May 1975 marked the 30th anniversary of the end of World War II, which required much suffering and sacrifice. That anniversary, considered a victorious holiday by the Soviet Union, was solemnly commemorated in Lithuania as well. But for Lithuania's Catholics, this anniversary coincided with another, though painful and sad, anniversary: Thirty years ago the atheistic government in Lithuania began an open, vicious and determined war against religious groups, especially against the Catholic Church in Lithuania. This war, considered dreadful by all decent people, is still going on. In order to escape unpleasant persecution, many Lithuanians are forced to hide their faith, as did Christians in the early centuries.
In the years 1945-46 nearly all churches in Lithuania still considered it normal to have children's choirs, services for school children (also attended by teachers), student retreats, and religious instructions of children in church, class by class. However, even then, this "toleration" of religious groups and the Church was considered by many as the calm before the great storm. This storm came all too soon.
Presently, all bishops in Lithuania were arrested. One of them, Bishop Borisevičius, was quickly sentenced to be shot to death. Mass arrests of priests began, with their interrogation, torture and trial, with sentences of up to 25 years. Simultaneously, churches were closed, and holy places beloved by all the faithful were destroyed and desecrated. In a very short time, by 1950, (That year the tenth anniversary of Lithuania's annexation into the Soviet Union was celebrated.) in Vilnius and Kaunas alone, about 50 Catholic churches and semi-public chapels were closed, the use of cemetery chapels was forbidden, (Later some of them were demolished when the cemeteries were desecrated.), the Three Crosses in Vilnius were blown up, crosses and wayside shrines were torn down in streets and squares. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of Lithuania's annexation into the Soviet Union, 35 shrines at Kalvarija in Vilnius were blown up simultaneously and the rubble immediately removed, so that there would be no trace of the existence of these shrines. The following is a list of churches and chapels closed in the cities of Vilnius and Kaunas alone, along with brief notes (albeit incomplete) on how they were used after being closed.
1. The Cathedral (an art gallery)
2. Church of the Augustinians (converted into an electrical supply warehouse.)
3. St. Bartholomew's Church (warehouse; now an art guild sculpture studio. In the summer of 1975, a huge sculpture of Lenin was being completed in the church.)
4. Church of the Basilian Fathers (warehouse; now a materials testing laboratory for the construction engineering institute.)
5. Church of the Bernardines (art institute warehouse, sculpture studio.)
6. St. Ignatius' Church has been converted into storage for movie studio props; the chapel is now the "Bočiai" restaurant.
7. Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (converted into a club for builders.)
8. Church of SS James and Philip (storage for opera and Ballet props.)
9. St. John's Church (newsprint warehouse for the newspaper Tiesa (Truth). Now it is being restored and will house a museum of "progressive" thought and a meeting hall and concert hall run by the university.)
10. St. George's Church (book warehouse for the Book Institute.)
11. St. Catherine's Church (foodstuffs warehouse. Now empty, but restoration is contemplated to house an art museum.)
12. St. Casimir's Church (a warehouse; since 1961 an atheistic museum after being restored.)
13. Church of the Holy Cross, also called Church of the Bonifratrai (a warehouse; now being restored and designated for use as a concert hall.)
14. Chapel of the Welfare Society (converted into a warehouse for the publishing industry.)
15. Church of the Assumption or Franciscan Church (converted to house the Central Government Archives.)
16. St. Michael's Church (warehouse, later burned; after restoration a permanent construction exhibit.)
17. Church of the Missionaries (warehouse of furnishings and miscellaneous inventory for medical facilities.)
18. St. Stephen's Church (warehouse for cement and other construction materials.)
19. Church of the Holy Trinity (sports arena; The facade was in ruins; now it houses a workshop of the History and Ethnography Museum; in 1975 a scale model of the Kaunas Fort IX was built there.)
20. Church of the Trinitarian Order (military warehouse.)
21. Church of Trinapolis (hospital warehouse; over the sacristy a driver has set up an apartment for himself.)
22. All Saints Church (footstuffs warehouse, it burned down; after partial restoration, the permanent folk art exhibit of the Art Museum was opened in the summer of 1975.)
23. Church of the Visitation Fathers (warehouse; now a prison facility for minors.)
1. Church of Our Lady, Gate of Dawn (Aušros Vartai) in Upper Šančiai (converted into barracks to house Russian families. Later it was a cultural club and a salt warehouse. Now a wholesale food warehouse.
2. Church of Freda (sports hall for agricultural students in Kaunas named after Mičiurinas. Now abandoned. In the summer of 1975, a homeless family took up residence in its vestibule.)
3. St. Gertrude's Church (pharmaceutical warehouse.)
4. Garrison Church (a sculpture and stained glass museum.)
5. St. George's Church (Military warehouse. Now a warehouse of the Medical Technology Commission for structural supplies and furnishings of medical facilities for the Kaunas region, as well as an inventory warehouse.)
6. Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (demolished and a small sports field constructed on the site.)
7. Church of the Visitation, in Pažaislis (now being restored as an annex to the art museum.)
8. Church of the Benedictine Order (warehouse for old books of the Kaunas Public Library. Residents of nearly houses claim that "yellow publications", namely anti-government publications, are stored there.)
9. St. Francis Xavier Church (book warehouse; now a sports hall.)
10. Church of the Resurrection (converted to a radio factory.)
11. Church of the Blessed Sacrament (movie theater.)
12. Holy Trinity Church (book ware house of the Republic No. 10)
13. Chapel of the Seven Sorrows of Mary in Žaliakalnis (demolished.)
14. Immaculate Conception Church "Šančiai" (warehouse of special medical supplies.)
In Kaunas, the following semi-public chapels have also been closed, (Some were part of other institutions): 1. Chapel of the Guardian Angels, 2. St. Anthony's Chapel. 3. Chapel of St. Luke (Christian Charity), 4. Mary Help of Christians Chapel, 5. Franciscan Chapel, 6. St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel, 7. St. Zita's Chapel, 8. Prison Chapel.
In Vilnius there is only one functioning chapel: Aušros Vartai. All others, of which there were many, have been destroyed.
All Protestant churches in both cities have been closed. In Vilnius, one of them is now a movie theater, the other a sports arena. In Kaunas, the oldest church was a food warehouse, later burned, and now stands empty. The other is a sports arena. The newest church has been converted into a club for security police cadets, a sports arena and messhall.
It is interesting that authorities in Vilnius and Kaunas have not closed a single Russian Orthodox church, (There are especially many of them in Vilnius.), although only handfuls of faithful attend them.
After 30 years of vicious destruction to the Catholic Church in Lithuania, both internally and externally, inestimable damage has been done to the art treasures of the Lithuanian nation. In all the above-mentioned churches closed in Vilnius and Kaunas, as well as in unnamed chapels, countless paintings, sculptures, old frescoes, memorial plaques, stained-glass windows, organs, miscellaneous church objects, liturgical vestments and utensils were destroyed, all possessing great artistic value. In countless old churches (dating from the 15th to 18th centuries) valuable architectural features were greatly damaged or completely destroyed as a consequence of utilitarian use. What countless generations had lovingly preserved over long years, was irretrievably lost in three decades of "peaceful building of Socialism and Communism in Soviet Lithuania."
Even the remains of the dead buried under the closed churches and in crypts did not remain untouched. For instance, to this date, the remains of the famous Grand Duke of Lithuania and national leader Leonas Sapiega and his family are still scattered. In St. Michael's Church (now a construction exhibit hall) construction material has been dumped on the underground grave of the famous Lithuanian architect L. Stuoka-Gucevičius (near St. Stephen's
Church). This list of historically famous persons could be just as long as the list of now-desecrated churches which shelter their remains.
In the summer of 1975, in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the annexation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union, a brochure authored by Rimaitis was published, entitled The Catholic Church in Lithuania (second edition).
It will be published in deluxe editions only in English, German and Italian. The inhabitants of Lithuania will not be able to buy any of these three brochures, just as they were not able to buy the first edition. It will be distributed only to guests from abroad and disseminated abroad. Let the readers of these brochures be aware that the true situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania cannot be judged from these propaganda publications, nor from the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, nor St. Ann's Church in Vilnius, nor the Kaunas Basilica, to which foreign tourists are led by government guides on an exclusive and mandatory basis. This is confirmed by the churches and chapels mentioned in this article whose desecration and demolition was deeply felt in each case by their former priests, religious and faithful—this is a drama which continues to this day.