The second half of 1972 was comparatively calm for the Catholic Church in Lithuania: the brazen persecution of the faithful and the clergy had decreased. Not even once was legal action taken against priests for the so-called illegal teaching of religious truths to children, although by making use of their "juridical" methods, the representatives of the Soviet government could have convicted more than one priest with little difficulty.
Government officials received the priests Juozas Zdebskis and Prosperas Bubnys rather politely upon their return from a prison camp, permitting them to perform their priestly duties for a time in their own parishes.
It was completely otherwise one year ago. In the fall of 1971, when Father A. Šeškevičius left the Alytus prison camp, he was told that for having committed crimes against the government he would not be allowed to perform his priestly work and would have to change his occupation. Only after great efforts by Father Šeškevičius did the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, Rugienis, permit him to work as the curate of the parish in Šilalė in the Telšiai Diocese.
In 1972, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, the Soviet government began to tolerate retreats for the priests of an entire deanery. H.E. Bishop J. Labukas and H.E. Bishop J. Pletkus were permitted by Rugienis to travel to the retreats for the clergy and speak on topics concerning the inner life of the clergy. Some bishops even let it be known that deanery conferences regarding pastoral matters would be permitted.
At the beginning of Advent the first edition of a new translation of the New Testament was to appear, and somewhat later, a Catechism.
The security agencies showed more restraint in seeking agents among theological seminary students.
No efforts were spared in disseminating propaganda to prove the humaneness of the Soviet government in regard to religion and believers. "The Soviet state and its governmental organs do not interfere in the internal matters of the Church, i.e., in its canonical and dogmatic concerns .... it is important to enforce Soviet laws which grant religious communities and believers their rights" (interview of J. Rugienis by the editorial board of Tarybų darbas [Work of the Soviets], 1972, no. 9, pp. 17-18).
"To defend the rights of believers is one of the requirements of socialist legality... Persons who discriminate against believers must undoubtedly be punished severely," wrote V. Kuroyedov, the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, somewhat earlier (Religija ir įstatymai [Religion and the laws], 1971, pp. 24-25).
Regretfully, government agencies forget or do not want to hear that catechization is commanded by Church canons of the Code. The cases of the priests A. Šeškevičius, J. Zdebskis, and P. Bubnys show the government's brazen interference in canonical matters of the Church and belie their mendacious interviews and statements.
The Party leaders have remembered Lenin's words which he spoke long ago at the first congress of Russian workers: "One must fight religious superstitions with extreme caution: those who contribute insults against religious feelings to this struggle cause much harm. One must fight by propagating and enlightening. By imparting harshness into the struggle we may anger the masses" (Lenin, Raštai [Writings], vol. 28, p. 158).
Lenin condemned the flagrant persecution of religion and of the faithful, calling it "cavalry charges." After the memorandum signed by 17,000 Lithuanian believers and the events of May in Kaunas, the authorities realized that their "cavalry charges" had already considerably "angered the masses."
As the Soviet government was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the USSR on December 21, 1972, a new problem was encountered—the acute question of nationalism. Causing great concern are not only the Baltic nations and the Ukraine, but also the Moslem Asian republics, whose population increase is the largest, and which have preserved their customs and religion.
The well-informed member of the Žinija [Knowledge] Society, A. Balsys, wrote: "The Communist party tries very diligently to study and remove the causes that may arouse nationalistic remnants, for there can be no trifles in national relations" (Kur susikerta ietys [Where lances cross], 1972, p. 34). The aforementioned propagandist affirms that "mistakes and excesses in the fight against religious vestiges in a certain republic" may support nationalism (ibid., p. 33).
In its June 8 editorial, "The Most Precious Feeling," Tiesa [Truth] tried to convince Lithuanians that their homeland is the Soviet Union, which was not and will not be a stepmother, and thus should be loved like a mother.
Soviet propaganda asserted that Lithuania was not being Russified, that only Czarism tried to throttle its captive nations and incite Great-Russian nationalism (compare A. Balsys, Kur susikerta ietys [Where lances cross], p. 35).
Our active emigration, faithful to the ideals of its native land, has publicized throughout the world the distressing persecution of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. The world's major newspapers and radio and television stations have often commented on events in Lithuania. All this has harmed the prestige of the Soviet Union. All the more so, since it is "fighting" even for the rights of Catholics in Ireland.
Soviet propaganda has attacked and assailed the Lithuanian emigration as never before. Perhaps doubting their own authority, they tried to "invite" even priests to their aid. Articles signed by certain priests appeared in overseas newspapers, reviling the emigration, the history of Lithuania, while exalting the present (Laisvė [Freedom], 1972, nos. 67, 68, 69).
The present "tranquility" in the Catholic Church of Lithuania is temporary and deceptive. Its purposes are the following:
1. To calm the growing dissatisfaction in the nation regarding religious and national injustices.
2. To compromise the emigration's efforts and work, which are vitally necessary for the Church and the homeland.
3. To repair throughout the world the Soviet Union's prestige, which has been shaken because of its persecution of the Church. This is especially urgent in the face of the preparations for the Helsinki Conference.
4. It seems likely that the deteriorating economic situation in the Soviet Union influenced the appearance of this "tranquility"—the necessity of buying huge quantities of wheat abroad. It is worthwhile to recall certain sentiments in the U.S. Congress. Senator Jackson is preparing legislation which is now supported by seventy-five senators to the effect that the United States must not sell wheat to the Soviet Union as long as it does not implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Senator Jackson's words, the USSR was the first to sign the declaration and has remained to the present the only state in the world which has completely avoided implementing it.
5. Having softened their administrative attacks, the atheists hope that the Catholics of Lithuania will forget and stop demanding the most elementary rights and means for their religious life. Even some sects in the Soviet Union are in a better situation than Lithuania's Catholics. The chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, Kuroyedov, has written: "Many churches and religious groups have been founded and registered (the sects—ed.); the Bible and a collection of hymns have been published in editions numbering thousands of copies; the journal Bratski Vest-nik is published regularly; two-year Bible study courses function alongside VEKBS" ("Religija ir įstatymai" [Religion and the laws], p. 51).
The Catholics of Lithuania have no calendar, no newspaper, no catechism, no religious literature, nor other essential requirements.
The superficial calm has not prevented the atheists from striving against the Catholic Church in Lithuania covertly but methodically this year also. A whole series of facts testify to this:
Atheistic propaganda was greatly intensified. It mercilessly assailed active priests and believers. "Desiring to maintain the influence of religion, the most fanatically-inclined ministers of the cult and believers are fighting for the abolition of laws concerning religious cults, so that a completely unrestricted propagation of religion might be assured thereby. Such elements of extremist bent impudently violate the laws governing matters of religion and the Church, which the fanatics interpret very erroneously." These thoughts by Kuroyedov, the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, were widely propagated by the atheists of Lithuania.
Teachers were particularly coerced into educating students in a godless spirit. "It is the noble duty of the schools to protect children from religious influence and to educate the students to be militant atheists" (Tarybinis mokytojas [The Soviet teacher], February 13, 1972).
During the first half of the 1972-73 school year, students were even forcibly compelled to join the Pioneers and the Young Communist League.
Rugienis, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, complained that public commissions were working alongside rayon and city executive committees and were not monitoring the enforcement of laws concerning religious cults. He suggested including in them a wider circle of the most active members. "Thus, it would be useful to review the composition of these commissions, bringing in more people" (Tarybų darbas, [Work of the Soviets], 1972, no. 9, p. 18).
There was especially intensive jamming of the 7:45 a.m. Radio Roma broadcasts. Since they are broadcast at an inconvenient time—in the morning—and have been severely jammed, the Catholics could make little use of them. Radio Vatican could be heard better, and many believers gladly listened to its broadcasts at 9:20 p.m.
In April, 1972, H.E. Bishop J. Steponavičius appealed to the government in Moscow, demanding that he be allowed to perform his pastoral duties. Rugienis explained to him that, for now, he could not be assigned a position.
In the summer of 1972, H.E. Bishop V. Sladkevičius requested a transfer to another parish, where he might more easily avail himself of medical help. Unfortunately, his request was not granted.
The publication of a catechism, it appears, has been forgotten. Besides, the Catholics of Lithuania would not be satisfied at present with the Tikybos pirmamokslis [A primer of the Faith] by Bishop K. Paltarokas. If the Lithuanian emigres were able to publish in Rome in i960 a 256-page catechism prepared by the Rev. P. Manelis, then it would be appropriate for Lithuanians in the homeland, where there is "complete religious freedom," to publish a catechism that is no smaller.
Although the New Testament will soon appear, the Catholics in Lithuania regret that the Soviet government has already, before publication, managed to compromise its translator, Father C. Kavaliauskas, by forcing him to write a whole series of articles for a Lithuanian Communist newspaper in the United States, in which the Lithuanian emigration, together with active priests and believers in Lithuania, and Radio Vatican programs are reviled and the "good and flourishing" life in Lithuania is extolled.
After Father J. Zdebskis had returned from a prison camp, Rugienis wanted to exile him quietly from the Vilkaviškis Diocese to the Telšiai Diocese. Since this plan fell apart, the Prienai police ordered Father Zdebskis to register for work somewhere within fifteen days.
How successful were the atheists, not just in the persecution of the faithful, but in their primary objectives?
During 1972, thirty-three schools for atheistic lecturers functioned in Lithuania, in which 750 lecturers studied. The periodical Religija ir dabartis [Religion and the present] was published for atheistic propagandists; besides which, publication of Atsakymai tikintiesiems[Answers to believers] was begun.
"As last year's practical experience of the republic's school for atheistic lecturers demonstrated, not all of the Žinija [Knowledge] Society's organizations were sufficiently attentive to this form of study for lecturers. Some of them apparently did not send the most suitable people to the school. Hence, a considerable percentage of the students (editor's italics) stopped attending the school after one or two lessons" (Laikas ir įvykiai[Time and events], 1972, no. 23, p. 11).
"People sent from the organizations in Druskininkai, Ukmergė, Joniškis, Telšiai, and elsewhere were not utilized at all in the rayons, as they themselves have admitted," (ibid., p. 12).
Pranas Beniušis, a lecturer from the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party, complains that the atheists of Šilalė Rayon have been very inefficient, and that the organization Tėvynė [Fatherland] of Panevėžys showed little interest in atheistic subjects, etc." (ibid., no. 21, p. 19).
The atheists also had little success in popularizing godless ceremonies. "However, it must be candidly admitted that in many places some admirable initiatives have begun to die out. The storks who strut around announcing the celebration of a newborn infant's name day, are beginning to disappear, not because times have changed, but evidently because good intentions are dying out, because these intentions are supported less and less by concrete action, initiative, and ingeniousness, because there is a lack of creativity and a course of the most common banality is followed." (Tiesa [Truth], January 14, 1973).
Just what would be the results of the atheists' efforts if the Soviet government did not support them and the faithful were given freedom of action!
Religious Students in an Atheistic School
In Lithuania, the majority of the children receive a religious upbringing. The following facts testify to this:
Every year a large number of children prepare for their First Communion. For example, each year about 150 children prepare themselves in Anykščiai, about 200 children in Švenčionys, about 300 children in Prienai, about 500 children in Marijampolė. In the larger non-rayon parishes approximately 100-120 children prepare for their First Communion every year. In the smallest parishes, 15 -30 children receive First Communion.
The atheists themselves concede that a substantial number of children and adolescents are still under the influence of religion. The newspaper Lietuvos pionierius [Lithuanian Pioneer] published the following in 1971: "This summer a number of students from the school in Valkininkai attended church and performed religious rites. Some even assisted the priest during mass. Among these students there were even Pioneers and members of the Young Communist League... Even the most active Pioneers and members of the Young Communist League had become so placid, that they 'saw nothing wrong in that'... Others, unfortunately, themselves began asserting that they 'believe in God' and will not cease going to church. Most distressing is that among the 'others' were Pioneers and members of the Young Communist League" (V. Grublikas, "Skaudi pamoka" [Painful Lesson]).
The constantly intensifying struggle for nurturing an atheistic world view among students indicates that a majority of students are religious. In 1972 the importance of an atheistic upbringing was particularly stressed. A. Barkauskas, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party, wrote in the February 26, 1972, issue of Tiesa [Truth]: "It is the task of the schools to ensure that the facts presented during the educative process become firm convictions. The fostering of militant atheists is the duty of every pedagogical collective and every teacher."
The Minister of Education of the LSSR, M. Gedvilas, affirms: "Taking into consideration the ongoing ideological struggle in the world, we must continually search for ways and means to foster even more successfully well-rounded and spiritually rich personalities with a materialistic world outlook, Communist convictions, and a strong civic consciousness" (Tiesa [Truth], August 18, 1972).
By what methods are atheistic convictions instilled in believing students?
Students are forcibly taught atheism. Teachers in all fields are coerced into propagating atheism when they teach their subjects, e.g., physics, astronomy. Even mathematics classes must have atheistic elements. Mokslinis-ateistinis auklėjimas mokykloje [Scientific-atheistic education in the schools], a booklet by [Mrs.] A. Gulbinskienė and V. Petronis intended for teachers, states: "For example, in classes 3-4 one may ask the pupils to calculate the unnecessary expenses of people needed for maintaining churches and priests... It is absolutely essential to demonstrate how this money might be employed for improving the life of the working people" (Kaunas, 1959, p. 33). History, literature, and social science teachers especially are supposed to undermine their students' faith. Homeroom teachers must plan and conduct atheistic lectures at class meetings. Atheistic lectures, discussions of atheistic books, evening programs with question-and-answer sessions and demonstrations of "miracles" are organized in the schools. The proponents of atheism consult neither parents nor children as to whether they wish to be atheists, instead they forcibly intrude upon the consciences of people and dare to proclaim: "Total freedom of conscience has been implemented in the Soviet Union" (J. Aničas and J. Rimaitis,Tarybiniai įstatymai apie religinius kultus ir sąžinės laisvę [Soviet laws concerning religious cults and freedom of conscience], 1970, p. 17).
The most elementary truth is entirely disregarded in the atheistic upbringing of children. The most brazen slander is resorted to in depicting the Church as the greatest disseminator of superstitions and the clergy as criminals. For example, the textbook for class 6, Vidurinių amžių istorija [History of the Middle Ages], ridicules the Church, the popes, and convents and monasteries. Regarding St. Ignatius Loyola, it states that he taught the following: "The Pope must be obeyed without question, even in the case of sin, and one must commit a sin if a superior demands it" (1972, p. 226).
In the text Senovės istorija [Ancient history] it is as-asserted that Christianity originated from legends about Christ, and that these had come from the myths about Osiris, etc. (1971, p. 225). Whereas Tacitus, a historian of the first century, writes in the fifteenth book of his Annals: "The originator of their name, Christ, was condemned to death in the reign of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate" (P. C. Tacitus, Rinktiniai raštai [Selected writings], Vilnius, 1972, p. 224).
The eleventh-class textbook Visuomenės mokslas [Social science] states: "The ranks of the ministers of the Church are supplemented by parasitical elements, spongers, and morally decadent subjects" (1971, p. 212).
Seeking to discredit miracles, the propagandists of the Soviet school affirm: "Churchmen often deceive the faithful by turning water into 'blood.' Churchmen also employ the following trick—in the church the candles ignite spontaneously at night" (A. Gulbinskienė and V. Petronis, Mokslinis-ateistinis auklėjimas mokykloje [Scientific-atheistic education in the schools], p. 28).
Carried away by their lies, the propagators of godless-ness transform even Galileo, Copernicus, and other scientists into "atheists" (ibid., p. 64).
On December 25, 1971, in the secondary school of Prienai, [Mrs.] Vaškienė, the history and social science teacher, "enlightened" the tenth-graders by telling them that Mary was a whore and Joseph a dolt, etc.
Students who attend church diligently are threatened that their faith would be noted in their school records and, therefore, they would be unable to enroll in a school of higher education. Throughout the postwar period the practice has been to note in school records that: "The student has not rid himself of religious superstitions."
Lenin once wrote: "Any distinctions among citizens which affect their rights and are made on the basis of their religious convictions are absolutely inadmissible. Even any sort of references to one or another religious belief of citizens in official documents must be completely eliminated" (Lenin, Raštai [Writings], vol. 10, pp. 65-68). It cannot be assumed that teachers would note the religiousness of secondary school graduates in school records on their own initiative. If this were not encouraged by the highest echelon of the government, no teacher would dare do so under the conditions of the Soviet system. Unfortunately, teachers know that many have suffered for religious convictions, but not one among those who violate the freedom of conscience of the believers!
Religious students are forced to join the atheistic organizations of the Pioneers and the Young Communist League.
Students in the lower classes are enrolled in the Oc-tobrists and the Young Pioneers without even consulting either the children or the parents. The children are simply told to buy their stars and red neckties. Quite a few teachers purchase the stars and neckties themselves and then order the students to bring the money. Having enrolled them into the Pioneers by force, the teachers tell the children to stop dissembling, to stop attending church, since a true Pioneer must be an atheist. Most often the teachers do not coerce the children on their own initiative, but are themselves coerced by the Ministry of Public Education. In the majority of Lithuania's schools, the wearing of a red necktie is unpopular, and the children avoid doing so.
"The religiosity of the parents and of the children themselves is the fundamental, if not the sole, reason why students do not want to join the Young Pioneers organization. Consequently, in those cases when a young adolescent refuses to join, one may assume he is being raised in a religious family, and he himself is religious to a greater or lesser extent," thus reasons Bitinas, who is an expert at turning students into atheists (B. Bitinas, Religingi mokiniai ir jų perauklėjimas [Religious students and their reeducation], 1969, p. 128).
In connection with the fiftieth anniversary of the USSR, upper-class students were particularly pressured to join the Young Communist League in the first half of the ' 1972-73 school year. Students were told it would be harder for nonmembers to be admitted to schools of higher education. In truth, there are quite a few instances of students being rejected because they are not members of the Young Communist League. In some schools, during 1972 homeroom teachers would keep students after class for three to four hours, constantly urging them to join the League. Lately, the students' reluctance to belong to this organization has become increasingly apparent. Some do this for patriotic and others for religious reasons, since they do not want to betray their convictions, but the majority see no use in the Young Communist League.
Homeroom teachers must report the number of League members to the rayoneducation department. If few in the class are members, the education department concludes that this teacher does poor work in educating the class. The careerists try to show off at least thus: my class is one-hundred-percent enrolled in the Young Communist League.
In the autumn of 1972, many students enrolling in schools of higher education were not members of the League. Evidently, the more time goes by, the harder it will be to implement the "one-hundred-percent" dream.
Registering a student in the Young Communist League is considered an important part of his atheistic education. "The decision to become a member of the Young Communist League is at the same time a decision to finally renounce religious views" (B. Bitinas, ibid., p. 108).
When a student is registered in the League, he is not asked whether he believes in God or not, but later is severely criticized more than once. A schoolgirl from the secondary school in Cedasai has remarked: "I remember how ashamed I was when a Young Communist League meeting discussed my churchgoing." Having joined the League and not wanting to have unpleasant experiences in school, many Catholic students begin to avoid the church, going somewhere farther away to practice their religion so their friends and teachers would not find out, and thus gradually stop practicing their religion. At present, it is becoming more and more clear to the Catholic youth of Lithuania—joining the Young Communist League is a great mistake.
In the secondary schools, alongside all the other groups must function an atheistic group. There are very few who join, therefore, the teachers force believing students to participate in the atheistic group's activities. Several representatives from each class are usually assigned to this group. Occasionally all the members of the Young Communist League are registered in the atheistic group, as in the secondary school in Punia, and sometimes even students who actively practice their religion, so they would be "re-educated" by taking part in atheistic activities. Certain teachers even resort to deceit in order to register religious children in an atheistic group. During the first half of the 1972-73 school year, [Miss] Dainauskaitė, a teacher in the secondary school of Krosna, invited some students to enroll in a group whose members would make excursions, "visit churches," etc. Failing to see the deception, the believing children registered for the atheistic group, but when they discovered the deception, they withdrew.
The unpopularity of atheism among the students is borne out by the fact that the atheistic groups in nearly all the schools of Lithuania are moribund: they function only to the extent it is "required."
Registering a religious student in an atheistic group is the most flagrant violation of a child's and his parents' convictions.
An even more widespread violation of a student's conscience involves compelling a religious student to speak out on atheistic subjects, to answer questions during atheism classes, to write atheistic compositions and writing tests, and to participate in atheistic activities afer school.
B. Bitinas has written: "We shall touch on certain methods being utilized to involve students in atheistic activities. One of these is a public statement by a religious student on an atheistic topic (in a discussion, during a reader's conference, while discussing a film, a newsletter to be posted on a bulletin board, etc.).... What is most important is that such a statement encourages the student to make a decision. Now he must act the way he spoke, for otherwise, his classmates will consider him a hypocrite. An adolescent is usually very sensitive to such a charge" (ibid., p. 165).
Are any comments necessary after these words stated by an underminer of the spirit of Lithuanian youth testifying to the complete disregard of the students' freedom of conscience? It remains only to add that the book cited is published by the LSSR Ministry of Public Education and is recommended for teachers as a guide for turning students into atheists.
Art teachers very frequently tell believing students to draw something atheistic. A failing grade is given for refusing. Such coercion of believing students is considered humane and in accordance with the programs established by the Ministry of Public Education.
Students who attend church are quite often ridiculed and upbraided in class meetings, in newsletters on bulletin boards, etc. In April, 1972, [Miss] Lina Galinskaitė, a tenth-class student of the secondary school in Aštrioji Kirs-na went to a neighbor's wake and, kneeling down, prayed for the deceased. The chairman of the teachers' trade union [Mrs.] Lukoševičienė, and [Mrs.] Valiukonienė, the secretary of the Party organization, became very indignant when they saw the schoolgirl praying at the wake. The next day an emergency meeting was called in L. Galinskaitė's class. The homeroom teacher publicly rebuked Lina for "kneeling and making the sign of the cross."
"I have knelt and will continue to kneel. I have crossed myself and will continue to cross myself. You won't forbid me this because you have no right to," the religious girl courageously retorted.
"You can crawl around if you want, but for that you may have to be expelled from school or receive a failing grade in conduct."
Lukoševičienė and Valiukonienė then resolved to have Lina's behavior discussed in the presence of all the students. The members of the Young Communist League would have to condemn her behavior.
"We ourselves go to church and pray, so how can we condemn our friend," said the students, declining to do so.
Then Lukoševičienė called a production meeting; she wished that at least the cleaning women would condemn the religious girl; however, the women defended her unanimously.
Generally teachers avoid mocking religious students themselves (although even such instances occur), but they encourage the students to do so. The book Religingi mokiniai ir jų perauklėjimas [Religious students and their reeducation] states: "Some assert that in the atheistic nurturing of students satirical criticism should not be used in regard to those students who practice religious rites. The data we have compiled indicates that this contention cannot be accepted categorically when one is confronted with young religious adolescents. In some cases the expression of an atheistic public opinion in satirical form actually helps the religious adolescent to accept the goals of an atheistic education more readily than other forms of atheistic influence. The adolescent does not want to appear ridiculous before his peers, and this often exerts a stronger influence than does urging by parents to perform religious rites" (p. 122). "A student feels uneasy when he is being scolded for practicing religious rites, particularly if he is a Pioneer" (ibid.).
Especially persecuted are those students who assist at mass and participate in processions (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, nos. 1, 2, 3, 4). Teachers rebuke the students so they would not take part in religious rites and try to convince parents not to allow their children near an altar; while government functionaries threaten the priests with fines, transfers to smaller parishes, etc. The atheists fear that active participation in religious rites might foster conscientious Catholics, and in particular, that candidates to the theological seminary might appear among the boys who assist at mass.
Student E. of the secondary school in Karklėnai would at times assist at mass. The principal, A. Vilkas, called him in and asked:
"Do you really assist at mass?"
"What does the priest pay you for it?"
"I get paid from above."
"You'll have such a bad school record that you won't be accepted by any school."
"And those members of the Young Communist League who loaf around drunk at the cultural center and are up to their necks with failing grades, will they have good records and be accepted at schools of higher education?"
"You're a sanctimonious granny!"
P., another student, was also persecuted for his faith. Summoning him to his office, Vilkas asked whether he attended church.
"I not only go to church, but I also play the organ."
"I know, I know about your little activities. I'll tear apart this nest of fanatics," shouted the principal.
"We're all fanatics in our own way. I believe in God; you also believe... And what's wrong with that? After all, there is freedom of conscience."
"We'll see how you sneeze when you'll have to go into the army because of your poor school record," threatened the principal.
Atheistic teachers and government officials are especially anxious when they learn that students visit priests and read the literature obtained from them. Contacts between priests and students are even prohibited by Soviet laws.
If teachers see that a student might enter the theological seminary, they make special efforts to influence him so that his aspirations might be turned in another direction. More than once, a student is even indulged just so as to gain his sympathies. There are also entirely contrary cases —attempts are made to especially pressure such a student during the school year and during examinations.
For attending church, the grades of students are quite often lowered, especially the conduct grade.
[Miss] Aurelija Račinskaitė, a first-class student at the eight-year school in Rageliai (Rokiškis Rayon), received a grade of five in all her subjects [the higest grade—tr] during the second trimester in 1972, but her conduct grade was only satisfactory [poor in Soviet schools—tr.]. A note at the bottom of her report card read: "... conduct grade in the second trimester is satisfactory because she attends church.
Teachers often take away crucifixes and medallions from religious students. For instance, [Mrs.] Rimkienė, principal of Kaunas Secondary School No. 2, is particularly experienced in this work. After tearing off a small medallion from a girl's neck in January, 1973, she declared: "I have a whole drawer full of such scraps of metal!"
There are instances where even parents have been persecuted at work for their children's religiosity. At meetings they are reproached for harming Soviet youth by interfering with the efforts of Soviet schools to foster confirmed propagators of the Communist cause.
How Do Religious Students React to Such Discrimination?
A considerable number of students adapt to these conditions of persecution and, currying favor with the teachers and wishing to avoid unpleasantness in their lives, join the Pioneers and the Young Communist League and avoid attending church. They cannot be called atheists because they have not entirely broken off ties with the Church.
Some students yield to the one-sided atheistic propaganda. Unfamiliar with the faith, encountering only its ridicule and coercion, students, especially in the upper classes, begin dissembling and try to avoid revealing themselves as believers; some become atheists. A common trait is noticeable among students of this category—an indifference to ideological questions: both to atheism and the faith; they show an interest only in sports, television, and—later —drinking and erotic matters. Thus it is not surprising that in Lithuania's prison camps atheistic youths make up the largest number of criminals.
When they join the Pioneers or the Young Communist League, quite a few students fail to notice one evil. Growing up in the atmosphere permeated with lies and dishonesty that appeared during the postwar years in Lithuania, students are unable to comprehend the harm in hypocricy and lack of principles.
Many students who are compelled to answer questions during atheism classes or to write atheistic essays do not perceive any moral wrong in this. The disorientation in matters of faith and morality, together with the distressful coercion, are the fundamental reasons why students demonstrate great abhorrence regarding the faith and cannot avoid entirely inexcusable mistakes. Especial responsibility for mistakes of this type and for lapses by the students falls on the parents' consciences. Some of them are negligent in religious matters, others are afraid to defend their children when they are coerced in matters of the faith, still others erroneously advise: "Join the Young Communist League, child. The important thing is that you don't renounce God in your heart!"
Some of the students dare to resist and actively defend their convictions.
During the first half of the 1972-73 school year, the students in classes 9-11 of the secondary school in Griškabūdis were given three questions to determine their convictions. Ninety percent answered that they believe in God.
On September 15, 1970, at the eight-year school in Salininkai, one schoolgirl wrote down entirely contrary ideas during an atheistic writing exercise in class. Although there were no mistakes, the principal gave the girl a failing grade.
In February, 1972, at the secondary school in Klaipėda, the following conversation took place between a teacher and N., a schoolgirl in class 7:
"I'm ashamed that you're a good student and still not a Pioneer."
"But I'm not ashamed at all."
"Why do you want to be different from the whole class?"
"I don't want to pretend. I want to be the way I really am."
The teacher spent the entire class explaining about the Young Pioneers organization. Concluding, she said:
"There is such an organization. If you're told to join, you join without any deliberations."
When girl members of the Pioneers wanted to forcibly tie a necktie around her neck, the schoolgirl would not give in:
"My neck is my own to do with as I please."
In 1971 one girl's letter was published in Lietuvos pionierius [Lithuanian Pioneer]. She wrote: "I myself am a Pioneer, but I donned the Pioneer's necktie only because my homeroom teacher insisted ... I attend church. And not because my grandmother, grandfather, or parents make me, but willingly. Like nearly all the other students of our class, I go to communion. I am firmly convinced that God exists."
In the Klaipeda Medical School, the director of the Klaipėda Theater, B. Juškevičius, gave the atheistic lectures in 1969. To obtain credit for these, several philosophical questions had to be answered in writing. The instructor of atheism became very upset when he found the following thoughts in one girl's essay:
"It is asserted that the various religions originated out of human helplessness and ignorance, but this is untrue. The origin of religion is much grander... Scientists discover the most varied principles, and does this not compell one to consider who created these principles? Man discovers only that which God has already created long ago. Man is more than just a hunk of meat and a pile of bones. Man has an immortal soul. Christ really existed. The years are counted from His birth ... If everyone was a true and firm Catholic, how ideal and beautiful life would be—like paradise. No army, no police, no prisons would be needed, whereas now... I think that the Catholic religion is the only true religion. I have thought so for a long time but became even more firmly convinced during these lectures..."
Lately, the desire among students to defend their convictions and not to submit to coercion is becoming ever more apparent. Believing students find their chief support in their religious parents.
N, a girl at the secondary school in Kapsukas publicly professed her faith in class. The teacher told her to bring her father. The latter courageously defended his daughter:
"Is it possible that you want a person to sell his convictions for a mess of porridge?"
One mother from the parish in Karklėnai discovered that her children would have to perform in a play and sing during Lent. The resolute mother went to see the principal and declared she would not permit her children to act and sing during Lent.
"You're only concerned about somehow pushing a child through a class, but I'm concerned about the child's entire life and eternity. I don't want my children to be hooligans."
At a parish in Samogitia one set of parents found out that their children were learning some sort of atheistic play after returning from school. The next day the mother visited the principal and declared:
"My children will not act in something that is against God. If you force them to act, they won't come to school tomorrow!"
The children did not have to perform in the atheistic play.
One mother wrote to the editors of Lietuvos pionierius [Lithuanian Pioneer]: "Why is it that now, when there is so much scientific enlightenment, people no longer see the greatest light—God? I pity those mothers who do not teach their children to know God. As for myself, I truly believe in God and want my children to believe too. It seems to me that if I were ever to hear my children saying that God in unnecessary—I'd rather they died now."
The atheists call the parents who defend their children's faith fanatics. In reality a fanatic is one who hates those who think otherwise than he. Does not the present persecution of believing students arise from fanaticism?
In the course of the past few years parents have even begun to collectively defend the children who are persecuted for their faith. One may mention the following collective complaints by parents: the petition of October 10, 1971, by parents from the parish in Valkininkai to their rayon administration (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 2); the petition of August, i97i,by parents of the parish in Simnas to the government of the USSR; the petition of February, 1972, by parents from the parish in Lukšiai to the Procurator of the LSSR (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 2); the petition of April 20, 1972, by parents from the parish in Adutiškis to Leonid Brezhnev (see the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 4). All these collective complaints cite cases of persecution against students and demand that the situation be corrected. The collective declarations demonstrate the growing consciousness of the Catholics and that, in the future, parents will defend their children more and more energetically against all who violate their freedom of conscience.