Cardinal Priest of Natività di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo a Via Gallia
Cardianl Audrys Juozas Backis, Archbishop of Vilnius (Lithuania) , was born on 1 February 1937 at Kaunas, in Lithuania, the second son of Dr. Stasys Antanas Backis, a Lithuanian Diplomat, and Ona Galvydaite-Backiene, a school teacher. He has a brother called Ricardas.
In 1938, the family moved to France where their father worked as a diplomat in the Lithuanian Embassy in Paris. Arriving in the French Capital, the Backis family could not have imagined that they would not return to Lithuania for over 50 years.
Audrys Backis lived in Paris until 1957 when he had completed his secondary studies and had begun his ecclesiastical studies at the St Sulpice Seminary.
In 1957, he was tranferred to Rome to stay at the Lithuanian College of St Casimir and to continue his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he obtained a degree in theology in 1961.
He was ordained to the priesthood on 18 March 1961, incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of Kaunas, in Lithuania.
He continued his studies in Rome, obtaining a degree in Canon Law in 1964 from the Pontifical Lateran University, while studying at the Holy See's Diplomatic Academy at the same time.
In 1964, he entered into the diplomatic service of the Holy See: from 1964 to 1965, he served in the Philippines; from 1966 to 1968, in Costa Rica; from 1969 to 1970, in Turkey; and from 1971 to 1973 in Nigeria.
From 1974 to 1988 he worked at the Pontifical Council for the Public Affairs of the Church (now part of the Secretariat of State) where he served as Undersecretary from 1979. He also taught Diplomatic Law during this period at the Pontifical Lateran University.
While carrying out his diplomatic duties, he was also active in parish ministry, helping many family and youth groups, giving retreats and running many debating groups.
In 1988, he was named titular Archbishop of Meta and Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands. On 4 October of the same year, he was concecrated as bishop in St Peter's Basilica by Pope John Paul II. For that occasion, the Soviet regime for the first time permitted Archbishop Steponavicius to come to Rome to take part in the consecration as well as Bishop Praikašak.
On 24 December 1991, Pope John Paul II named him Archbishop of the newly created province of Vilnius. He was installed as Archbishop on 3 March 1992.
From 1992 to 1993, he was President of the Committee for the preparation of the papal visit to Lithuania, which took place from 4 to 8 September 1993. He had the great joy of receiving and accompanying John Paul II on his historical apostolic voyage in Lithuania, going with him also to Latvia and Estonia.
He has been a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 1993.
He was President of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference from 1993 to 1999.
In 1993, he reopened the seminary in Vilnius. Since then, he has given special attention to formation programmes for the clergy (seminars, retreats and conferences).
Also in 1993, he founded the Chair for Religious Studies at the Education Faculty of the University of Vilnius, providing an academic prograame for the formation of religion teachers.
On 30 April 1997, he was given an honorary doctroate by the University of Vilnius.
He has supported and promoted the works of Faith & Light, an organization that provides help to families with disabled children. He contributed to the creation of the Versme elementary school, integrating disabled children into the regular education system. He is the school's spiritual counsellor. In December 1992, he created Betania, a soup kitchen that feeds 700 adults every day. The Caritas soup kitchen also feeds 100 children from poor familied and offers a daycare facility. In 1996, he created a shelter for mothers of small children who had nowhere to live and no financial support from their families. In 1999, he created the "Mother of Mercy" shelter, where Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa) feeds 150 people on any given day, and cares for the sick and needy. The shelter provides beds for about 50 people every night.
In 1994, he established the Family Centre where engaged couples can undertake marriage preparation and obtain spiritual and psychological counselling. In 1997, he set up Trinapolis, a retreat centre for children, young people and priests and religious. In 1999, he opened the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, an initiative of several Catholic organizations and the Archdiocesan Youth Pastoral Office.
In 1999, John Paul II appointed him to the committee for the preparation of the Synod of Bishops for Europe and he was later elected Vice-President of the committee preparing the final declaration of the Synod.
From 1998 until the beginning of 2001, he was President of the Committee for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference. On 16 February 2000, he received the Grand Duke Gediminas Medal (second grade), one of the highest honours of the Republic of Lithuania.