In the notes of the Servant of God, Archbishop Matulaitis, we read, "Our Church suffered so much under the Czar, and now, there are new sufferings, and those, in the name of freedom of conscience. Oh God, how strange this world is . . . Those same people who, not of the press, now allow no newspapers with different point of view . . . those people who so fervently demanded freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of speech, now refuse to allow a person with different opinions even to open his mouth . . . They once demanded equal rights, and now, they recognize them only for their side. How often the wild outlaws' rule of justice is applied here." (Notes, 174-175).
Perhaps nowhere in the world is there so much talk about all sorts of freedoms as in the Soviet Union, and nowhere are they so crudely violated as in that same Soviet Union. L. Boerne has said, "There is not a man who would not love freedom, but the just man demands it for everyone, and the unjust man, only for himself." The whole world understands freedom of religion as follows, "If you want to — believe; if you don't want to — don't believe." By the same token, you are not constrained to do everything which is associated with the practice of religion, or its disuse.
Among us, freedom of conscience is explained as follows: "According to the proletarian Marxist understanding of freedom of conscience, freedom of atheism is the freedom for every citizen to escape from religious illusions, to develop a scientific Marxist worldview, and to lead one's life by it, without interference ... as long as the believer has not shaken off religious illusions, there cannot be complete freedom of conscience. In conditions of the socialist system, by the concept, 'complete freedom of conscience', one wishes only to signify the greatest achievement in the war for man's escape from superstition. Complete freedom of conscience will be attained in Communist society." (Soviet Laws Regarding Religious Cults and Freedom of Conscience).
After reading all that, it is not difficult to understand how the atheists demand and, in practice, recognize freedom only for themselves. Their "justice" can be seen and encountered everywhere, beginning with routine persecution of believers, and ending with shameful judicial disposals. After the trial of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, a long article appeared in the press. In it, Father Svarinskas was called a bandit, or most benignly speaking, an accessory or messenger.
In the first place, we would like to suggest that the author of the article pick up the Dictionary of International Terms, and take a good look at the difference between the words, "bandit", "banditry", and "partisan". However, this is not the point. The question is why it was so important to call Father Svarinskas a bandit in the press. It is not so difficult to understand. The KGB had its purpose! To denigrate, in the eyes of believers as well as unbelievers, a priest especially respected and loved by the people, as if to say, "We do not try innocent people!"
It would be naive to think that after such an article, the authority and popularity of Father Svarinskas diminished. And even if it had, then it was only in the eyes of those brothers and sisters to whom neither God nor country is important, since their thoughts can only center around a narrow, personal, material world.
With the arrest of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, speculation could be heard among the people: "What will they try him for, and what will the press dare to write about Father Sigitas? After all, during the unquiet post-War years, he was still a child." While some affirmed that even the most inventive writers would be unable to think up enough material to accuse Father Tamkevičius, others, more experienced, asserted that the Soviet propagandists would think of something to denigrate even this priest, who in everyone's opinion is just decent and zealous.
The latter were not mistaken. No sooner was the trial over, than the next day, Tiesa (Truth) immediately came out with Reporter (Mrs.) S. Mockuvienė's article ominously entitled: "A Rosary in One Hand and a Stick in the Other".
The "truth" of the article is witnessed by its opening sentences: "True, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius in the past did not associate with the bourgeois nationalist gangs. He did not bless their bloody 'escapades', he did not conceal bandits' weapons in church basements, as did, for instance, Alfonsas Svarinskas himself."
We would like to ask Reporter Mockuvienė to specify in which church basements Father Svarinskas hid bandits' (partisans' — Ed. Note) weapons, and what escapades of theirs he blessed, if he was in prison from 1946 - 1956, and was ordained a priest only on October 3, 1954, in the special camp in Abez.
To give the article weight, crude libel is employed. Thus, after reading the first few sentences, it is not difficult to see in what style the whole article is written.
One reading the article notices that the writer does not mention the makeup of the court and she conceals the names of practically all the witnesses. Just from the official report in the press, it is clear how bombastic and juridically unfounded is the accusation against Father Tamkevičius of anti-social and anti-Soviet activity. Here is what the author of the article, S. Mockuvien6, mentions: He is accused "of performing religious ceremonies outside the house of prayer". As such ceremonies in practice can be considered the following: ministry to the sick (at home and in the hospital), All Souls' processions and funeral processions to the cemetery, the blessing of a cross, a home or apartment, etc.
But all these activities are just the day-to-day embodiment of religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the land. The author further explains that Father Tamkevičius "regularly incited believers to disobey" such restrictions, and affirms that religious ceremonies may be carried out only in the house of prayer, when even the Regulations for Religious Associations say that religious ceremonies may be carried out in churches (houses of prayer), the churchyard or the cemetery.
Understanding human nature correctly — because the rights which every state regardless of its ideology must guarantee, this priest sought that the believing segment of society might realistically make use of their constitutional rights as citizens, and their natural religious rights as humans, without transgressing ecclesiastical or national traditions, (sic) Besides, the Church itself obliges priests and faithful to go to cemeteries on All Souls', and to pray there. But on what basis can the accusation of "anti-social" and "anti-Soviet" activity be levelled here, when we are speaking of blessing apartments and visiting hospitals?
By its very essence, this is a private matter. Further, Reporter S. Mockuvienė brings up in her article as a crime, "the group teaching of children". What is the difference whether it is group or individual? After all, they are all being taught the same religion. If the right to teach children their parents' religion is left as such in the Constitution, and if parents teaching their children do not essentially break the law, then they also do not transgress it when they wish to teach their children religion in the best way possible. So what does the priest do wrong when in making use of that same constitutional freedom, he helps parents to do so?
AFTER ALL, THAT IS THE FIRST DUTY OF THE PRIEST. Perhaps the essence of this accusation lies in the words, "RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF CHILDREN". The atheists often call that a crime, and offer as an argument the constitutional law that the Church is separated from the school. But what does this have in common with transgression of the law, e.g., with the establishing of religious schools or the introduction of compulsory religious education? Can every lesson be called a school?
In the article, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius is accused of urging the faithful in the church of Šlavantai not to let their children be signed up for atheistic organizations designated for unbelievers. As a matter of fact, the teachers themselves should be in favor of this, if they are truly concerned that their pupils not grow up as hypocrites. Mrs. Mockuvienė, in her article, clearly admits that in
Soviet Lithuania, it is considered a crime to write petitions, or to gather signatures for them.
The writer finds yet another crime: "At the end of last year, he announced in a sermon that he was organizing a children's Christmas party in the churchyard, invited the parishioners to bring their children, and, in addition, obtained the help of a couple of priests." Has it ever been heard anywhere in the world, except in such a "free" country as Lithuania, that the organizing of a children's Christmas party and asking the help of priest friends be considered a crime against the state ... to be specifically included when talking about a penalty of strict regime labor camp and four years of exile?
Reporter Mockuvienė very often mentions that Father Sigitas Tamkevičius engaged in libel and denigrated Soviet reality, while at the same time, admitting that the convict never uttered and never wrote a word directly against the Soviet government: "Father Sigitas Tamkevičius knew well that speaking openly against the Soviet government, he would gain nothing. . . his sermons are full of veiled references to the damage caused by atheism." Thus, it is interesting that there is no need to denigrate Soviet reality — it is enough merely to know and tell the truth about it in order to be called a state criminal.
It would be interesting to know what Mrs. Mockuvienė has in mind when she writes, "Respect for other people, the right to an education . . . and other social privileges always were and are accessible to all, equally." What does she consider those readers of her article to be, who know many instances of discrimination and have themselves experienced many injustices, just because they dare to show that they are practicing believers? The writer will perhaps try to rest her arguments on one or the other witness who is said to have denied some of the examples of persecution brought up in the Chronicle. It is not difficult for one living in Soviet Lithuania to understand how the witnesses were "found" and "made". Not all of the victims are able to withstand the pressure of the KGB. When threatened with with expulsion from work or school, some may even recant earlier true testimony.
After all, everyone knows well how the KGB chooses its witnesses. It was in this fashion that the witnesses were chosen prior to the trial of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas: Government officials would summon an employee and tell him what he would have to say in giving testimony during the priest's trial. Witnesses were
On June 6, 1983, following the arrest of their pastor, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, the parishioners of Kybartai went in kneeling procession around their church.
chosen in the same way for the trial of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius. When Father Tamkevičius was arrested, scores of witnesses were summoned, but not one of them got to watch the trial, even though they wanted to, and tried. Why were they not allowed into the courtroom?
About 70,000 of the faithful signed protests and petitions saying that the disposal of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius was a crude crime, but no one paid any attention to that. If we are speaking, not of a criminal offense, but of social, religious and political activity, then surely, the protest of almost 70,000 signatories against the accusations aimed at Father Sigitas Tamkevičius are witness enough to judge the criminal nature of the priest's activity.
To defend one who owes support, a thief or a hooligan from criminal liability, a petition or guarantee from a score or so of members of a collective often suffices. But to help an innocent priest on trial, whose "Christmas party", "organizing of processions" or "collective teaching of children" displeased the KGB, the witness of tens of thousands of people is not enough.
Father Tamkevičius' ties with the underground publication, the Chronicle, "proven by facts", remain unclear to the reader, since Reporter Mockuvienė did not deign to reveal a single one of those "facts", and testimony about the lack of basis for information disseminated in the Chronicle is more than ridiculous, if one knows the whole system. For example, one can cite the incident in the article on the Šaukėnai Middle School: Summoned to testify at the trial was not the offended pupil, but the teacher who lowered his conduct mark.
So when Father Tamkevičius failed to give the address of UNESCO as reported in Tiesa, it sounds like an accusation, not against the priest, but against those who do not leave us even the possibility of appealing for help, by hiding from people many international organizations for the fostering and defense of human rights and by setting up obstacles to contacting or appealing to them.
After reading the article, one is haunted by the conclusion: Every priest in Lithuania can be found guilty in this way. It remains unclear to the believer, as well as to the thinking unbeliever, why Father Sigitas Tamkevičius was sentenced. For collective teaching of children? For defending the Faith? But those are the duties of a priest. For drafting petitions? All citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press. For criticizing atheism? Persecution for criticism is forbidden by the law.
If the priest were really guilty, it would not be necessary to prepare so carefully for the trial: to conceal the date of the trial; to take such great care that people not leave work (switch working hours); to chase those who came to Vilnius away from the courthouse; to put them in jail — and the trial would undoubtedly be witnessed by the greatest number possible.
Reporter Mockuvienė, witnessing the trial for four days, could not find even one seriously convincing accusation. A high Party official said to one priest, "Why are you so angry at the reporters? They wrote the articles about Father Svarinskas and Father Tamkevičius in such a way that their innocence is obvious!" The article of Mrs. Mockuvienė, entitled, "The Rosary in One Hand, A Stick in the Other", the public understands as "The Rosary in One Hand, The Truth in the Other". In other words, the truth is the most terrifying weapon against Soviet atheism.
Long before the trial of Father Tamkevičius, shortly after his arrest, an expression circulated among the people, overheard from those who were preparing to dispose of the zealous priest, "We've caught a big bull, but we just can't find the chain to bind him." In other words, we have captured a great man, but we just can't come up with an accusation that will stick. Hence, it is no mystery why Father Tamkevičius was kept for seven whole months in the KGB dungeon. The very lightening speed with which the article appeared in the press (the day after the trial), tells us that everything had been decided in advance, and rehearsed, and the trial itself was a peculiar farce.
Almost two thousand years ago, in the name of the law, Christ was condemned to death: "We have a law, and according to it, He must die" ... In his day Hitler killed Jews in the name of the law, and Stalin sentenced millions of innocent people to Siberia... In our day, also in the name of the law, the Supreme Court in Vilnius sentenced two of the most zealous priests in Lithuania, Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius.
History has condemned the crimes of the past. There is no doubt that history in the future will similarly judge current events; and if history sometimes errs, God does not err!