During 1979 signatures were gathered throughout Lithuania demanding that the Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace Church in Klaipėda, which the atheists had confiscated, be returned.
The collected 148,149 signatures were bound in a 1,589-page book and sent to Leonid Brezhnev, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Included in the book were fifty-six photographs.
We are presenting here the text of the statement placed at the front of the book and a copy of the declaration which 148,149 Lithuanian believers signed.
"To: Chairman L. Brezhnev of the Presidium of the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR
1.The Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR
2.Commissioner Anilionis for the Lithuanian SSR of
the Council for Religious Affairs under the USSR Council of Ministers
3.All Lithuanian Bishops and Diocesan Administrators
4.The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights
"From: The Catholics of Klaipėda and the entire Lithuanian SSR (Address: Klaipėda ind. 235800, 41-5 Tarybinė Armija St., Chairman of the Parish Council, Saunorius, Jonas, son of Petras).
"We, the Catholics of Klaipėda and the entire Lithuanian SSR, once again turn to you, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, asking that you help us obtain the use of the church building located at no. 6 Rumpšiškes St. We built this church over a period of four years with our own hands and at our own expense, purchasing construction materials according to the state's allotments after we received written permission in 1956 signed by Chairman M. Šumauskas of the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR.
"We are again appealing to you because we believe our first statement, signed by over 3,000 believers, and the second, signed by 10,241 representatives of the believers and sent to you on March 6,1979, did not reach you. For, if they had, we know we would have obtained an affirmative decision.
"During the war the Catholic churches in our city were ruined. For this reason, immediately after the war the Soviet government allowed the Catholics to use the small Baptist church, the same one we are still using even though the city has grown to over 170,000 inhabitants. In 1956 when Klaipėda had 80,000 inhabitants, the faithful wishing to fulfill their religious obligations could no longer fit into this small church. Consequently, the Soviet government gave the faithful written permission to build a new, large, church. Architect Baltrėnas and an engineer, Zdanavičius, drew up the plans, which were approved by the chief architect of Klaipėda and other necessary agencies; allotments were obtained for the legal acquisition of building materials. Churchgoing people in Klaipėda and other cities donated to this project. This money was then deposited in the State Bank and transferred from there to pay for building materials. On June 30, 1957, in the presence of tens of thousands of believers, Bishop P. Maželis solemnly blessed the foundation and deposited a document inscribed on parchment paper under the church's cornerstone. The construction took four years, during which time we donated some 3 million rubles in the currency of that time. We went to unload bricks, cement, and steel ourselves. To avoid extra charges, we dug the foundation trenches at night with our own hands. Believing craftsmen laid the bricks for the walls and did the decorative work. By the summer of 1960 the church was completed: the heating system had been installed, the wiring finished, the parquet floor laid, three altars had been built, the organ installed, the fourteen alabaster Stations of the Cross had been hung. The solemn consecration of the church was planned in August of that year. The church was named Queen of Peace. All of us who helped in the construction or donated money believed that by building a shrine to peace we would somehow be contributing to the cause of peace.
"Unfortunately, just before we began worshipping in it, the local government began to seek various reasons to prevent us from using the church. At first a commission set up for this purpose under the leadership of Klaipėda city Architect Stumbras alleged that the church could not be used until the ceiling was tested, for it might collapse on the praying faithful. Under the supervision of Architect Baltrėnas, the required amount of concrete blocks were placed on the ceiling. It held. Then another pretext was found. The church could not be used without an auxiliary electrical cable. This cable was installed after an allotment was received from the Vilnius Main Supply Administration. Then came the demands: for reinforced concrete steps to the top of the church steeple, a septic system, fireproof paint, and so on. Everything requested was accomplished, but still we were not allowed to use the church. Because these administrative means failed, legal steps were taken. Fathers Povilonis and Burneikis were arrested and convicted.
"Even now it is still unclear to any intelligent individual what fault lay with the people who built the church using their own funds and hands. Why are they forbidden to worship in it, even if the priests who directed its construction were guilty of anything? It is the state's duty to defend its people and their interests.
"Having arrested the priests, the local government locked up the church and did not allow the faithful to enter. They tore down the steeples, removed the statue of Mary, Queen of Peace, from the facade, chiseled out the granite mosaic of Jesus Christ, dismantled all of the altars, destroyed the main altar's fresco (Queen of Peace), destroyed the bas-reliefs of Christ's Passion and the frieze decorated with heads of angels, removed the stained glass windows, and equipped it as a philharmonic hall. People who opposed the government's arbitrary action and demanded that the church not be dismantled were placed in trucks, taken far from the city, and then released to walk home.
"Nikita Khrushchev, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, was informed of the wrong being done the faithful, but he did not defend our rights. Therefore, we were forced to endure the wrong done us, to endure our trampled yearning for peace for approximately seventeen years
"You, Mr. Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Presidium, drafted a new Constitution which fundamentally defends, without discrimination, the rights of all Soviet citizens. We believe that once you learn of the injury done to the believers of Klaipėda and the entire Lithuanian SSR, you will quickly see to it that we are permitted to use the church which we built ourselves and that we are allowed to pray there to Mary, Queen of Peace, for peace throughout the world. We have no doubt about this, for we know how much you value peace and how much effort you have devoted in a struggle to attain it.
1.1,434-page book containing 143,869 signatures
2.56 documentary photographs"
"To: The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme
Soviet of the USSR, L. Brezhnev "Copies to:
1.The Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR
2.All Lithuanian bishops and Apostolic Administrators
3.The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights
"A Statement from the Catholics of Klaipėda and the Lithuanian SSR
"We, the Catholics of Klaipėda and the entire Lithuanian SSR, once again appeal to you, Mr. Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. We ask that you help us obtain the return of the Church built in 1961 in Klaipėda with the permission of the Soviet government and with the sacrifices and concern of the believers in all Lithuania. This church was confiscated from the faithful soon after it was finished and converted into a philharmonic hall. By returning the church, you, Mr. Chairman, will set right the injury done to the faithful and will correct the unlawful actions of the officials of that time. You will clearly demonstrate that you are a supporter of peace, for this shrine was built as a symbol of peace and named after the Queen of Peace.
"(Permission to build the Klaipėda Catholic Church was received in 1956 through the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR from the USSR Supreme Soviet and the USSR Council of Ministers. It was signed by Chairman Šumauskas of the Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers. On August 15, 1960, however, it was announced that the church was being closed and that services were not to be conducted there. Father L. Povilonis [now bishop] and Father B. Burneikis, who directed the construction of the church were brought to give account on February 26,1961. Before the priests were arrested, the permit to construct the church was confiscated by order of the Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers. The church was closed in 1961 on the orders of the then Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Nikita Khrushchev.)
"After the confiscation of the church, we appealed to the government of the USSR asking that it be returned, but our request was not met. On March 6, 1979, the representatives of Catholics in Klaipėda and all Lithuania turned to you, Mr. Chairman, in this matter and to Religious Affairs Council Chairman V. A. Kuroyedov in a statement signed by 10,241 believers. Not having received a positive reply, we, the Catholics of Klaipėda and all Lithuania, once again appeal to you, the leader of the Soviet Union, being aware that if you help us, the church will certainly be returned.
"Klaipėda has only one small (220 sq. meters), low, impoverished Catholic church, where, due to the poor ventilation, people often faint. Unable to fit inside, people must stand in the street, for even the churchyard is very small. There are some 170,000 inhabitants in the city and the number increases greatly each year. Therefore, many of the faithful who wish to fulfill their religious obligations must go to the churches of other parishes.
"Besides that, Klaipėda, being a port, is visited by many sailors and citizens of various other countries. Some of them stop at the Catholic church and, after visiting, are astonished to learn that this poor church is the only one in the city of Klaipėda. To inquiries why it is the only church in Klaipėda, it is explained that the large and beautiful shrine built to the Queen of Peace was confiscated and converted into a philharmonic hall.
"The return of this shrine would serve to improve the prestige of the Soviet government not only in our country but internationally. Its return would be welcomed by people of good will throughout the world.
"We, the believers of all Lithuania, rely on your assistance and await your affirmative decision. If the opposite is true, we will petition you until the church which belongs to us is returned.
The believers of Klaipėda
and the entire Lithuanian SSR"
Signed by representatives of the believers of Klaipėda
and the entire Lithuanian SSR — 148,149 signatures.
Klaipėda, July 1, 1979