THE FREEDOM TO DIE
During December and January [1973-74], an article entitled "Tarybinis įstatymas ir religija" [Soviet law and religion] by Pranas Mišutis, advisor to the Council of Ministers of the LSSR, was reprinted in the rayon newspapers. The weekly newspaper Kalba Vilnius [Vilnius speaks], 1974, no. 5, published a long article by Mišutis entitled "Bažnyčia ir religingumas mūsų dienomis" [The Church and religiosity in our day]. Appearing on the radio program "Akiratis" [Store of knowledge], the advisor to the Council of Ministers attempted to convince the populace that the Soviet laws governing religious cults are very humane.
Why has atheistic propaganda been intensified?
"It is our obligation to unmask the attempts by propagandists from abroad and local reactionaries to slander Soviet reality and distort the actual situation," wrote Mišutis (P. Mišutis, "Tarybinis įstatymas ir religija" [Soviet law and religion]). The atheistic propagandists hope to convince the people at any cost that "our laws governing religious cults are democratic" (ibid.).
Let us analyze just what Mišutis stated concerning the extent of the "freedom" of the Church and what he failed to mention.
"Priests are prohibited from catechizing children, from allowing minors to take an active part in religious ceremonies, from interfering in the nonreligious affairs of the believers, from making traditional yearly visitations to the homes of their parishioners during the Christmas season, and from organizing various groups, meetings, discussions, trips, and the like. The priest has no right to handle financial affairs, to hold services in the open air (including funeral processions with religious overtones and the consecration of wayside crosses without the appropriate permit except in a churchyard or cemetery), to incorporate non-religious propaganda into his sermons (such as urging parents to raise their children in the faith—ed.), or to interfere in the managerial matters of cemeteries" (ibid.).
We would respect Mr. Mišutis and those he represents if he had come to the following conclusion: "The clergy and the believers have been granted the best possible conditions and are utterly free to die."
What do priests do under the present conditions of "freedom"?
"At the present time," according to Mišutis, "the majority of the priests are more or less loyal to the Soviet government... Some of the clergy today are somewhat passive and take only a formalistic view of their duties."
In truth, there are "loyal" priests. The Lithuanian believers consider some of them traitors to both Church and nation. There are only a few of these. In his article "Kovoje prieš klastingą melą" [In the struggle against deceitful lies] J. Aničas mentioned several Lithuanian clergymen who have openly stated that the Church in Lithuania is free (Gimtasis kraštas [Native land], March 5 and 13, I973)- While reading this article one Catholic was overheard deeply sighing and exclaiming, "Lord, have mercy!"
To those clergymen who try to justify themselves with the excuse that the Soviet press was distorting their statements, the faithful reply: "If statements never uttered are attributed to you by the atheistic press, at least renounce them in your private conversations and refuse to give further interviews."
"There still are quite a few clergymen," wrote Mišutis, "who actively participate in the struggle to maintain the influence of the Church among the people... Some ministers of the cult do not limit themselves to the religious activities prescribed by law but interfere in public life, implant bourgeois-nationalistic ideas within the minds of the people, proclaim the concocted thesis that atheism aids in the denationalization of Lithuanians, incite distrust of the the Soviet system, and spread various rumors and fabrications. .." (P. Mišutis, "Bažnyčia ir religingumas mūsų dienomis" [The Church and religiosity in our day]. "Minors are still being used as servers during religious rites. There have been instances of organized catechization.... In some areas, disloyal priests have intensified their activities. They have a negative influence on the loyal priests; they incite the clerical elements and the illegal convents; they encourage the writing of complaints and petitions; they strive for changes in the laws governing religious cults; and they struggle for so-called total freedom. Reactionary priests try to stir up discontent about the so-called servile position of the church and interfere with the normal relations between Church and State" (P. Mišutis, "Tarybinis įstatymas ir religija" [Soviet law and religion]).
The Soviet press heaps scorn and threats upon the so-called reactionaries. Raudonoji vėliava [Red flag], the newspaper of Varėna Rayon, reports the following about the Rev. Algimantas Keina (ordained in 1962), pastor of the parish in Valkininkai: "Over a period of several years, and without the knowledge of his parishioners, the pastor purchased various construction materials, spending more than 20,000 rubles for the repair of his church....
He induces children to participate in religious ceremonies, threatens the believers who are beginning to fall away from the Church, violates the set procedures of religious ceremonies, and so forth. These are not just occasional errors, but the purposefully chosen course of a proponent of ignorance. This, we repeat, cannot be tolerated" (Jan. 10, 1974)- v
Mišutis mentioned illegal convents. It is strange that during the entire postwar period the atheists never mentioned convents, as if there were none in Lithuania. But they existed and they still exist. Fortunately for them, they are underground institutions, and therefore the Soviet government has little control over their operations and postulants do not have to undergo the trials which must be endured by those desiring to enter the seminary. The number of vocations is not decreasing but is in fact increasing. Of particular merit among the activities of these institutions is the catechization of children and their work among the youth. Regretfully, too little attention is devoted to the preparation of religious literature for the laity. The interest shown by the government in these institutions is a good sign indicating that their existence is not pointless.
Who are those so-called clerical elements mentioned by P. Mišutis?
They are the believers who are actively concerned about the life of the Church and its future. It is no secret that almost all prayer books, catechisms, and religious literature are produced by these "clerical elements" under extremely unfavorable and dangerous conditions. For this, they deserve our respect.
Mišutis threatens: "At the present time there are some clergymen and certain particularly active believers who are violating the laws. With them it is a different story.
There can be no concessions, and there will be no concessions in their regard" (P. Mišutis, "Tarybinis įstatymas ir religija" [Soviet law and religion]).
"A ritual, a prayer book, Vatikano susirinkimo nutarimai [Documents of the Second Vatican Council], the Bible, as well as other essential literature have been published to meet the requirements of the believers," further asserts the propagandist.
If we can believe what Mišutis states, twenty thousand children received their First Communion in Lithuania in 1972. How many children then, have received their First Communion since 1945? And how many prayer books have been published for them? Only a few limited editions. What textbooks were provided for the hundreds of thousands of children who were preparing for their First Communion, if "the most democratic government in the world" has up to the present refused to grant permission for the publication of even one edition of a Catholic catechism? Those who wanted to help the faithful, however, were and still continue to be tortured in prison! It remains for us only to cite the usual Soviet platitude: "One of the most wonderful manifestations of the triumph of Soviet democracy in our country is the firm right to the freedom of conscience" (Agitator, 1973, no. 21).
"The decrease in the number of believers," expounds Mišutis, "has led to the merger of a number of religious communities, especially in the cities… No one is desecrating the churches that have been closed" (P. Mišutis, "Bažnyčia ir religingumas mūsų dienomis" [The Church and religiosity in our day]).
Had the number of believers decreased when the Soviet authorities were closing the Cathedral of Vilnius, the Sobor [former garrison church—tr.] of Kaunas, the Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda, and a large number of other churches? Is it possible to desecrate churches worse than has been done by the Soviet government? which converted a large number of them into warehouses, gymnasiums, movie theaters, and atheistic museums.
"In 1972, about 20,000 children received First Communion, though there were more than a quarter of a million in the first through fourth classes" (ibid.). In this instance, Mišutis stated an untruth. During the 1972-73 school year, about 57,000 children were registered in the first four classes (see Lietuvos TSR gyventojai [Residents of the LSSR], vol. 5, 1973, p. 175); that is, less than a quarter of a million. Aside from that, only children of a single age bracket are prepared for First Communion each year. Twelve percent of the children living in Lithuania are non-Catholics: Russians, Jews, Latvians, etc. Thus about 50,000 children should be prepared for First Communion each year. In fact, no less than 44,000 are thus prepared. The number of 20,000 cited by P. Mišutis is absolutely incorrect since it was only in 1973 that the authorities began to insist that the priests present them with the statistics on children preparing for their First Communion; however, even in the future governmental statistics will also be incorrect because some priests do not turn in any information about the catechization of children, and others, "hoping to ease the atheists' heartaches" present the sort of statistics that the atheistic government desires.
"Observations show," relates Mišutis, "that of 350,000 students in the upper classes, only several percent are believers."
This is also untrue. For example, in January, 1974, a questionnaire distributed to the students of class 10A at the secondary school in Lazdijai contained questions such as: Do you believe in God? Do you go to Church? Sixteen of the twenty members of the Young Communist League in the class admitted that they believe in God. [Mrs.] Malinauskienė, a teacher and the League's secretary at the school, was particularly enraged.
An open meeting of the school's Young Communist League was called. Malinauskienė characterized the frank admissions of the students as being an embarassment to the entire school. A representative from the department of education also noted that it did not matter what the students thought, but that they should have put down "the required answer."
On that occasion, one tenth-class student said: "You force us to join the Young Communist League. You tell us that we don't have to tell our parents that we joined, and that we can even attend church. Even now you have advised us that it is possible to think in one way but to write differently. How are we to understand all this?"
In November, 1973, when the tenth-class teacher of the secondary school in Raudondvaris began to talk about an approaching League holiday, the entire class burst out laughing. As a result, the conduct mark of two students were lowered. When the students in this class were asked, "Who attends church?" a whole forest of hands shot up.
How reliable are the statistics presented by Mišutis?
"No one persecutes the church," he asserts. "Only those clergymen have been punished who, in their efforts to re-establish the bourgeois system, have exchanged their ideological weapon for a firearm" (P. Mišutis, "Bažnyčia ir religingumas mūsų dienomis" [The Church and religiosity in our day]).
An interesting question is whether Mišutis himself believes what he writes. Between 1944 and 1962, solely from the smallest diocese in Lithuania, Kaišiadorys, forty-one priests were given prison sentences. A majority of them, who had never had a firearm in their hands, were given ten-year sentences, and some were even sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. For example, Prelate J. Labukas-Matulaitis (present apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and of the Diocese of Vilkaviškis) was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1945 for delivering sermons, even though, as vicargeneral, he had never preached any sermons. The majority of the priests were rehabilitated after Stalin's death. Is it possible that Mišutis does not know this either?
"Whoever want to believe in God and to worship Him in his own way or to participate in religious rites has every opportunity to do so," asserts Mišutis.
In their desire to divert believers from the active practice of their religion, atheists frequently make use of whatever means are necessary to achieve this goal. Several examples from both the present and the recent past follow.
On Palm Sunday in 1972, a huge crowd of people packed into the Kaunas cathedral and its churchyard. When the services began, the employees of the Žilvinas Youth Club across the street opened their doors and windows and began to broadcast loud popular dance music while those attending the dance created quite an uproar on the club's balcony. As a result, the people gathered in the churchyard were unable to follow the services.
Each year the believers attending the Palm Sunday services at the Kaunas cathedral had been able to purchase symbolic palms in the churchyard. Children would bring juniper branches, pussy willows, and other greenery from the forest. The faithful were grateful for these services. In 1973, the atheists decided to disrupt the solemnities. When the services began, the police arrived and began to apprehend those who were selling the palms. Some of them were arrested and taken to police headquarters. On the Sunday after Easter, the police again showed up at the cathedral and began apprehending those who were selling religious articles. The police did not even show mercy to a crippled old woman. She too was placed in the paddy wagon and taken to headquarters.
During the Khrushchev era, the authorities had set up a loudspeaker near the church in Žiežmariai which carried local radio broadcasts. For several years the believers participating in church services had to put up with the disturbance from the loudspeaker; prayer was difficult. No one paid any attention to the requests of the pastor or his parishioners that the loudspeakers be moved farther away from the church.
On the first Sunday of July, 1969, the author of these lines had occasion to participate in the religious festival at Žemaičiu Kalvarija. Pilgrims who had thronged here from all parts of Lithuania prayed in the church and the churchyard. When the church bell signalled the start of the high mass, a whistle in the stadium next to the churchyard signalled the start of an athletic event. A group of seminude youths participating in the games hollered and made so much noice that it was difficult to pray in the churchyard. The people were scandalized by this disturbance organized by the atheists. Usually the participants at such athletic or other events sponsored by the atheists are herded in by force and through the use of intimidation. Few people participate voluntarily on such occasions.
A few years ago the atheists of Vilkija conferred on how to divert large numbers of people from the religious festival of St. Ann. They decided to sponsor a very interesting program at the cultural center at the same time as the high mass. At noon only one spectator could be found in the hall—the center's caretaker. The atheists were forced to postpone their program.
On July 22, 1973, we were traveling through Dzūkija. Nowhere did we see anyone working in the fields. Only when we arrived at the parish in Leipalingis, did we notice large numbers of people at work. It turned out that the Feast of St. Ann was being celebrated in Leipalingis that day, and the collective farmers were being forced to work.
Those who work on Sundays get double pay from the government.
Next Sunday, July 29, the bishop administered the sacrament of Confirmation in Veisiejai. Again the people were being made to work that day.
During the summer of 1960, I happened to visit the birthplace of Vaižgantas [noted Lithuanian priest and author—tr.] in Anykščiai Rayon. The collective farmers in the area complained bitterly that they were being subjected to an unprecedented oppressive serfdom, with no opportunity to rest even on Sundays. Anyone failing to show up for work during religious festivals is docked several days' pay by the collective farm chairman.
It is a common practice to block the roads leading to churches at which a religious festival is scheduled. Those traveling in trucks or horse-drawn wagons are turned back. Sometimes the atheists become very "inventive." In 1963, in Rumšiškės, the travelers to the Festival of the Nativity of Our Blessed Lady came up against roadblocks. The officials on guard explained that admittance was being forbidden because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Those who were traveling in horse-drawn wagons were turned back. Everyone was surprised, for prior to the festival no one had heard about any such outbreak. They were even more surprised to see the barricades come down after the services. That is to say, the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was over. In addition, the priests in Rumšiškės were ordered not to celebrate high mass or to have a procession on that day. The people joked: "Perhaps even the singing of hymns spreads foot-and-mouth disease?"
During the religious festival of the Nativity of Our Lady in 1963, the confessionals in Šiluva were practically besieged by crowds of penitents. Yet the government allowed the pastor to ask only several priests to come to assist him.
In what is probably his most interesting assertion, Mišutis discusses pilgrimages to shrines, alleging that each year the shrines are visited by fewer number of believers. As an example he cites the case of Šiluva as having had only 1,300 visitors in 1972. As a mater of fact, the church in Šiluva alone can hold three times that number. Everyone who attended the religious festival in Šiluva in 1973 was a witness to the fact that the church in Šiluva was packed with people during every mass. On Sunday, the cars inundated not only the town of Šiluva, but the surrounding countryside as well. During a single day, the auto-inspectors counted about 1,000 cars.
"Only about 1,000 persons visited Vepriai Kalvarijos [The Stations of the Cross in Vepriai—tr.] in 1972. No one visits Vilnius Kalvarijos [The Stations of the Cross in Vilnius]," exults Mišutis, "though about a dozen years ago ten thousand would come" (P. Mišutis, "Bažnyčia ir religingumas mūsų dienomis" [The Church and religiosity in our day]).
Particularly fanatical were the atheists in trying to disrupt the pilgrimages of believers to the Stations of the Cross in Vilnius. In 1961 this author witnessed such an effort. On Pentecost morning, notices appeared on the bulletin boards of the town's taxi garage announcing that travel on the road to the shrine was prohibited. One taxi driver categorically refused our request to take us there on the grounds that the police were stopping cars on the road and were confiscating the licenses of drivers heading in that direction. The taxi driver suggested that we go by way of Antakalnis and cross the Neris River by rowboat at Valakumpiai. When we arrived at Valakumpiai, however, we were unable to cross the Neris because the police were on guard to prevent such attempts. Local residents tried to assist the pilgrims. They advised us to go through the shrubbery beside the river bank toward Nemenčinė, where there were no policemen. Here too, however, after rowing us across the Neris, the boatman was assailed by several auxiliary policemen, who warned him not to bring anyone else across.
These methods proved ineffective. Believers streamed on foot in large groups toward the Vilnius Kalvarijos. The forests along the banks of the Neris rang with the sound of hymns and litanies. In 1962 the atheists, with military reinforcements, dynamited the Stations of the Cross in Vilnius and trucked away the rubble that very night. Dirt was brought in, and the sites where each station had stood were leveled.
Since then, attendance really did decrease at this holy place but did not cease altogether. Pilgrims from all over Lithuania gather here on Pentecost and walk the seven kilometers of pathways where the stations once stood. The sites of the former stations are marked by crosses fashioned of loose stones placed there by unknown devout hands, which also decorate the sites with flowers.
The Stations of the Cross in Vepriai (Ukmergė Rayon) were also destroyed by the atheists; however, on Pentecost huge crowds of pilgrims still throng to the site of the demolished stations.
The destruction of the Stations of the Cross at Žemaičių Kalvarija was also attempted. The pictures had already been removed; however, the Samogitian people crowded to the site and stood guard for more than ten days, determined to defend to the end this place that was holy to them. As a result, the Stations of the Cross at Žemaičiu. Kalvarija were saved.
In concluding these brief comments on Mišutis' articles and speeches, it is necessary to add that these articles and speeches are not really his own but are the voice of the Party misleading uncritical minds.