THE CHRONICLE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
IN LITHUANIA No. 2 
Restrictions placed on the rights of Catholics, and especially the trials of Fathers J. Zdebskis and P. Bubnys, prompted the appearance of the memorandum.
The signatures were collected over a period of about two months. Because the memorandum was intended for the USSR government, no particular precautions were taken in collecting the signatures. Some of the signatures were obtained on Sundays near the churches as the faithful came to or went from the services, and the rest by visiting homes. On each page was a copy of the complete text of the memorandum so that the signers could acquaint themselves with its contents. For those unable to read, the signature gatherers would either read the memorandum or explain what matters this petition to the USSR government pertained to.
Catholics signed the memorandum with great enthusiasm. Only a small number refused to sign because they feared reprisals. The gathering of signatures was a spontaneous process—people would copy the text of the memorandum from one another and volunteer their help.
Fairly soon the news spread that the KGB was apprehending the persons who were gathering signatures, interrogating them as to where they had obtained the text of the memorandum, and confiscating the signatures already collected.
In 1945, as the war was ending, Hitler's army mined and blew up the masonry church of the Catholics in Klaipėda. The local residents testify to this fact.
After the war, the number of Lithuanians in Klaipėda grew rapidly. In present-day Klaipėda, there are 85,000 Lithuanians and 43,000 Russians (1970 census data). The majority of the Lithuanians are believers. For example, in 1972, during the Lenten retreat alone about 8,000 persons received Holy Communion.
After the war, the Soviet government allowed the Catholics to make use of a small German sectarian church on Bokštai Street. During services it would become extremely congested, and people would faint; and the Catholics began demanding permission to build a larger church.
In 1954, the pastor of the parish in Klaipėda (now Bishop Povilonis) received permission to build a new church. At that time the head of the USSR government was Malenkov; the persecution of the believers in Lithuania had abated somewhat. Believers were being urged to join in the preservation of peace throughout the world. The permit for constructing the church in Klaipėda, no doubt, was also granted for propaganda purposes, since many foreign seamen come to Klaipėda.
"Build it so the steeple could be seen even from the sea," said the representatives of the authorities.
Before Easter a petition with the following contents was sent to Moscow from somewhere in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (so that the KGB of the LSSR would not confiscate it):
"To: L. Brezhnev, General-Secretary of the CPSU, Moscow
A Petition from the Catholics of the City
of Klaipėda, the LSSR
"During the years 1956-1961, a Catholic church was built and completely furnished in Klaipėda with funds provided by the believers and with the permission of the Council of Ministers of Lithuania. The authorities, however, did not permit its use and made it into a philharmonic hall.
"The building in which Catholic services are now held is unsuitable, in poor condition, and small; and during holy days the faithful are forced to stand in the street.
Just the fact that permission had been granted for building a church in Klaipėda indicates that the present structure in which services are being held is not suitable.
"We believers appeal to you, asking and hoping that you would understand our aspirations and would soon normalize the situation by correcting the injustice inflicted upon the believers and returning the church built with our funds.
The parents from the parish in Valkininkai appealed to the rayon administration in regard to the discrimination students experience for their religious convictions. The complete text of their petition is presented below:
A Petition to the Chairman of the Varėna Rayon Soviet
of Working People's Deputies Executive Committee
"In September of this year, after returning from school, our children complained that they had been interrogated in school as to whether they attend church and who else does; and they were threatened that their conduct grade would be lowered for attending church and that the fact would be noted in their personal records.
"I, J. Griežė, state that my daughter was questioned at the secondary school in Valkininkai by the teachers [Miss] Kliukaitė and [Mrs.] Butkienė, and by the principal, as to whether she and her younger sister attend church, and when do they go to confession? A year ago she had been reminded that if she attended church she would not be permitted to take the examinations.
"I, [Mrs.] S. Andriuškevičienė, state that my daughter was threatened at the eight-year school in Urkionys by teacher [Mrs.] Saulėnienė and she was asked when she had received First Communion and whether she goes to church. She was also threatened that her churchgoing would be noted in her personal records and that as a result she would be unable to find a job.
IGNALINA RAYON, 1971
"To: The Chairman of the Presidium of the
Supreme Soviet of the LSSR
The Secretary of the Central Committee
of the Lithuanian Communist Party
The Chairman of the Council of Ministers
of the LSSR
The LSSR Commissioner of the Council
for Religious Affairs
The Curia of the Archdiocese of Vilnius
A Petition from the Parochial Committee and the Believers
of the Parish in Ignalina
"The Constitution of the Soviet Union guarantees freedom of religion and of conscience. Practicing Catholics need churches, but we believers of Ignalina do not have one.
"A church was built in Ignalina during the difficult years when the area was under occupation by bourgeois Poland and during the especially difficult days of occupation by the Germans. The believers contributed much toil and money into its construction, often while they themselves wanted for bread. Much construction material had been readied, but construction work was halted by World War II. In the postwar years the local government deceived us grievously. Because the church building had not been completed, the authorities promised to complete it, and we would just have to pay for the labor. The building was confiscated from the parish, however, and turned into a cultural center.
"To: the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR
A Petition from the Believers of the Parish in Stirniai
and in Molėtai R a y o n
"Admonitions by readers constantly appear in the press concerning various shortcomings in cultural and existential services, to which the Soviet government always responds. In our religious life we believers constantly experience not only shortcomings but restrictions as well. Since we believers cannot speak out about these restrictions in the press, if we remain silent, one can form the impression that we do not feel these restrictions. That is why we are appealing to you, Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
"To a nonbeliever religion appears to be worthless or even harmful, but to us believers it is a matter of great importance. Restrictions placed on the practice of our religion are more painful to us than material wrongs.
ZARASAI RAYON, 1971
On December 17, 1971, Bezusparis, the interrogator of the Zarasai Rayon Procurator's Office, and police Lieuten ant Bagdonavičius came to the eight-year school in Aviliai during class time.
They interrogated the following students one at a time in the faculty room in regard to their preparation for First Communion in the summer of 1971: Bakutis, [Miss] Razmanavičiūtė, and the two Jezerskas sisters. The students were asked these questions: Did the pastor teach you? For how long did he teach? What did he teach? Did the pastor give you a catechism? Did he give you a prayer book? What did the pastor talk about?
Each child was interrogated for about an hour; before being released, he had to sign a written report. After returning to class, Bakutis cried through the entire lesson.
In February the curate of the parish in Simnas, Father S. Tamkevičius, was summoned to the Procurator's Office of the LSSR in Vilnius. The procurator reproached him for slandering Soviet reality in his sermons and instructed him to be loyal to the Soviet government and to desist from the teaching of religious truths to children. Otherwise, criminal prosecution would threaten, with up to two years' loss of freedom.
At the end of April, a "high-level warning" was arranged for Father S. Tamkevičius. Six representatives of the government and the following witnesses took part:
Father Grigaitis, the dean of Alytus; Father Turčinskas, the dean of Daugai; and Father Matulevičius, the pastor of the parish in Simnas. Father Tamkevičius was accused of passing information abroad, of slandering the Soviet schools, and of engaging in other anti-Soviet activities. He was not allowed to explain himself.
Father J. Zdebskis is at present completing his sentence at the regular-regime prison camp in Pravieniškės. Although the convicted priest carries out his assigned work very conscientiously, the camp's administration does not intend to release him before his term is up because "he is incorrigible."
A poem dedicated to Father Zdebskis' mother has been circulating widely among the Catholics of Lithuania:
Don't cry, oh, dear Mother, for the reason your son
Once again has been shackled with chains.
He's accepted his irons as though they're God-sent,
For the youth, for our entire nation!
Though his hands cannot rise in the altar's sacrifice,
Nor distribute the heavenly bread—
On the heights of Golgotha together with Christ
They pour forth redemption and light.
The journal Nauka i Religiya [Science and religion] 1972, no. 3, devoted twenty-three pages to Lithuania.
The head of the propaganda and agitation department of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party, P. Mišutis, presents therein a review of atheistic propaganda and Catholicism.
Lithuania has been a part of the Soviet Union for over thirty years already. The atheists have been waging a campaign against religion with "strict adherence to the Soviet laws," and they "treat the believers with respect as equal Soviet citizens" (p. 27).
The council coordinating atheistic propaganda, which is attached to the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party, has now been functioning for eight years; atheistic councils or commissions function alongside the Republic's Council of Trade Unions, the Central Committee of the Young Communist League, the Ministries of Culture and Public Health, and the committees for the propagation of television, radio, the press, and films; etc. Similar councils and commissions function alongside the city and the rayon Communist party committees. Atheistic activities are headed by the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party.