OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LITHUANIA
No. 4 1972
On August 12, 1972, in the newspaper Sovietskaja Litva [Soviet Lithuania] appeared an article by Rimaitis entitled "Bažnytininkai prisitaiko" [Churchmen adapt]. It stated that in the struggle against religion "irreparable harm can be caused by various administrative attacks or affronts to the sensibilities of believers. The use of incorrect methods in the struggle against religion not only fails to destroy the basis of the propagation of the faith, but, on the contrary, leads to a strengthening of religious fanaticism and to secret forms of the cult and of rites, arousing mistrust and discontent among believers and irritating them."
Rimaitis repeated the old atheistic principle which demands an uncompromising struggle against religion. In the event of a strong reaction by the faithful, this principle permits a retreat—allowing the faithful to calm down— then after determining the best means of attack, to strike again.
The reaction of the Lithuanian clergy and the faithful to the restrictions of religious freedom, which began in the summer of 1968, reached its culmination in early 1972. After the arrests of the priests Juozas Zdebskis and Prosperas Bubnys, a flood of written protests from the faithful appeared, describing the persecution of believers. The Soviet authorities ignored these protests by the populace and did not react to them, acting similarly as they had with the protests of the clergy in 1968-1971.
The first of the more significant conflicts between believers and government officials occurred on the day Father Zdebskis was tried, in Kaunas, on Ožeškienė Street. Only the use of force enabled the police to disperse the crowd which had gathered near the courthouse to honor the priest on trial.
Causing especial anxiety to the authorities was the news that signatures were being collected on a memorandum to the Soviet government. Government functionaries were intending to ignore this appeal by the faithful on this occasion as well; however, this memorandum of the Catholics caused one unexpected event after another. The document, signed by 17,000 believers and sent to the General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU through Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Na-itons, immediately became known throughout the world. Public opinion hailed the brave action of the faithful and condemned the existent restrictions of human rights in the Soviet Union.
THE ARCHDIOCESE OF VILNIUS
On March 13, 1972, the Rev. B. Laurinavičius, pastor of this parish, was summoned by J. Rugienis, the comissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, who "responded" to the petition sent by the clergy from the Archdiocese of Vilnius on November 24, 1971, to Leonid Brezhnev, the General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (see theChronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 1).
The commissioner accused Father Laurinavičius of insolence, of anti-Soviet inclinations, and advised him "to concern yourself more with pastoral work." Since it was not possible to respond to the government representative's accusations during the discussion, the pastor sent a detailed written reply on July 20, 1972. What follows is a selection of some of the ideas and facts from the above-mentioned statement which clearly illustrate how the Catholic Church in Lithuania is being persecuted.
" 'You write to the bishops and priests who "are working within the boundaries of the Soviet Union's legal system."'"
Father Laurinavičius did not deny this charge by Rugienis because it was necessary to write. For example, on April 11, 1972, Lithuanian bishops and ecclesiastical administrators sent out a pastoral letter condemning collective complaints by the faithful to representatives of the Soviet government. "Brotherly admonitions are acceptable within the Church. That is a sign of the democracy within the Church. Every pastor may state his opinion of the bishops' decrees," wrote the Rev. B. Laurinavičius.
A PETITION FROM THE PARENTS FROM
THE PARISH IN ADUTIŠKIS
On April 20, 1972, fathers and mothers from the parish in Adutiškis appealed to the Soviet government. The complete text of the petition is presented below:
"To: Comrade L. Brezhnev, the General-Secretaryof the CPSU
Comrade Furceva, the Minister of PublicEducation of the USSR
Comrade Kuroyedov, the Chairman of the
Council for Religious Affairs
A Declaration—Petition by the Fathers-Mothers
of the Roman Catholic Parish in Adutiškis,
Švenčionys Rayon, the LSSR
"Very often we and our children experience difficulties just because we are believers.
"In 1971 the administration of the secondary school in Adutiškis banished our children from the altar. This year, they created a great uproar because some children went up to the choir loft to sing with everyone else. Lately they have created a great uproar because our children wear white garments.
"The interrogation of our children and our "re-education" tax our health and that of our children. Sometimes it even ends in tragedy. One mother, Aleksandra Stasiūnienė, residing in Adutiškis, was called in to the school because her son Julijus goes to church. After the meeting in the school on April 7, 1972, she was so aggravated and agitated that shortly she was stricken and died on April 9, 1972. How haggard she had looked when she came out of the school can be attested to by [Mrs.] Birutė Juknienė, residing in Adutiškis, who had spoken with her.
THE ARCHDIOCESE OF KAUNAS
Ten seminarians enrolled in the philosophy course of the Kaunas Theological Seminary. Rugienis rejected two candidates. This year the KGB officials were less active in regard to those who were entering the seminary; nevertheless, they all had to have a talk with the security people during registration.
On September 8-15 crowds of people stream in to participate in the Festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The authorities take active measures to reduce the number of worshippers. This year the police guarded the roads. Here is what one worshipper has related:
"We went by bus, sixty-one of us. Most of them were elderly. The police stopped us 8-10 km. from Šiluva, drew up a list of people, and led off the driver. After some time he returned with an order to withdraw. After riding for several kilometers, the people began asking the driver to wait so that they could walk to the festival on foot. Once again the group of pilgrims had to pass the police. The women reproached them: 'You're shameless. Is it nice to trouble old people like this? Over the radio and in the newspapers you keep lying that there is freedom of religion in Lithuania, but how do you act? Christ was tormented. We'll also suffer our share for Christ. It doesn't matter that you're standing here with your red caps. We'll reach Šiluva anyhow.' When the festival ended, we walked back 11 km. Only then were we able to return home on the bus."
For a long time the parish in Meškuičiai has been famous for its Hill of Crosses, on which stood not less than three thousand crosses, and it was almost impossible to count the small ones. Each cross had its own history.
Here is what one priest has recounted:
"Once I was going to the Hill of Crosses to bless a newly-built cross. At that moment, a military vehicle drove up to the hill. Two Russian pilots who had brought a cross asked me to bless it. I carried out their request. One of the pilots described how his jet plane had once caught fire while he was flying. It is almost impossible to save yourself in such situations. Suddenly he had recalled some remarkable tales about the Hill of Crosses, and he had resolved that, if he survived, he would erect a cross there. It is uncertain why the plane caught fire, and just as unexpectedly it stopped burning."
In February, 1972, the faithful of Klaipėda sent to Leonid Brezhnev, the General-Secretary of the CPSU, a petition that the Soviet government return a church confiscated from the faithful (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 2). Security officials were the only ones who reacted to the believers' request. They even conducted a search of the apartment of [Mrs.] Kudirkienė, a resident of Klaipėda, and of her daughter's apartment.
In July, 1972, the believers in Klaipėda once again sent a petition to the General-Secretary (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 3). [Mrs.] Gražienė, who had sent the petition, was summoned on August 25 to the office of the city's Executive Committee. Rugienis, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, who had arrived from Vilnius, showed Gražienė the petition of the faithful with 3023 signatures and said:
"You won't get the church back, since the building is needed by both believers and nonbelievers. You have a church, so pray there. No one is bothering you. It's not the church you need so much as you're interested in passing information abroad. If all the people can't fit into the church on Easter, that's not our fault."
During the night of Holy Saturday, 1970, (about 3 a.m.) twelve members of the Young Communist League with their leader Miknius on their way home from a dance stopped by at the church in Mažeikiai and caused a disturbance by mocking the people praying at a casket that symbolized the coffin of Christ. Scandalized by the behavior of the League members, the people drove them out of the church. Before long, several of them returned, took down the crucifix from the wall, carried it outside, and smashed it into pieces. The parochial committee informed the police of this event, declaring that this action had offended all believers, and they demanded that the culprits be punished. Unfortunately, at this time Soviet laws are being zealously applied only to the faithful, but atheists may mock the most sacred sentiments of believers without being punished. In this case it was also inconvenient to punish the culprits because the son of Kerpauskas, a former secretary of the Party, had participated in the "nighttime expedition."
During 1970, J.J., a student at the secondary school in Karklėnai would play the organ during services at the church in Pašilė. For several years everything was peaceful, but then complaints began to flow into the school. After the first complaint, [Mrs.] Irena Saunorienė, a teacher, declared during a history lesson: "There are some degenerates amongst us who do not belong in a Soviet school." After another complaint, the principal summoned J.J. and ordered her to stop playing the organ in church; and Irena Saunorienė, the head of the Education Department, took the girl and several of her classmates to the chemistry laboratory and declared that they would be the school's atheists. [Miss] Aldona Butkute was elected president, and J.J. —vice-president; however, both pupils began to protest vigorously that they would not participate in such an organization. Jadvyga was told to go to the principal's office, where Telycenas, the chairman of the Kelme Rayon Executive Committee, and some stranger from Vilnius were waiting for her. This individual, who was probably a security official, began to speak, saying that he had heard that J.J. played the organ in church, that her way to higher education would be blocked, that there was no room for such as she in a Soviet school. In her misery the student began to cry and asked what had she done wrong? The interrogator said to J.J. that she probably did not believe in God but only went to play for the fun of it. "No, I do believe, and I play there gladly," declared the girl. "But child, think of your future... and make sure that this has been the last time," the government representative lectured and threatened. "Take care that you wouldn't have to bid farewell to school." Meanwhile, Irena Saunoriene, the history teacher, was threatening Jadvyga's class, saying that those who serve the ministers of the cult would have their conduct grade lowered, that they would no longer be free to choose a profession, and that they would receive poor characterizations in their school records.
In the summer of 1963, [Miss] Nijolė Siekytė, a fifth-class student living in Rubinavas Village, used to come to church with her mother. At the beginning of the school year, her teacher [Mrs.] Statkevičienė, upbraided Nijolė for going to church, saying that by doing so she had dishonored her school uniform. She ordered the girl to explain in the presence of all the students why she had attended church and to denounce herself. Having climbed onto the stage, Nijolė began to cry. Teacher Statkevičienė and several other teachers ordered Nijolė to go home and not to return to the school anymore. Nijolė returned home weeping, threw her books into a corner, and told her parents she would not be going to school anymore. Later, at the urging of other teachers, she began to attend school once again. The atheistic teachers, nevertheless, did not cease to hother her. That was why the girl transferred to an evening school for youth.
THE DIOCESE OF PANEVĖŽYS
On August 27, 1972, Canon P. Bakšys, the ecclesiastical administrator of the dioceses of Panevėžys and Kaišiadorys, administered the sacrament of Confirmation. The government had permitted only two priests to assist him. About 3,000 were being confirmed. Exhausted from the strenuous work, having scarcely finished delivering a sermon, the Rev. Juozas Ražanskas (b. 1910), dean of Seduva and pastor of the church in Pakruojis, died in the sacristy.
That same day in this town, some hooligans using a brickbat beat up an old woman who sold devotional articles, as she was on her way home. The assailants kicked her repeatedly after she fell down and, grabbing her rosaries and her money, fled. The old lady died in the hospital.
Here, on August 13, 1972, took place the Festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Afterward, Stapulionis, the vice-chairman of the Pasvalys Rayon Soviet of Working People's Deputies Executive Committee visited this locality and summoning Father B. Jareckas, the pastor, together with the treasurer of the parochial committee reprimanded them angrily: "Why had so many priests and seminarians been invited? Why had the pastor allowed a priest from another rayon to deliver the sermon? Why had the pastor permitted the girls to wear the national costume in the procession?" In fact, only three priests and as many seminarians took part in the festival. Stapulionis insisted that the priest promise not to give out national costumes to the girls again. When he refused to do so, the vice-chairman forced the members of the parochial committee to sign a statement saying that they would banish the national costume from the church. The "uninvited guest" even wanted to confiscate the national costumes, but he could not find the church keys.
In the entire Pasvalys Rayon it is forbidden to wear the national costume in the churches during processions.
Toward the end of 1971, the Rev. P. Masilionis, pastor of the parish in Krikliniai, requested permission from the Pasvalys Rayon administration to visit family members residing in the United States. In June, 1972, he received a negative reply.
Nobody was surprised at such action by the Soviet government. Apparently, neither was Father Masilionis, for at this time only priests who are completely trusted by the government and who deal more or less with the KGB are permitted to leave in order to visit capitalist countries. The The pastor of the parish in Krikliniai has not earned any "merits" with the Soviet authorities. He had hardly arrived at his parish when Stapulionis, the vice-chairman of the Pasvalys Rayon Executive Committee, warned him sternly: "Stay put in the church! Don't go touring the parish." Neither do the rayon officials like Father Masilionis' sermons, which touch upon questions relevant to the lives of the faithful. For example, the administration of the Krikliniai Collective Farm pays double wages to those who come to work on Sunday: ten rubles for the day. Prior to the Festival of the Visitation (July 2) an announcement was made to the collective-farm workers to the effect that those who would work during the festival would each get a wagonload of hay. Since it is hard to obtain hay, more than one worker succumbed and worked during the festival. In his sermon the pastor reminded the faithful not to sell their Sundays. Moreover, the parishioners were reminded that Catholic parents do wrong to celebrate the wedding of their children who refuse to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony: "There is nothing to rejoice about when a child begins an unauthorized wedded life." Father Masilionis said that a great error is committed when ceremonious funerals —with an orchestra and a large procession of children and youths—are held for suicides. The pastor recalled one driver's funeral. He had killed a man while drunk; later he hanged himself and was buried with much pomp.
THE DIOCESE OF VILKAVIŠKIS
On July 26, 1972, the faithful of Prienai traveled to the Pravieniškės Prison Camp to greet the about-to-be-liberated curate of Prienai, Father J. Zdebskis; however, he had already been released. That was because the camp administration had been ordered to release Father Zdebskis the previous evening in order to prevent a "political demonstration." The government officials were apprehensive about what would happen if many people were to come to welcome the priest.
The parishioners greeted Father Zdebskis with ceremony on Sunday, August 27. Little children scattered flowers as the priest was returning to the sacristy after mass. In the churchyard children and adults congratulated the former prisoner. There were so many flowers that the priest could not hold them all in his arms, and the people covered the ground with them.
Rugienis would not allow H.E. Bishop Labukas to appoint Father Zdebskis to the Vilkaviškis Diocese. Two months later, Father Zdebskis was appointed curate of the parish in Šilutė.
This is a "civilized" kind of exile: if you want to work in a parish, then leave your diocese!
The Sacrament of Confirmation was being administered here on July 22-23, I972- The previous evening, officials of Kapsukas Rayon ordered the pastor of the parish in Kalvarija to take down the loudspeakers that were set up outside. On July 22 no sermons were even delivered so as not to "anger the authorities." About 4,000 children were confirmed.
On September 24,1972, the 150th jubilee of the church in Meteliai was celebrated. Rugienis permitted the bishop to come, but he did not allow him to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation.
O God, cast Your glance upon Lithuania, which today is travelling a dolorous way of the cross.
May its arduous lot bring, not ruin, but the resurrection of the nation.
May our voice of apology reach You, O heavenly Father, through the cloudiness of our sins, for grave transgressions have oppressed our nation, which is as if shackled.
Many of its children are no longer aware of You, Father, nor of their eternal purpose.
May this cup of suffering soon pass from our nation.
Until You draw near to Your suffering children, O Lord, help us to bear patiently and with perseverence this burden of oppression, which dims the sun for us and pains our hearts.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory be to the Father.