The editorship of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania has been successful in collecting a large portion of the petitions which have been sent or taken by the faithful of Lithuania to various agencies of Lithuania or the Soviet Union, protesting against the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas. The petitions and excerpts from petitions given below will help, at least in part, to form some impression how the believing public reacted to the arrest of a priest who is dear to them.
The faithful of Prienai, in their protest addressed to General Secretary Andropov of the CPSU write, among other things:
"We, the faithful of the parish of Prienai, are deeply pained by and deplore the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, Pastor of the parish of Vidukle, and member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, together with his indictment for anti-Constitutional and anti-Soviet activity . . .
"In the face of this painful fact, we state that we have defended our nation's priests, and we will continue to defend them, asking God that they be courageous in defending the truth, God, the Church and the affairs of us believers.
"Hands off Father Alfonsas Svarinskas!"
In Igliauka, 510 faithful, in their petition to the Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR , write:
"On January 27, 1983, Tiesa (The Truth) (Trans. Note — Communist publication in Lithuania) reported that a criminal case had been brought against the Pastor of the Parish of Vidukle, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas. By the time we read this news, Father Svarinskas had already been arrested and jailed.
"Why was this priest arrested?
"The press claims that Father Alfonsas Svarinskas abused his position as a clergymen, and engaged in anti-State and anti-Constitutional activity; however, we are deeply convinced that this allegation is completely unfounded.
"Father Svarinskas is well known to us, because he worked for five years as pastor of Igliauka. We all remember him with respect, as an exemplary and zealous priest, devoted to his work, kind to all, friendly and fatherly. No one will ever succeed in calumniating him, smearing him, or depicting him as some kind of criminal.
"We know well that Father Svarinskas displeased those fighting against the Church in Lithuania because he was a member of the
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas
Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, and fought for the rights of the faithful, so that they would not be victims of discrimination.
"Is that a crime? Is it anti-Soviet activity? No! Father Alfonsas Svarinskas became a priest precisely to be a leader to the faithful, teach them, minister to them and defend their rights. This is how every conscientious priest is supposed to act.
"The arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, this noble man and spiritual leader beloved by all, we take as an act of persecution against all of us faithful.
"We deplore the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and his unjust indictment, and we demand that he be released and the criminal case brought against him be set aside.
"Free Father Alfonsas Svarinskas!"
To: The Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR
On January 26, 1983, in Raseiniai, the Pastor of Viduklė, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, well-known to the general public and a respected member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, was treacherously arrested.
From the brief announcement in Tiesa, and attacks in the local press, it is apparent that a case is being fabricated against Father Svarinskas, and an attempt is being made to get rid of him under the cloak of Soviet law.
None of this would cause any surprise, since this is not the first "witchcraft trial' in post-War Lithuania . . . Nevertheless, the persecution of Father Svarinskas has evoked great dissatisfaction and concern in the public over the options which have been presented to the government atheists to get rid of their ideological opponents.
We know Father Alfonsas Svarinskas as a decent person, fellow countryman, loyal to the Church and to Lithuania, who openly defends human rights and refuses to compromise with untruth and coercion, no matter under what colors or slogans they be hidden.
We appeal to the Council cf Ministers to check the hand of the self appointed punisher raised against Father Svarinskas, so that our nation's painful history would not have one more shameful page added to it by the tribunal of the future.
Free Father Alfonsas Svarinskas!
February, 1983 Signed by 1222 faithful.
In the parish of Griškabūdis, about 200 faithful signed the following petition to the Prosecutor of the LSSR:
"When we found out about the arrest of the pastor of the parish of Viduklė, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, not only were we faithful deeply grieved, but we were also very much offended that the government, which proclaims freedom of religion, again makes use of such harsh means of reprisal against priests.
"All the accusations against Father Svarinskas which were announced in the press (anti-Soviet and anti-Constitutional activities), we consider merely as a standard accusation against all priests, especially those priests who are members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights.
"Those standard accusations against Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, we consider to be purely a propaganda cry of the government, and the arrested priest to be upright and innocent.
"Therefore, we the believing public demand that Father Alfonsas Svarinskas be released!
"Free Father Alfonsas Svarinskas!"
The text of this petition, with signatures, was confiscated by KGB agents in the church of Griškabūdis itself, where the signatures were baing gathered. The woman collecting the signatures was detained and interrogated, while the Pastor of Griškabūdis, Father Vytautas Užkuraitis, had to make a statement at the Office of the Šakiai Rayon Prosecutor about organizing the collection of signatures.
The following faithful, demanding freedom for Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, signed:
Kapsukas — 2185 Vilnius — 1216 Kėdainiai — 1140 Mažeikiai — 985 Laižuva — 65 Leckava — 50 Miroslavas — 551 Simnas — 468 Šventežerys — 252 Gardašiai — 51 Šiluva — 208 Garliava — 520 Tabariškės — 192 Vilkija — 171 Druskininkai — 580 Raseiniai — 202 Šiauliai — 287 Nedingė — 259 Žalpiai — 219 Anykščiai — 232 Luokė — 332 Perloja — 499 Lauksoda — 121 Kupiškis — 1244 Panevėžys — 1578 Telšiai — 2340 Nevarėnai — 97 Vėkšniai — 265 Sasnava — 276 Patilčiai — 52 Pažėrai — 146 Lazdijai — 371 Skardupiai — 32 Kapčiamiestis — 143 Jonava — 436 Vievis — 438 Sėta — 89 Radviliškis — 436 Pagiriai — 111 Skriaudžiai — 121 Šilutė — 465 Tauragė — 400 Pašilė — 391 Seda — 358 Tirkšliai — 224 Eigirdžiai — 76 Kaunas — 3759 Alytus — 1066 Kybartai — 914 Tverai — 109 Ylakiai — 290 Kazlų Rūda — 328 Vištytis — 108 Šeiriai — 250 Liškiava — 106 Pilviškiai — 303 Užuguostis — 70 Ukmergė — 704 Ramygala — 310 Šeštokai — 364 Šeduva — 725 Tytuvėnai — 185 Veiveriai — 124 Švėkšna — 617 Dotnuva — 189 Kretinga — 887 Palanga — 400 Viešvėnai — 80
Bičkauskas, the investigator on Father Alfonsas Svarinskas' case, affirms that the code reference of the charge against the arrested man has been changed. Now he is being accused according to LSSR Criminal Code Par. 68, Part 1. The maximum punishment is seven years in labor camp and five years in exile. It is improbable that the trial will take place before October.
In Lithuania, among the lay faithful and the clergy, signatures continue to be collected on behalf of Father Svarinskas, demanding his freedom. Government officials explain that this will do no good.
(Trans. Note — Actually, Father Svarinskas was tried and sentenced in May, 1983, to seven years in prison and three years in exile.)
Whether it will do any good or not is a secondary question; most important is that the believing nation solidly defends one who is dear to it. Moreover, each signature in behalf of Father Svarinskas is a vote in favor of those ideas to which this zealous Lithuanian priest devoted his life.
Charter Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights. From left: Fathers Vincas Vėlavicius, Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius, Juozas Zdebskis, Jonas Kauneckas.
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights January 31, 1983 No. 53
To: General Secretary Yuri Andropov of the CPSU Copy to: The Prosecutor of the LSSR
On January 26, 1983, the Pastor of Viduklė, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, was arrested, and at the homes of the Pastor of Valkininkai, Father Algimantas Keina and the Associate Pastor of Telšiai, Father Jonas Kauneckas, searches were carried out. Since these priests belong to the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, it is a sign that a campaign has begun against the Committee.
We protest against this action on the part of the LSSR Prosecutor's Office, and especially against the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, since neither in the activities of the Catholic Committee, nor in those of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas personally, was there anything anti-State or anti-Constitutional.
We repeatedly empasize that the Catholic Committee's purpose is to strive that the faithful of Lithuania have at least as many rights as do the atheists of Lithuania, supported by the state and fighting against the Church. Can this activity be considered anti-Constitutional, when the Constitution of the USSR guarantees all citizens equal rights regardless of nationality, race or religion? (Par. 34)
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas' arrest evoked the greatest outrage among the faithful. The faithful, constituting a majority in the Lithuanian SSR, are asking: What does the arrest of the most zealous priests mean? Is it perhaps a declaration of open warfare against the Church?
In 1874, Friedrich Engels called open war against religion madness, and stated that this was the best way of reviving interest in religion. His ideas were praised by Lenin (Writings of Lenin, Vol. 17, pp. 415-426). The juridical persecution of Father Svarinskas will confirm the idea of Engels and Lenin, as it was confirmed eleven years earlier by the trials of three priests: Juozas Zdebskis, Prosperas Bubnys and Antanas Šeškevičius. From that time, the Catholic Church in Lithuania has experienced a renaissance.
Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights:
Docent Vytautas Skuodis (in labor camp)
Alfonsas Svarinskas (in prison) Leonas Kalinauskas Algimantas Keina Vaclovas Stakėnas Sigitas Tamkevičius Vincas Vėlavičius Kazimieras Žilys
(Trans. Note — As of the publication of this translation, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, Pastor of Kybartai, has been arrested and is awaiting trial)
To: The Chief of the Vilnius KGB
The Nazi SS, even though considered the crudest of all, used to accept exchanges even for prisoners condemned to death. Everyone knows of the fact that Father Maximilian Kolbe died of starvation in the camp of Osvenczym as a substitute for the father of a large family who had been condemned to death.
You call yourselves representatives of the most humane state in the world, so we come to you and ask you to accept us as substitutes for Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, a priest of the Catholic Church. We, the undersigned individuals, agree to go to prison or to labor camp as substitutes for Father Alfonsas Svarinskas. We ask you to comply with our petition.
Monika Gavėnaitė ......................... Viduklė, Šaltino 1
Jadvyga Petkevičienė ................................ Šiauliai
Marija Saukienė ............................. Viduklė, Gėlių g.
Jadvyga Stanelytė ................ Kaunas, 16 divizijos 56a-39
Regina Teresiūtė .................................... Kelmės m.
Joana Navickaitė .................................... Kulautuva
Aldona Raizytė .................................... Teleišių km.
Arūnas Rekašius ......................... Garliava, Ramybės 14
Saulius Kelpšas .......................... Garliava, Pažangos 11
To: General Secretary of the CPSU, Yuri V. Andropov From: Priests of the Telšiai Diocese LTSR
235610 Telšiai Spaudos 2
Telšių Vyskupijos Kurija
With the arrest of the Pastor of Viduklė, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, on January 26 of this year, the campaign against the Catholic Church in Lithuania intensified greatly. In rayon newspapers, priests are reviled as anti-Soviet, politicians and extremists. In meetings which are organized in factories, officers and schools, some priests are smeared by attributing to them non-existent crimes. All priests are being followed openly, and searches have been carried out in the apartments of Fathers Antanas Šeškevičius, Juozas Kauneckas and Algimantas Keina. (Trans. Note — See Chronicle No. 56)
Criminal proceedings have been brought against Father Alfonsas Svarinskas "for anti-Constitutional activities, and on January 26, 1983, he was brought to trial in accordance with established legal procedure." (Tiesa, January 27, 1983, No. 22)
We know Father Svarinskas' religious activities, and we are sure that he did not engage in anti-Constitutional activities. The trial of Father Svarinskas has not taken place, the court has not yet spoken concerning his guilt or innocence, but the press and propagandists have already judged Father Svarinskas and found him guilty. Such activity by the propagandists is illegal, because the investigation has not been completed, and guilt has not yet been assessed.
Father Svarinskas belongs to the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, whose purpose is to defend the faithful when their rights are violated. We are convinced that belonging to this committee and defending the rights of believers is not only no crime, but is a noble and humane work.
Still worse — in the Soviet press lately, articles have appeared in which St. Casimir, the Patron Saint of Lithuania, is demeaned; the Servant of God, Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis-Matulevičius is vilified and debased. This is an obvious insult to the feelings of believers. We feel the obligation to express our protest.
We ask you to stop the persecution of Catholic priests in Lithuania, the insulting of the religious convictions of the faithful and to release Father Alfonsas Svarinskas from prison.
Signed by the following priests:
Aloyzas Lideikis Vladas Abramavičius Alfonsas Klimavičius Vytautas Skiparis Petras Mitkus Liudvikas Serapinas Aleksas Jakutis Vladas Radveikis Julius Budrikis Anicetas Kerpauskas Jonas Jasinevičius Kazimieras Prialgauskas
Liudvikas Šarkauskas Juozas Miklovas Antanas Petronaitis Domininkas Skirmantas Antanas Bunkus Bronius Brazdžius Pranas Satkus Ferdinandas Žilis Juozas Gunta Tadas Poška Vincentas Klebonas Brunonas Bagužas Izidorius Juškys
Julijonas Tamašauskas Antanas Augustis Petras Puzaras Petras Palšis Klemensas Arlauskas Vincentas Senkus Adolfas Pudžemis Kostas Petrikas Antanas Jurgaitis Stanislovas Vaitelis Anupras Žukas Antanas Garjonas Domininkas Giedra Vincentas Gauronskis Jonas Gedvilą Antanas Striukis Antanas Kiela Albinas Arnašius Jonas Ilskis Juozas Meidus Kostas Jadviršis Juozas Gasiūnas Petras Merliūnas Kazimieras Žukas Alfonsas Pridotkas Vladas Juškys Bronius Latakas Juozas Pačinskas Juozas Gedgaudas Kazimieras Macelis Vincentas Vėlavičius Jonas Bučinskas Valentinas Šikšnys Juozas Širvaitis Pranciškus Ružė Bronius Racevičius Vladas Šlevas Petras Jasas Petras Stukas Jonas Pakalniškis
Alfonsas Baškys Juozas Šiurys Petras Bernotas Antanas Gilys Leonas Veselis Klemensas Puidokas Henrikas Šulcas Juozas Janauskas Vytautas Motekaitis Jonas Rudzinskas Julius Miškinis Pranciškus Venckus Jonas Lukošius Petras Serapinas Edmundas Germanas Liudvikas Dambrauskas Romualdas Žulpa Algirdas Pakamanis Juozas Grabauskas Antanas Beniušis Adomas Alminas Kazimieras Gaščiūnas Česlovas Degutis Antanas Ivanauskas Jonas Kusas Jonas Paliukas Konstantinas Velioniškis Kazimieras Rimkus Alfonsas Lukoševičius Petras Lygnugaris Antanas Riškus Juozas Maželis Antanas Šeškevičius Anupras Gauronskis Antanas Zdanavičius Jonas Baikauskas Juozas Bukauskas Jonas Vičiulis Aloyzas Orantas
March 15, 1983
To: The Prosecutor of the LSSR
We, the undersigned, express deep concern over the arrest of the Pastor of Viduklė, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas.
Alfonsas Svarinskas is a decent man of principle, and a good priest. We know, and those of us who have heard his sermons affirm, that he did not libel the Soviet system, did not diminish its prestige, but within the limits of the Soviet Constitution, he criticized those Soviet officials who interfered in the internal affairs of the Church unjustifiably, and insulted believers without grounds.
We are surprised that it was not they, but rather Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, who had been brought to trial. This fact shows that the Soviet upper-echelon ignores the interests and needs of its citizens, discriminates against believers, judges all questions of conflict from a position of force and is not guided by moral and humanitarian principles universally accepted.
We ask you to release Alfonsas Svarinskas without delay, and we trust that he will have the opportunity again to perform his priestly duties.
Danutė Keršiūtė Genovaitė Šakalienė Marija Iešmantienė Jonas Sadūnas Petras Cidzikas Birutė Burauskaitė Romualdas Ragaišis Irena Skuodienė Leonas Laurinskas Albertas Žilinskas Marytė Sadūnienė Elena Terleckienė Angelė Ragaišienė Vytautas Bogušis
To: Investigator Vidzėnas of the LSSR KGB Copies to: The Prosecutor of the LSSR
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights
From: Citizen Liudvikas Simutis, Son of Adomas
Born 1935, sentenced for anti-Soviet activity to twenty-five years loss of freedom and having served sentence from 1905-1977. Presently living at Kaunas, A. Borisos, 25-3.
Having been summoned to the KGB's hearing in connection with the case of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, I must state:
I have long known Father Alfonsas Svarinskas very well. For a long time, I got to associate with him in places of incarceration where inhumanly difficult conditions of life provide especially favorable circumstances under which to get to know a person. People who have suffered long-term hunger and fatigue are unable to hide even their smallest vices or virtues. My friendship with Father Alfonsas Svarinskas continued even after I had returned from my place of imprisonment. Hence my testimony can be considerably more objective than that of many who have met him only sporadically.
Understanding fully my legal responsibility, feeling morally responsible, on the basis of our many conversations, my close cooperation with Father Svarinskas and my wide acquaintances in Lithuania, I categorically affirm:
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas never intended to damage the national sovereignty of the USSR, its territorial integrity or its military might.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas never intended to damage the interests of the USSR through the information media.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas never intended to undercut or weaken the Soviet government, or by libel or figments of the imagination to demean the Soviet state or public order.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas did not wish either gratuitously or for money to serve, nor did he serve, either foreign or domestic enemies of the USSR.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas wished to be, and was, a good, upright person, a good Catholic Priest: He helped the poor according to his means. He defended those who were being unjustly treated and he devoted especially much energy and time to the struggle for equalizing the rights of believers with the rights of atheists, against discriminatory treatment of the faithful, which the Catholics of Lithuania find so painful.
The sole source of Father Svarinskas' energy, and the driving force of his activity, is love. As one of the brightest stars in the Catholic Church in Lithuania, since Valančius, he remained remarkably modest. (Trns. note — Motiejus Valančius, 1801-1875, Bishop of Samogitia, historian, writer and national hero.) Father Svarinskas did only that which the majority of Lithuanian priests wanted to do, but did not dare. He spoke out loud and clear in his sermons on those topics about which the priests and faithful of Lithuania spoke in whispers; about which a majority of priests and faithful who themselves could not speak about these things from lack of manliness or ability, repeatedly asked him to speak.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas never tried to push to the fore, to be first, but in an atmosphere where people are still paralyzed by fear, instilled in them during the terrible era of Stalin and Beria, so that people even today cannot believe that the Soviet government at present is already more humane (and apparently not without cause if today the arrest of such a noble man as Father Alfonsas Svarinskas is still possible!), he was often the first, also out of fear — not an atavistic fear which has paralyzed some but from fear of God.
Being strong in his faith, he almost never succumbed to brute fear, but he was often afraid by keeping quiet and doing nothing to acquiesce to criminal deeds. He was afraid by silence to offend God in those things where conscience demands not only that one speak, but that one calls out at the top of one's voice.
Wherever Father Svarinskas happened to engage in the priestly ministry, he everywhere earned through his life and work the special respect and love of the faithful, and even of many non-believers. Word of his manly goodness spread throughout Lithuania and even beyond.
In the light of talented goodness, ordinary human goodness becomes, as it were, invisible. It winds up in a shadow, or even becomes similar to evil. That truth is usually witnessed by the words spoken without rancor by the then administrator of the diocese and now its bishop, Antanas Vaičius, in Telšiai, 1978, during a well-attended Christmas Eve supper, concerning Father Jonas Kauneckas: "... as long as there was no Father Kauneckas in
Telšiai, all we priests of Telšiai were good enough for the people. But when they saw Father Kauneckas, all the rest of us became bad in the eyes of the people . . ." Goodness in the presence of greater goodness becomes similar to evil. Then what can be said about evil itself!
The heroic goodness of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas disturbed the consciences and the minds of evil as well as good people. The good coming in contact with him, would become fired up with the desire to improve, while in bad people, understandably, goodness enkindles only feelings of jealousy and envy, and the desire to liquidate him, so that he would not interfere with evil mimicking goodness.
The arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and the attempt to portray him as a criminal are a result of that terrible vice of evil people — revenge, that is, the revenge of those who are arbitrary, untrammeled offenders against Soviet law and humanity.
It is no secret to anyone that the Soviet chekists have made many mistakes. As a result of these mistakes, Tuchachevsky, Uborevich and many others perished, and many people were imprisoned in error. I am absolutely convinced that the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and efforts to draw up a criminal case against him, are among the newest and worst of the chekists' mistakes, which, alas, have already been committed, but which are still possible to correct.
I am acquainted with the Criminal Code of the LSSR, and I know that for refusing to be a witness, I can be put on trial. However, it is not my fault that those who pass laws in the Soviet state ignore the spiritual requirements of believers. I, as a human being and a Catholic, can see the attempt to make me a witness in the case of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas as an undeserved insult against Father Svarinskas and myself, since it is clear that in this case, the investigators can only look for help to characterize the good works and words of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas as criminal.
Everything which I was prepared to say in the case of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, I have set forth in this petition. Since Father Svarinskas is completely innocent, I refuse to be questioned in greater detail in this case, regardless of possible terrible results for me and my family. If this is characterized as perjury, and a criminal case is brought against me, I shall be able to illustrate all of the statements set forth here with ample and eloquent facts.
March 16, 1983 L. Simutis
Somewhere the grass was left,
Somewhere the color green . . .
Repeat to yourself, repeat,
Repeat that it is there,
Repeat like a sacrament,
For here are only three paces From wall to wall.
Somewhere outside the cold prison wall
Somewhere out there in the moonlight
Is moon-bathed Lithuania.
Somewhere out there are my people,
That face so pale
Asks something of me . . .
Is it You, are You here, Christ,
What happened to Your gaze which led me?
Did I fight well?
Did I love well?
Is this what You wanted?
Tell me, Redeemer,
Tell me, just don't keep quiet, don't leave me,
0 people, people, people,
Did you need me?
Did I help you at all?
Tell me, don't keep silent,
Is this what you wanted?
Is this what you wanted?
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas was horn January 21, 1925, in the District of Ukmergė, County of Deltuva, the Village of Kadrėnai. He attended Vidiškiai Primary School and Deltuva Pro-Gymnasium. He entered Ukmergė Normal School, but did not finish, because he did not like it. In 1943, he enrolled in the first year of lyceum (three years to the first year of philosophy). However, he was unable to finish the seminary. On December 31, 1946, he was arrested, cruelly interrogated, and later was imprisoned in special camps where he worked for a long time as a paramedic. For work, Alfonsas Svarinskas was assigned to the most critical patients, but here, too, with his constant smile, he was able to find something to talk about with the hopeless cases.
He knew each one, who needed what, who was hurting, and he came hurrying with his effective assistance. He had an unusual talent for getting along with people. For his ability to share what he had and what he received, he was highly respected. In camp, he liked to associate with the erudite of all specialties, and so he obtained an unusual diploma from life. He became like a small walking encyclopedia. From early morning on (often after a conscientious night on duty), until late at night, Alfonsas Svarinskas used to be wherever anyone needed a helping hand, an encouraging word or advice. As one who was not petty and did not find fault, he was loved by all, even the thieves. When they cooked cereal, they would invite him, and they were happy to have him in their midst. On questions of principle, Alfonsas Svarinskas showed himself unbending. In the letter to his parents written November 17, 1948, from the Inta Camp, he wrote:
"IF I should die, o my homeland, please know,
That I died for freedom with a song . . .
And at my graveside please, do not mourn me,
Do not mourn, do not mourn,
After the death of Stalin, when the administration "remembered" prisoners' rights, Alfonsas Svarinskas began to demand that the well-advertised freedom of religion, till then proclaimed only on paper, be implemented in practice; all the prisoners then felt Father Alfonsas Svarinskas' unusual course. On October 4, 1954, in Abezė, in camp, having prepared and having demonstrated his spiritual maturity through painful trials, Alfonsas Svarinskas was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ramanauskas.
In 1956, after his release, Father Svarinskas returned to Lithuania. Some of the sticklers refused to accept the priest from the camps, but in his own words, there was also no lack of real Christians who accepted the new confrere into their family. To satisfy both the one and the other, Father Svarinskas was assigned to Kulautuva as Associate Pastor. Here he performed his duties as associate pastor conscientiously, working hard to restore the church's environment. He carried on a broad apostolate. The ample personal library of Father Svarinskas lured vacationers of various nationalities (at that time, there was an all-republic sanitarium in Kulautuva).
Seeing the young priest working around church, greeted by him pleasantly, the schoolchildren, many of whom had the Communist Youth emblem pinned on them under duress, would take a shovel or a rag for washing floors, and proceeded to help the associate pastor.
In the evening, the young people would gather in his room to talk. There developed a sincere uplifting and strengthening friendship which left an indelible impression for long years. This kind of activity on the part of Svarinskas did not please the government, but they hesitated to arrest him in Kulautuva, where everyone knew him well, and were closely bound to him, so in 1958, they transferred him to the large parish of Betygala. Serving as Associate Pastor in Betygala, he began to go to the people, looking for souls. Following is a small example of how the priest tried to win people to God.
One time Father Alfonsas Svarinskas stopped by to see a parishioner and asked why he had not been to church. The latter explained that, not having a clock, he overslept. Quickly, the associate pastor brought a clock and gave it to him, so that he would never oversleep Mass again.
He served in Betygala barely two months. The faithful still remember how they arrested Father Svarinskas and seated him on a sleigh between two armed men. The horses unexpectedly shied, and threw one of those who had been sitting next to the priest, but the prisoner suddenly seized the militiaman and kept him from spilling out. The parishioners were surprised at the priest's beautiful love for his enemies.
They accused Father Svarinskas of anti-Soviet activity. There were supposed to be three witnesses, but two refused, and only the Secretary of the Kaunas Communist Youth Organization, (Miss) Malinauskaitė, was left. During the trial, she testified that the priest in the Kulautuva church to which she had gone, spoke during the sermon against the government, although in reality, that day there
The church and rectory in Miroslavas, Lithuania.
was no sermon at all, and only the gospel was read. (Miss) Malinauskaitė convinced the court that she was in the right. The court sentenced him to six years in camp.
After the decision, his mother and relatives got to speak with the prisoner, who was especially happy as though he were at the best banquet. The scene of his apostolate changed to a prison cell, interrogator's office and camp barracks. He won respect even here. The guard being relieved told the new man on the corridor, "Here in the isolation cell is a priest. Don't bother him. He's always praying."
Once when the interrogation was prolonged, Father Svarinskas told the interrogator that it was time for him to pray, and a few days later, at the same hour, the interrogator himself suggested, "And now, it seems, it is time for you to pray."
At one time, the camp administration decided to limit the scope of his apostolate, and locked him up in a small area intended for especially dangerous individuals who could have a "negative influence" on the other prisoners. Here, Father Svarinskas met a number of zealous priests, among them, the Ukrainian Uniate Archbishop, Tosyp Slipyj, later to be elevated to the rank of cardinal.
Once the camp commandant asked Father Svarinskas, "Alfonsas, pray for me. It is very difficult for me at the present time."
"I always pray for you, Commandant," answered Father Svarinskas, "only, if till now I used to pray for you as an enemy, from today on, I will pray for you as a friend."
In 1964, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas was released and began to work in a small parish in Dzūkija, in Miroslavas, simultaneously continuing his studies. For great people, there are no insignificant jobs. Wherever Father Svarinskas was, there people became more zealous Catholics, and Lithuanians more conscious of their national identity.
In 1971, he was assigned as pastor to the parish in Igliauka. Even though barely a few women came to Mass daily, in church, all the candles used to be lit, and the priest celebrated devotions with such care, one would think the church was full of people. The sermons were meaningful and carefully prepared, even though not many people used to listen. The efforts bore fruit. People began, more and more often, and more attentively, to go to the newly refurbished church and the young people began to stir.
In 1970-71, in Lithuania, the following priests were tried for teaching children catechism: Antanas Šeškevičius, Juozas Zdebskis and Prosperas Bubnys; the atheists were triumphant. Even then, the bold words of Father Svarinskas could be heard. The faithful solemnly welcomed the priests returning from prison in the church of Igliauka. More and more young people began to gather around the altar. The KGB was fuming. A whole brigade of investigators came and accused Father Svarinskas of producing the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, "according to our information, you publish the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania," the chekists attacked him.
"And where is your proof?" asked Father Svarinskas.
"For the time being, that's a secret of our operating section," the KGB agents replied.
"So when you don't have to conceal it, then we'll talk," Father Svarinskas soothed the chekist.
The interrogation ended with strict orders not to say a word about it to anyone. Nevertheless, Father Svarinskas was unbending and straightforward: "Everyone accused has the right to defend himself. Today the whole parish will know who came to Igliauka.and for what purpose," Father Svarinskas promised the chekists. During evening devotions, the pastor openly told the faithful about the KGB's intentions. The reaction was sudden. Everyone leaped to the defense of the pastor, the best each one knew how. The next day, there were no KGB agents in Igliauka. . . however, the concern, how to get rid of the zealous priest, lingered on.
In 1976, Father Svarinskas was appointed to the large parish of Viduklė, so that pastoral work would drain all his energies and time; the church needed immediate capital improvements. Seven years later, everyone from Viduklė, no matter where they live, is proud of its famous parish. In Viduklė, as elsewhere, at the behest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, the martyrs of Lithuania were once again greeted solemnly and warmly on their return to Lithuania after twenty-three or thirty-five years of imprisonment. . .
"The KGB is itching to get rid of me, but what can they do? Shut me up in prison? Priests are needed there, also. Hang me? I would be closer to heaven. Most of all, we need martyrs. Ideals people die for do not die," Father Svarinskas said when he was free.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas is a brave beacon of self-sacrifice, shining from the center of Lithuania to his whole beloved homeland.