Reasons for the Establishment of the Committee
The Catholic Church in Lithuania, making a recovery after the difficult era of Stalin's regime, tied once again to obtain the most elementary of rights, the right to live. Catechizing of children began in the churches, young children and youths were allowed to serve Mass and participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; the demand was made that the Soviet government return confiscated churches. In reaction to the catechizing of children, the government arrested Fathers Šeškevičius and Zdebskis; the requests of the faithful for the return of the church in Klaipėda and other churches were answered with sarcasm or the silence of the grave; children and youth actively participating in church ceremonies were terrorized in school and at work.
Such a situation in the Church could not but move zealous priests, dedicated to God and country. Methods had to be found to defend those unjustly suffering. Someone had to stand in the front lines in defense of others, thus on November 13, 1978, following the example of the Moscow Christian Committee, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights was established in Lithuania. The first members of the committee were Fathers: Jonas Kauneckas, Alfonsas Svarinskas, Vincas Vėlavičius, Sigitas Tamkevičius and Juozas Zdebskis.
Activities of the Committee.
In five years, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights has written over fifty official documents and expressions of protest addressed to various agencies and organizations, among them the Prosecutor of the LSSR and the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Some official documents of the committee reached agencies abroad, like UNESCO.
The statements defend believers persecuted by government atheists and children and youth being terrorized; they request that people unjustly arrested and imprisoned be released; they demand that atheists not interfere with the internal life of the
Charter members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights. From left: Fathers Vincas Vėlavičius, Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius, Juozas Zdebskis, Jonas Kauneckas.
Catholic Church in Lithuania, nor with free decisions of the Kaunas Theological Seminary regarding acceptance of applicants and instructors; they request that churches confiscated by the government be returned, etc.
The Significance of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights holds inestimable significance for the Catholic Church in Lithuania and for the entire nation, even though today, five years after its founding, it is still difficult to describe fully the significance of the committee.
It is the first swallow of spring coming forward publicly for the purpose of defending believers persecuted and terrorized by government atheists. The believing public felt that it was not alone. This example of self-sacrifice could not remain without imitation; it could not have anything but a favorable influence on the nation's religious revival. The bold action of the priests by going public, their open warfare against falsehood and injustice awakened the same thirst in the hearts of other people who had not lost decency or conscience.
The Reaction of the Soviet Government
Ordinarily, the government ought to be grateful to the committee for the information it submits concerning the unjustified attacks of the atheists and for making it possible to maintain normal relations between believers and atheists. In reality, however, events proved otherwise. The committee became a stick in the spokes of the atheistic regime, and its work was not seriously looked at.
Back in 1980, trying to get the committee to give up its activities, the Prosecutor of the LSSR warned Father Sigitas Tamke-vičius, a member of the Catholic Committe for the Defense of Believers' Rights, "The Committee is a mosquito buzzing in an elephant's ear." In reality, it is more like the battle of David with Goliath, mentioned in Sacred Scripture. Instead of seriously considering the instances of arbitrariness on the part of atheists, reported in the documents of the committee, the government atheists called the members of the committee impostors and their work libel, seeking to weaken the Soviet system.
The harsh sentence of Catholic Committee member, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, and the arrest of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius on May 6,1983, and the constant investigation of other members of the committee, threats of arrest and pressure to resign from the committee, clearly testify that the government is trying with all means at its disposal to destroy the committee.
Present Prospects of the Committee
With support from prayers of the faithful and with the blessings of God, the committee continues to survive. At present the committee is made up of the following priests: Leonas Kalinauskas, Vincentas Vėlavičius, Vaclovas Stakėnas, Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius. The latter two priests are in prison, and for this reason, unable to function.
The desire of the atheistic government to destroy the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights is very serious, especially since this is the only organization of its kind in the entire Soviet Union. For this reason, the climate for the committee's activities has seriously deteriorated. The REAL POSSIBILITY has arisen for the other members of the committee to become victims of the supression of the most elementary human rights. One would hope that having lasted through five years of trials, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights will be able to find itsway in present conditions especially difficult for it, and will find within itself the strength to continue its work of defending those without rights. All of believing Lithuania is praying for God's continued blessing on the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, which has so faithfully defended her and encouraged her in this most difficult hour.