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.
Even though at that time there was a great shortage of construction materials in war-ravaged Klaipėda, the government permitted the use of stockpiled materials in building the church. As construction began, no evil intent was apparent on the part of the authorities to later take over the finished church and use it for profane purposes.
On June 30, 1957, Bishop P. Maželis, the ecclesiastical administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai, blessed the foundation of the Catholic church of Klaipėda, which was under construction. A document with the following contents was placed in the cornerstone: "Submitting themselves to the motherly care of Mary, with their offerings the Catholics of Klaipėda, as well as of all Lithuania are building in Klaipėda the Queen of Peace Church, whose foundation was blessed on June 30, 1957, by the administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai, H.E. Bishop Petras Maželis."
"We are building a church in honor of the Queen of Peace," stated the parochial committee of the Catholic parish in Klaipeda in its proclamation to the Catholics of Lithuania. "By this action we want to emphasize that we never again want to see the fires and devastation of war on the shores of the Baltic."
Offerings for the construction of the church were collected throughout Lithuania. The Catholics of Klaipėda rejoiced and enthusiastically joined in the actual building of the church. Although the selected plot of land was in a very marshy area, within a few weeks the people had filled in the marsh by hauling dirt in small carts and even by lugging it in baskets. After returning from work, the believers would hasten to volunteer their services and would work until nighttime. In their free time, drivers brought the materials needed for the construction of the church and gathered loose-lying bricks from the ruins throughout the city. Even the auto-inspectors "failed to notice" the drivers with vehicles who were assisting in the building of the church. Even public officials sometimes came to the assistance of the faithful. Among the ranks of the volunteer workers could also be seen those who previously had never gone to church.
The believers contributed about three million rubles for the construction of the church. Even poor Catholics cheerfully contributed their savings for the building of the church. One worker who brought a rather large sum of money said: "Brick up my heart along with the bricks in the walls of the church." It turned out that this worker, who had to support a large family, had contributed one month's wages. Whenever people sold anything, they would allocate a part of the money for the church.
Construction was completed in the summer of 1960, and the consecration ceremonies were planned for the feast of the Assumption of Mary. Unfortunately, a second "explosion" occurred, similar to that of the Hitlerites. The faithful who had gathered for the consecration ceremonies found the church's gates boarded up.
"The government forbids the opening of the church!"
"The atheists are taking away our church!"
Such shouts flew from lips to lips causing anguish among the believers. They all felt they had been trampled upon and deceived.
Why had the church been closed?
Some Party workers explained it this way: When Nikita Krushchev found out that a church had been built in Klaipėda, he shouted in a rage, "I forbid its opening!" This prohibition was transmitted to the LSSR government, and the opening of the church was called off.
No doubt the atheists' complaints to Moscow also contributed to the closing of the church. They had been afraid that the success of the atheistic propaganda would have been impaired.
The atheists dealt visciously with the new church. Using tractors, army units knocked down the church steeple at nighttime .They smashed the valuable plaster statues of the Stations of the Cross and heaped them into the dirt. The people's sole weapon against the self-will of the army and the police was their tears. Police officials tried to apprehend the bystanders and carted them off to jail. Some of them were taken up to forty or fifty kilometers out of town by trucks and were mockingly ordered to return home on foot. Such viscious treatment of the church and of the believers cannot even be imagined in any state which respects human rights. The faithful, whose contributions and sweat enabled the church to be built, felt that they had been grievously wronged.
"So this is the true face of a godless government," spoke the people through their tears.
"We must protest to the higher-ups..."
"Who is there to protest to when the believers are beyond the bounds of the laws? The atheistic government won't defend our rights."
Fearing a riot by the faithful, the authorities sent in about 200 policemen.
In the early part of 1961, two priests from Klaipėda were arrested—Povilonis and Burneikis—and sentenced to prison. Father Talaišis was exiled from Klaipėda.
At the present time a people's philharmonic hall has been established in the new church of Klaipėda. In the beginning, the believing public, Lithuanians and Russians alike, would not attend the concerts. There were times when fifty artists were performing on stage and only five spectators were to be found in the hall. The Russians used to say: "We don't go to church..."
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And so the Catholics continue to languish in the little church. During the services on Sundays and holy days, one can constantly see people who have fainted being carried out. In the early part of the year, after listening to the atheists' persistent talk that the rights of believers are not being restricted, that people of every conviction should be respected, the Catholics decided to appeal to the government of the Soviet Union requesting the return of their church. For several months signatures were cautiously collected, but because of persecution by the KGB, the collecting had to be curtailed.