first, people weren’t sure about us. They didn’t know whether to like us or not,” said Girnius. “But now when we sing, they sing with us. And some people are coming back to church to listen to us. Step by step, it’s working.”