On July 1, 1934, Lithuania was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For fifty years the Heart of Jesus — its Great Love — has been leading Lithuania and her Church on the hard road of adversity. Looking back at the years which have passed, we must thank the Heart of Jesus that in confusion, difficulties and persecutions, such as the Church in Lithuania had not experienced for six centuries, it has not, thanks to the support of God's love, lost its way. It has held up under the oppression of the atheists, and survived unbowed.
Let us recall the Stalin era: Archbishop Mečislovas Reinys, Bishop Teofilius Matulionis and Bishop Pranas Ramanauskas were imprisoned; Bishop Borisevičius was shot; a great number of the priests went the way of the Gulag; churches, seminaries, monasteries and convents were confiscated and closed. The nation was left without suitable leaders, without a religious press and without catechism for the children.
Priests were forbidden not only to catechise, but also to visit the faithful. A pastor who wanted to invite a priest to help out on religious occasions had to go the way of the cross in order to obtain government permission: one was disloyal to the atheistic regime, another's sermons were too good, etc. As a result of the atheistic psychosis during the last years of Krushchev's regime, a scant couple of seminarians in each class could study at the seminary in Kaunas. Two bishops, Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius were banned from their diocese; and in their places, Vicars Capitular were sent to the Second Vatican Council.
Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis, of Kaišiadorys, imprisoned for nearly a quarter-century during the Stalin era.
And miracle of miracles, under such conditions, a religious revival! The seed of the persecution of the nation during the post-War years and of the sufferings of the sons and daughters of the Church was not in vain; it is bearing fruit. The efforts of the atheists were in vain. It is impossible to rewrite history.
The names associated with Lithuania's religious revival are well-known today throughout the world: Bishops — His Excellency, Bishop-in-Exile Julijonas Steponavičius and his longtime brother in exile, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius; the priest-prisoners: Antanas Šeškevičius, Juozas Zdebskis, Virgilijus Jau-gelis; Nijolė Sadūnaitė, Vladas Lapienis, Gemma Stanelytė, Anastazas Janulis; the defenders of basic human rights, the members of the Helsinki Group: Viktoras Petkus, Vytautas Vaičiūnas, Mečislovas Jurevičius and a host of others.
The underground Catholic press, illegally operating religious communities of men and women, the correspondence-course seminary, the Friends of the Eucharist movement, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, temperence activities, processions of prayer to Šiluva, to the fortress-hill of Meškuičiai— three times bull-dozed but once again adorned with crosses... and many other beautiful examples during this half-century will be recorded in the history of the homeland and the Church. Knowing under what oppressive conditions all this came about, grew and spread, it is impossible to explain apart from the the protection of the Heart of Jesus, promised to those who have consecrated themselves to it.
Atheistic oppression, intensified on the eve of the fiftieth jubilee of the dedication of Lithuania to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is a sign from heaven, as it were, a reminder and a mandate not to rest on our laurels, not to forget that most important of all are sacrifice and faithfulness, not to forget that, "You are My nation and therefore, with Me, you must suffer and sacrifice!"
Today, the atheists are trying to push back the religious revival of the nation more or less twenty years. The most zealous priests of Lithuania, Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, have been arrested and tried.
They are trying to crush the catechizing of children led by the priests, to forbid children to serve at Mass and to make priests ask permission to invite this or that priest for religious celebrations. The KGB is trying to interfere in elections to priests' councils and especially to see that their own hand-picked candidates become consultors. It is trying in every way possible to reduce the effect of celebrations and commemorations at the great shrines of Lithuania.
For example, Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, is terrorizing Bishop Antanas Vaičius of Telšiai in an
Gemma-Jadvyga Stanelytė, arrested in 1980 for allegedly organizing a religious procession, was released on February 16, 1982.
attempt to prevent the announcement of a priests' day at Žemaičių Kalvarija, and to prevent the bishop and priests from making the Way of the Cross together with the people. Allegedly, this is a breach of the law regarding religious associations.
Priests are allowed to pray only in their own parishes, and they are strictly forbidden to make the Way of the Cross with the people. "Let the people make the Way of the Cross themselves,"
and when they do make it themselves, the atheists will be more encouraged to make use of extreme measures.
A couple of years ago, when a government official in Panevėžys summoned the deans of the diocese and began to explain to them that only believers can be chairmen of church committees, one of the priests asked, "And what if the priest is also a believer?"
That time, the official apologized. Now they are trying every means to drive a wedge between the priest and the people, even forbidding them to pray together. Of course, if the priests are "good", if they forget the convicted priests Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, do not pray for them publicly and do not request in various petitions that they be released, the government atheists promise to increase the quota of seminarians. What good is this sop if the KGB tries to get more and more of its own agents into the seminary?
These are just a few examples of atheistic oppression under which the Catholic Church in Lithuania is living and suffering as it celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration of Lithuania to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Renewing the consecration made fifty years ago, we place our hope in the Heart of Jesus, burning with love. With sincere faith, we repeat, just as we did fifty years ago:
Heart of Jesus, may Your Kingdom come to our dear Lithuania. To that end we will sacrifice and work!