On April 4, 1982, Palm Sunday evening, Father Valfreds Vinbergs was attacked and severely beaten by an unindentified man at the churchyard fence. The priest had to be admitted to the hospital for surgery on a ruptured spleen. Father Vinbergs is not telling the faithful who attacked him, and perhaps he himself does not know; however, parishioners do not doubt that it was the work of the KGB, since they have more than once noticed chekists following their pastor. One witness affirms that he once saw two chekists on the street force Father Vinbergs into a car, and take him away.
The faithful are seriously worried that Father Vinbergs could be murdered by the chekists.
Byelorussia. Armoniškės (Varanavo Rayon).
The church in Armoniškės is officially considered by the government to be nonfunctioning and closed but the people gather there every Sunday for community prayer. Rayon Security Police and Executive Committee Vice Chairman Kuzmičius constantly intimidate and threaten the faithful of Armoniškės. On Sundays, Executive Committee Vice Chairman Kuzmičius, accosting the last little old lady coming out of church began to shout:
"Do you have the keys? Turn them over, and don't let me see you here any more!"
During Lent of 1982, the faithful of Armoniškės were reciting the rosary together at the home of Vladislovas Griška. Bursting in to the room, Kuzmičius and the local district authorities dispersed the people who had been gathered, cursing them. The householder, Vladislovas Girška, was fined 50 rubles for allowing someone to pray in his home.
Dūdos (įvija Rayon)
The church of Dūdos was converted into a granery in 1981. The people organized a break-in, emptied the grain out into the yard, and clearing out the interior, began to use the building for worship. When the militia arrived, the rayon and local authorities tried in every way to disperse the faithful who had gathered: they tried to frighten them, threatening them with jail . . . people would not leave the church for several days. With the faithful actively defending their house of prayer, the local authorities were forced to find a warehouse for the grain. To date, the faithful of the parish of Dudos pray in church, prepared to defend themselves courageously from new attacks by security and the government.
Trakeliai (Varanavo Rayon)
The church of Trakeliai is 12 km. from Varanavo. It is a pretty and pleasant church, whose main altar is adornedwith a miraculous picture of Mary. During a fire, the altar was destroyed, but the picture of Mary survived, with only a right corner of the picture being burned where an image of Saint Casimir is beautifully incorporated at the present time.
In 1958, when the parish priest of Trakeliai went to Poland, the church continued to function officially until 1968. When the church was closed, the parishioners tried to preserve the keys, even though more than once they had to hide them from government officials.
Up till 1980, the faithful of Trakeliai used to pray in the churchyard. The government had strictly forbidden them to enter the church. In 1980, BEFORE All Souls' Day, the people gathered in organized fashion in the church and prayed. Soon, the rayon and local authorities showed up and after dispersing the people, locked the church. Scandalized at such action on the part of government officials, the people refused to go to work for a few days. Finally, the rayon government agreed to allow believers to pray in the church, but they would not give permission in writing.
In 1982, during the Feast of the Visitation, even though there was no priest, several thousand people gathered at the church.
Some time later, when the faithful began to cover the sacristy roof, the Rayon Prosecutor, Investigator and militia showed up, demanding that the church keys be turned over. The people refused.
After a few days had gone by, Mykolas Tragys, a resident of Trakeliai, was summoned before the Executive Committee. Rayon officials asked him where he got the material for renovations, accusing the faithful of breaking the law, since apparently without asking government permission, he had begun some remodelling. (Until 1980, the faithful of Trakeliai had beat a path not only to Minsk, but even to Moscow, asking that the parish be allowed to function officially, and that a priest be allowed to come; but, as usual, Moscow referred everything to the local government, which can only close down churches).
Presently, up to 200 individuals assemble in the Trakeliai church on Sundays; meanwhile, the priest is forbidden by law from coming to hold services in this church, as in other closed churches of Byelorussia.
The Troubles of Catholic Lithuanians in Byelorussia
When the pastor of the Gervėčiai parish, Father Stanislovas Chodykai, died in the summer of 1978, the parish committee began to write petitions and to send delegations to various levels of Soviet government to obtain a priest who knew the Lithuanian language, since the parish from the earliest times had been Lithuanian, and since the war, no one has taught the Polish language in school and the faithful do not understand it. There was no such priest in Byelorussia; one had to be invited from Lithuania. The government representatives could not agree that the Lithuanians in Byelorussia could pray in Lithuanian.
On January 25, 1979, in a letter to Chairman Leonid Brezhnev of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the faithful wrote: "... we appealed to the Executive Committee of the Astravą Rayon, to the Deputy for Religious Affairs of the Region of Gardinas, to the Commissioner for Religious Affairs of the Byelorussian SSR, to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR, and nine times, to the Commissioner for Religious Affairs attached to the USSR Council of Ministers. All of our petitions, no matter where we sent them, were referred back to the Gardinas Region, while the local organs of the government, antagonistically disposed, do not plan to satisfy our request. . ."
Even though this petition was signed by 2067 faithful, it did no good — the government of the "most democratic country in the world" paid no attention to the requests of the populace. Nevertheless, the people did not give up hope — all of them wrote new petitions to Chairman Leonid Brezhnev of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, April 10, 1979; April 25, 1979; August 23, 1979.
After a long seris of requests, the Commissioner for Religious Affairs in the Region of Gardinas, A.J. Lyskov, asked that candidates from Lithuania be nominated for the deceased priest's post. The parish committee suggested: Father Mykolas Petravičius, Father Juozas Lunius or Father Bronius Laurinavičius, but the Soviet government did not accept a single candidate from Lithuania, arguing that all of them were bad.
Commissioner Lyskov for the Council for Religious Affairs in the Region of Gardinas, himself, without benefit of the Church hierarchy, found a young priest who does not know Lithuanian, and appointed him as pastor of the parish of Gervėčiai. The faithful complained, with reason, that it is very difficult for them because the pastor offers Mass only in Polish, and the people understand nothing, neither in the sermnons nor in confession.
Father Bronius Laurinavičius well acquainted with the plight of the Gervėčiai parish, tried writing well-reasoned petitions to Chairman Brezhnev of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, but it did no good. The Lithuanian faithful of the parish of Gervėčiai have no way of winning the right to pray in their own language in which their parents and grandparents prayed.
Case No. 2-71, 1981. Excerpt from a Decree.
In the name of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Judicial College for Criminal Cases in the Region of Lvov, with P.O. Romaniuk chairing, and Peoples' Witnesses K.S. Zabaznov and V.J. Mikhailov participating, A.J. Bordun acting as Secretary, and Prosecutor V.M. Dorošai participating, with Public Accusor J.M. Grigo-ryev and Attorneys B.V. Sotenskov and M.V. Žolubak, on October 28, 1981, in open circuit court in Lvov, tried a criminal case against:
1.Vasily Mikhailovich Kavaciv, born 1934 in the Lvov Region, Strijsk Rayon, Village of Yablunivk, a Ukrainian, citizen of the USSR, non-Party member, with a special middle-level education, un married, never tried before, who worked as an orderly in the third hospital in the City of Lvov, residing at Lvov, Yanka Kupala 36-3, accused, according to Par. 138 lid, and Par. 209 Id of the Criminal Code of the Ukranian SSR.
2.Roman Stepanovich Esip, born 1951 in the Region of Lvov, Pustomitivsk Rayon, Village of Vodena, a Ukrainian, citizen of the USSR, non-Party member with a special middle-level education, a draftee, unmarried, never tried before, at the time of the arrest, unemployed. Residing at Lvov, Yanka Kupala 36-3, accused, according to Par. 138 lid, and Par. 209 Id of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR.
The Judicial college has decided:
The accused, V.M. Kavaciv and R.S. Esip, said that they were priests of the Greek Catholic Rite.
Between 1974 and 1981, Kavaciv and Esip, undaunted by the government ban, organized forbidden religious activity among Ukrainian Catholics, conducting illegal services among Ukranian Catholics day and night, on work days and holidays in the villages of the Region of Lvov, in unregistered communities of believers, in cemeteries and apartments, as well as in Orthodox churches registered with the state, without checking with the Orthodox community.
The accused Kavaciv and Esip not only organized and conducted services, they also taught minors religion and, making use of confession, used to tell believers to repeat various prayers many times as penance, to learn them by rote.
Besides, the accused Kovaciv and Esip, using confession, did damage to minors by requiring them as penance to fast (to abstain from meat). During Lent they forbade children to go to the club, watch television or to go to films.
The accused Kavaciv and Esip admitted partial guilt on the basis of Par. 138 II d, conceding that they are priests, and said that as priests they must minister to the faithful; so that they do not feel guilty for conducting services and hearing confessions. They pleaded innocent of infractions against Par. 209 Id; the charge of corrupting minors through confession they considered a calumny; and abstinence from meat is actually recommended by doctors. The judicial college found:
Vasily Mikhailovich Kavaciv and Roman Stepanovich Esip guilty according to the Ukrainian SSR Criminal Code, Par. 138 lid and Par 209 Id, and sentenced them to five years deprivation of freedom and three years exile with confiscation of all property, the sentence to be carried out in a general regime work colony.
Religious articles and literature to be turned over to the Lvov Historical Museum of Religion and Atheism.
Valuable articles unsuitable as museum exhibits (a radio, tape recorders, etc.) to be confiscated for the good of the state.
Insignificant articles of no value to the museum or use to the state, to be destroyed.
Signed by the Judicial College
Although the trial was public, only a few of the faithful got in, even though there were still some places available. Most of those participating in the trial were workers summoned by force from factories, technical schools and offices. Even so, some of them were sympathetic to those on trial.
The presiding judge constantly intimidated the faithful who had gathered, ridiculed them, checked their documents and photographed them.
Most of the witnesses who were minors recanted statements made during the preliminary investigation, on the grounds that they had not read the report and that the investigator could have doctored it. This was confirmed by the teacher. She participated in the preliminary investigation and testified in court that the pupil Babus had said none of the things which were written by the investigator in his report.
Minors at the trial were threatened that such conduct on their part — recanting the statements made during preliminary investigations — could have an influence on the evaluation of their conduct and their distant future. Moreover, during the trial, the judge intimidated the children, demanding that they tell him what the priest had taught them during confessions and what penance he had assigned.
The statement of the court that abstinence from meat injures health is absurd. Why then in public restaurants is meat on the menu twice a week?
The priests were accused of forbidding children to go to see films or to watch television, but this was not confirmed by a single witness. Nor could the activities of the sentenced priests Kavaciv and Esip be considered criminal because they did not have registration cards. They themselves did not refuse to be registered, but the state would not register them, even though believers gathered signatures and asked them to register the house of prayer and to give the priests certification.
There are many Greek Catholic priests in Ukraine. They want and are fully entitled to have their own Greek Rite churches and priests.
There are many similar examples of how Ukrainian Greek Catholics are persecuted.
Children attending church are ridiculed, threatened with bad conduct marks and exclusion from higher education and from jobs.
The atheists think that the Greek Catholic Rite Church in Ukraine has already been liquidated. They are mistaken. The Greek
Catholic Church in Ukraine is alive, in spite of persecution of believers and the terrorizing of priests.