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Church bells will ring at Vytautas Magnus Church in Kaunas, Lithuania on Earth Day

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These adorable young Lithuanian girls look like they are ready to welcome spring whether it's in Kaunas, Vilnius, or any other city in Lithuania. Photo by Nerijus Merkelis.

By Ann Charles, Baltic Review

The date was March 19, 1992 when World Earth Day or International Earth Day as it was initially called took place in Vilnius, Lithuania which coincided with ceremonies held at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

According to an official press release issued by the Lithuanian Mission to the United Nations in New York dated March 19, 1992, “Earth Day will be observed for the very first time in Lithuania tomorrow with celebrations scheduled to coincide with ceremonies at United Nations headquarters.”

As stated in this press release, “at 10:48 a.m. local time (3:48 a.m. EST), the moment of the Vernal Equinox, the Earth Flag will be raised in front of the Lithuanian Parliament building. The striking of the Peace Bell at the United Nations will be joined by church bells ringing around Lithuania and a rally held by the Lithuanian Green Movement immediately after the flag-raising ceremony in Vilnius. Both the Parliament and Lithuania’s Environmental Protection Agency have requested individuals and institutions to organize or participate in local Earth Day observances, “fostering harmony between man and nature, as well as respect and love for our native land.”

The official representatives of Lithuania, Latvia and Lithuania rang the Peace Bell at UN Headquarters during the twenty-third annual International Earth Day Ceremony which was co-sponsored by UNESCO, the U.N. Outer Space Affairs Division and the Earth Society Foundation.

“Lithuanian television and radio spots raising public awareness of environmental concerns will include officials of the Lithuanian Environmental Protection Agency and President of the Supreme Council of Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis. A proclamation was issued by President Landsbergis on the occasion of Earth Day.”

The original letter drafted to President Vytautas Landsbergis asking for Lithuania’s participation in International Earth Day was written by John McConnell, the founder of Earth Day on the spring equinox together with Lithuanian-American journalist Ann Charles (yes, that’s me.)

The first Earth Day was proclaimed in November 1969 at UNESCO’s San Francisco Conference on the Environment and Earth Day was observed there on March 20, 1970. Soon thereafter, Secretary General U Thant signed a Proclamation calling for the observance of International Earth Day to coincide with the Vernal Equinox, a universal symbol of balance and harmony.  The bell-ringing ceremony took place on March 21,1971 at UN Headquarters with the ringing of the UN Peace Bell by UN Secretary-General U Thant in cooperation with John McConnell.

Nowadays, members of the United Nations of Lithuania (UNA-Lithuania) under Executive Director, Jurate Landsbergyte, a member of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) often celebrate  the “Our Earth Is Alive” charity concert in Vilnius with PAGAVA, the Lithuanian Association of Families with Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children. Journalist Gitana Merkeliene and her young daughter, Klaudia Merkelis, usually read poetry at this event.

At UN Headquarters in New York, long-time supporters like Joanne Tawfilis, the founding Executive Director of Art Miles Mural Project has provided the most colorful original murals to display at Earth Day on the Equinox events. In addition, she has inspired so many bell ringers around the world to ring bells at the exact moment of the spring equinox when night and day are equal around the world.

This year the spring equinox will take place in New York City on Wednesday, March 20, at 5:58PM EDT. (Check for the exact time of the spring equinox in your city and country.)

The first Earth Day was initiated by John McConnell in the City of San Francisco on March 20. 1970. Next year (2020) the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ringing of the UN Peace Bell by U Thant on Earth Day which was initiated by John McConnell. Get ready world!

The daughter of U Thant, Aye Aye Thant, has also rang the UN Peace Bell on numerous occasions at the UN at the moment of the spring equinox when night and day are equal around the world.

Klaudia Merkelis usually reads the poetry of her mother, Gitana Merkelis, at Earth Day events taking place in Lithuania. Photo by Nerijus Merkelis.

This year, on March 20, although plans to ring bells around the world have not been finalized as yet, Father Kestuitis at Vytautas Magnus Church in Kaunas, Lithuania has confirmed that bells will ring in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania on March 20. As usual, arrangements for this bell ringing at the church was organized by Izolda Geniusiene in cooperation with Father Kestuitis.

Ann Charles
Ann Charles is UN Bureau Chief of "Baltic Review" based in New York City. She covers diplomatic activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the world body's work in human rights, education, culture, the environment, and tourism, among other global concerns.

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