On March 30, 1983, in the Šiauliai Rayon Executive Committee auditorium, a seminar was held for members of Committees of Twenty from religious associations. The seminar was conducted by Assistant Religious Affairs Commissioner P. Raslanas. He tried to say that in Lithuania there is complete freedom of religion, and that more religious literature is published each year. The only bad thing, according to him, is that some priests, under cover of religion, are vilifying the Soviet system. Raslanas called Father Alfonsas Svarinskas the worst offender, and cited excerpts from his sermons.
He was annoyed that outside the churches, signatures were being collected on behalf of Father Svarinskas. The Assistant Commissioner for Religious Affairs named a list of— in his opinion — bad, extremist-oriented priests: Ričardas Černiauskas, Juozas Kauneckas, Sigitas Tamkevičius and others. Raslanas tried to convince everyone that even the Second Vatican Council indicated that the civil government must take suitable measures against those priests who disobey it. Hence, in his words, it is not surprising that they have brought Father Alfonsas Svarinskas to trial.
After the lecture, there were questions:
"And where can the religious literature you have published be obtained? True, we have seen on television the covers of the literature you mentioned, however, that's where it all ends. A large part of that literature has ended up in the West for propaganda. Another part was taken by the atheists, and for us faithful, there were only crumbs left."
Raslanas held up two prayerbooks, and tried to make excuses, "I only took two. Ask Father Aliulis for religious literature."
To the question why the Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Šiauliai is allowed to ring the bells only four times a year, Executive Committee Chairman had to be summoned to church with the help of bells. Now, everybody has a watch.
"Why has Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius been kept in exile for almost a quarter of a century? Why isn't he allowed to function as the Bishop of Vilnius? After all, Vilnius doesn't have a bishop."
"He was assigned another diocese, but he refused it. We are not going to bargain with him anymore," explained Raslanas.
"Why are we not allowed freely to erect crosses on the Hill of Crosses, beyond Šiauliai?"
"There are too many of them already, perhaps ten or twenty thousand," replied Raslanas.
On April 5, 1983, Šakiai Rayon parish Committees of Twenty were summoned to the Šakiai Rayon Executive Committee auditorium. Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis gave them as representatives of religious associations, a lecture about the relations of religious associations with the state. The commissioner tried to convince them that believers have the same rights as atheists. He complained that it is the "extremist" priests who prevent the state from fully caring for religious believers.
"For instance, almost all the formalities in preparation for publishing a religious magazine for believers were completed, and the bishop and ordinaries were in agreement. However, a few 'extremist' priests conducted such a campaign in opposition, that even the bishops gave up the idea of a magazine, reasoning that the state would censor it. Of course, they wished to calumniate the Soviet system, but our Constitution forbids anyone, even priests, to do this," explained Anilionis.
The Commissioner tried to convince the gathering that in the parish, policy was to be set by the so-called Committees of Twenty, and that priests are merely ministers of cult hired by the committee, with no other rights or duties except performing rites of cult. "They are not allowed to teach religion or to tell children about God, because the school is separated from the Church. For this they can be penalized. Children have no right to serve Mass, participate in processions, or to sing in a church choir," said Anilionis.
"If according to Soviet law, no one can be sentenced without trial, then why have two bishops, Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius and Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, been punished for so long without trial, by being exiled from their dioceses?"
Such questions displeased the lecturer, and he heatedly shot back! "You're playing the same extremist melody. If you wish to know,
Bishop Vincentas Slatkevičius, (Third from left) reinstated after twenty-three years of internal exile.
I'll tell you what that Bishop Sladkevičius did — he is no bishop, he was made a bishop in the rectory kitchen of Birštonas. Moreover, he was very much set against the Soviet Union, and that is why he was living in Pabiržė. Bishop Steponavičius is an even greater extremist, and thus far shows no signs that he is inclined to change his attitude so let him not expect any diocese!"
To the question why priests are not allowed to teach children the truths of the Faith, Anilionis replied that it was not their business to teach. For that, there are teachers. Since the school is separated from the Church, only the parents can teach their children, and not priests or nuns.
"A Catholic Calendar is published every year, so why do we not receive it? Why is it designated only for priests? It is called a Catholic Calendar, not a Priests Calendar, so we have the right to obtain it!" the people inquired.
"You don't need it. It contains nothing to read. You know the dates of Christmas and Easter yourselves," explained Anilionis.
Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius
(Miss) Bronė Navickaitė, residing at Aušros g. Nr. 2-4, in Skuodas, was discharged from work February 1, 1983, because she acted as treasurer of the church committee (See Chronicle no. 57). At first, the Department of Education asked that she resign, but when (Miss) Navickaitė resisted, she was discharged for "budgetary reasons". (Miss) Navickaitė had worked in bookkeeping for twenty years, and had not received any warnings.
Upon her discharge, she was offered a job in the same place as a cleaning lady. Then (Miss) Navickaitė began seeking justice from Soviet agencies. She appealed to the Skuodas Rayon People's Court, but they would not accept her petition. She wrote to the Ministry of
Education. From there, Assistant Minister A. Bubnys informed her, March 3, in communication no. 09-N-42, that she had been discharged from work with cause, and "there is no basis for reinstating her".
On April 4, 1983, (Miss) Navickaitė wrote the editors of Tiesa (Truth), a five page in-depth description of events — how she was constantly discriminated against on account of her religious convictions (being passed over on the waiting list for an apartment, etc.).
The author writes: 'Even the director's request that I say nothing to anyone sounded strange. After all, if everything was being done justly, why such an announcement or demand? And if it was being done unjustly, then why must I keep quiet?"
The editors of Tiesa replied very tersely that the letter had been communicated to the competent organs.
April 26, Bronė Navickaitė was summoned before the Executive Committee, where Party Second Secretary J. Zalapuga, and Skuodas Rayon KGB Agent A. Pocevičius were waiting for her. Pocevi-čius and Zalapuga affirmed to Navickaitė that believers are not persecuted. However, they finally admitted that it was all the same to them what kind of people work in the offices. The KGB agent said that he had received an anonymous letter in which it was announced that (Miss) Navickaitė was catechizing children. The chekist warned (Miss) Navickaitė that the Chronicle and the Vatican Radio must not learn about her persecution, since otherwise she would suffer greatly.
On April 11, 1983, Romas Žibūda was admitted to the Lazdijai Hospital. He had hardly arrived at the ward, when he was summoned to the doctors' office. To his great surprise, in the office was not a doctor, but Lazdijai KGB agent A. Gylys. Gylys began immediately to shout, "Will you one day be finished with putting up crosses?" When Romas denied it, the KGB agent grilled him, "You know who is putting them up, and you are obliged to help by telling us, because we have helped you more than once; otherwise, you don't know where you would have ended up."
Romas, terminating the conversation, shot back, "I never asked for your help, and I'm not asking for it now!"
Gylys accused him of revealing their last talk in its entirety. Žibūda said, "I told everyone about our last conversation and I'll tell them about this one." At that point, the KGB agent shouted, "You're a real dolt, and you don't know anything!" Finally, when he could not get anything, he warned that Romas would have a rough life in the army, and that his whole fate depended on his own conduct.
On April 3, 1983, the Sakevičius family was visited by Communal Farm Chairman Vytautas Jurašius and Agronomist Mindaugas Garbinčius, who, inviting Viktoras Sakevičius out into the yard for a talk, told him to take the cross erected the night before Easter, and to erect it in the churchyard, or put it somewhere else. "We know," spoke Jurašius, "That it was you and the Žibūdas who put it up. Children who do such things will not become priests."
"I did not put the cross up," Sakevičius firmly replied, "and I will not tear it down."
Kapčiamiestis. (Lazdijai Rayon).
On April 28, 1983, Vice Chairman L. Vanagas of Lazdijai Rayon, presented Father Ignas Plioraitis of the Kapčiamiestis parish with the following warning:
"Liudas Vanagas, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Lazdijai Rayon, warn the Pastor of Kapčiamiestis, Father Ignas Plioraitis, as follows:
"1. You allow minor children to serve during religious observances (He named a list of servers.)
"2. You involve young people from outside the parish in religious political activities:
a. With the young people, you sent the arrested Teacher Antanas Grigas Easter greetings.
b. You organized the youth to visit Teacher Antanas Grigas.
c. You had yourself photographed with the young people, next to a cross which had just been demolished, in the Village of Kareivoniai, near Kapčiamiestis.
d. You organized and involved minors in taking up signatures protesting the demolition of crosses and the arrest of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas.
"You know well the law separating the school from the Church. You do not have the right to assemble or organize young people. Your only place is in church, praying.
"3. For a number of years, you have failed to inform us when religious festivals are to take place in Kapčiamiestis, and what priests are to participate.
"4. You interfere in the affairs of the parish committee. For instance, you sent us only one copy of the records of the parish committee election; and we need three. It was signed 'Committee of Twenty'. Why did you not indicate the names of individual members? Why are you concealing them?"
Father Plioraitis demanded a copy of the warning, but did not get one. In the name of religious freedom, he categorically refused to receipt the warning.
Užuguostis. (Prienai Rayon)
On April 24, 1983, the leadership of the District of Lelioniai posted notices announcing that on May 1, in the Užuguostis House of Culture, elections would be held to the Executive Committee, and the Trustees of the Užuguostis community of believers. One such announcement was pasted on the churchyard fence.
On Sunday, April 24, the Pastor of the parish in Užuguostis' Father Zenonas Navickas, explained to the people that the parish of Užuguostis had a parish committee and committee of trustees, so there was no need to elect another committee. As a matter of fact, such a move by the authorities of the Lelioniai District was illegal, since the state is separated from the Church. The pastor advised the faithful not to take part in such a meeting. On May 1, not one of the faithful came to the announced gathering.
On May 13, people were herded from work to the Užuguostis House of Culture for a meeting. Schoolchildren in the upper grades were also forced to take part. The meeting was presided over by District Chairwoman (Mrs.) Kurminienė and Communal Farm Brigade Leader Urbonavičius Representatives from Prienai and Vilnius attended the meetings. The guest lecturer vilified Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and tried to convince the people that he had been rightly sentenced. The Pastor of Užuguostis, Father Zenonas Navickas, was also variously calumniated.
At the end of the meeting, (Mrs.) Kurminienė, Chairwoman of the Lelioniai District, told the people that they had to elect the committee from the community of believers. Some of the people succeeded in escaping from the House of Culture, some tried to explain to the chairwoman that a committee exists. Brigade Leader
Urbonavičius told them to keep quiet. The district chairwoman read the names of candidates to the parish committee, and told the people to vote for them. In this way, a new parish committee and trustees were picked.
These elected as committee members were told to certify the election. Members of the new committee told the pastor that the election had been carried out against their will, and that they did not wish to be committee members chose by atheists. However, they admitted that they feared the government greatly, especially Communal Farm Brigade Leader Urbonavičius, because he could deny them hay for their cow, or a horse to cultivate the garden.
The question was why did the government feel the need for a new parish committee? Part of the parish of Užuguostis belongs to the Rayon of Kaišiadorys; part of the parish belongs to the Prienai Rayon. Specially elected to the new committee were believers living in the Prienai Rayon and belonging to the Vyšniūnai Communal farm. Vyšniūnai Communal Farm Chairman P. Aleknavičius, and Užuguostis Brigade Leader A. Urbonavičius are particularly notable for their hatred.
By blackmail and threats, the atheists wish to force religious believers to be their implements in weakening the religious revival of the faithful.
Gižai. (Vilkaviškis Rayon).
In Gižai, in 1933-34, a cross was erected to commemorate the saints. Now this cross was dilapidated and tottering, so the faithful there decided to erect a new one in its place, since it was impossible to renovate the old one.
On August 14, 1982, a few men brought a new cross and were preparing to erect it, but immediately District Chairman Juozas Šumskas showed up and forbade them to put the cross up. When the cross was nevertheless erected, Chairman Šumskas reported the matter to the rayon government. Immediately, Rayon Vice Chairman Urbonas showed up, and together with Šumskas, summoned those who had erected the cross: Antanas Karpavičius, Juozas Marcinkus and Jonas Talačka, rudely colded them, and fined Antanas Karpavičius 20 rubles.
However, the matter did not end there. On August 13, Vice Chairman Urbonas summoned the parish committee chairman, Antanas Striouginis, and began to shout, "What kind of chairman are you, that you don't know what's going on in your baliwick?
They put up crosses along the roadside, and you keep quiet!" Besides, the rayon vice chairman ordered the parish chairman not to obey the pastor: to take from him the treasury and seals, to renovate the church themselves, and never to consult the pastor.
Sometime later, Antanas Karpavičius received a notice to pay his fine a second time. Marcinkus and Talačka had their fines deducted from their pensions. In the village, the rumor spread that the rayon was forcing the local chairman to demolish the cross. The night of December 17, the cross was torn down. The faithful brought it back to the church, and appropriately honored it. District Chairman Šumskas, in his desire to hide the evidence of the evil deed, publicly vilified the pastor during the meeting, indicating that he was the one that had cut down the cross during the night.