Every religious festival brings much cheerfulness and spiritual joy into the Lithuanian Catholic's gray and monotonous life. Such revitalization is introduced especially by the great festivals at Žemaičių Kalvarija (The Samogitian Calvary), Šiluva and Aušros Vartai (Our Lady of the Dawn Gates). Their influence has long ago spread beyond the borders of Lithuania: Pilgrims come from Latvia, Estonia, Byelorussia, and even far away Kazakhstan. Even though the atheistic government harasses the pilgrims in every way, thousands of people travel to the devotions each day, and afterwards, the faithful continue for a long time to share the sorrows and joys experienced.
Last year, before the great festival at Šiluva, the atheists proclaimed the existence of "Swine fewer", but they just didn't have the nerve to rescind it. This year, people waited for new "pearls" of atheist imagination which ordinarily surprised not only Lithuania, but world public opinion.
A Religious Procession in Šiluva, 1981
Since, for the second year, the government has been interfering with youth and pilgrims going to Šiluva in organized fashion (the chekists constantly repeat "In Poland too, everything started with the rosary"), since early spring this year, the faithful, singly or in groups reciting the rosary, walked to Šiluva from Tytuvėnai (9 km.) from Raseiniai (19 km.) and even from Kaunas (approximately 95 km.).
On Sunday, August 29, 1982, a small group of the faithful reciting the rosary, set off from the church in Tytuvėnai bound for Šiluva. Up and down the highway leading to Šiluva, militia and KGB cars were buzzing. As one might expect, the officials, having stopped the pilgrims, began to harass them: "Where are you going? Who are you? Let us have your passes!"
Those accosted replied that they were going to Šiluva to pray. The chekists, charging them with disturbing the peace (it is forbidden to pray the rosary aloud while walking, even though there are only open fields all around), took down the names and addresses of some residents of Šiauliai: (Mrs.) Ieva Galdikienė, Juozas Šileikis, (Mrs.) Jadvyga Petkevičienė, (Mrs.) Angelė Žalienė and others. They ordered all of them into a militia car and promised to take them to Šiauliai. When the pilgrims refused to obey, and demanded that they not interrupt the prayers, the chekists, leaving the people in the care of the militia, drove to Šiluva, and having conferred there, after a few minutes hey returned. The Lieutenant Colonel of the Militia, coming from Šiluva, announced that it was forbidden for them to continue the journey on foot, and ordered that they all be placed in an automobile and driven to Šiluva. Forced into the vehicles, the pilgrims were taken to Šiluva where they were released.
One evening in August, a small group of young people from Kaunas began a penitential journey on foot from Kaunas to Šiluva. Hardly had they left the city, when sharp eyes began to follow them. The security agents would catch the group in their headlights, pass them in their cars, and come back again. Since the penitants looked more like tourists, they did not arouse much suspicion, and the chekists left them in peace. Even though the journey was difficult — they were able to sleep a little only on the bank of a ditch or on a pile of grain — nevertheless, the young people felt very happy when they reached the shrine.
Before the festival, not far from Raseiniai, on the banks of the Dubysa, a militia celebration took place. After this holiday, four hundred militiamen were left in Raseiniai for the Šiluva festival. In August on the other side of the Tytuvėnai trailer camp, they
Bishop Liudas Povilonis presiding at pilgrimage to Šiluva.
chased the Pioneers out, and forty security agents set up there, while within the Executive Committee of the city of Tytuvėnai, a new special staff established itself with a radio station. In a word, the government made very serious preparations against the Catholics of Lithuania, who were armed only with prayerbooks and rosary beads.
From early morning of September 8, on all roads in Betygala, Ariogala and Viduklė, they checked the registration of passing buses, removing the license plates from some, and threatened to slash the tires of one driver who had objected slightly. More than one driver had his license punched. Officials herded the rented buses of the pilgrims to Šiluva Security Headquarters, and from there, they would send them home without their passengers. So it was with people from Vilnius, travelling with Father Stanislovas Puidokas to the Šiluva festival. The same fate met the people from Klaipėda, etc.
In Šiluva, the militia and chekists demonstratively took down the license numbers of the cars which had come. One Communist from Tytuvėnai was summoned the very next morning, September 9, before the Kelmė Rayon Party Committee, where they offered to return his
Party card, merely because on September 8, he had driven to Šiluva. The poor man tried to explain that he had driven his wife and mother-in-law, and the car had been purchased jointly with his wife. He could not act in any other way, since otherwise, his wife threatened him with separation. Only after such serious arguing was he successful in rescuing his Party card.
For eight days, Šiluva became a real war zone. On Sunday, the militia helicopter flew over the town of Šiluva so low that the noise interfered with church services. The rumor spread among the people that the Traffic Police Chief, himself, Colonel Vaitasius, was looking at the crowds of the faithful from the plane.
The first day of the festival was impressive. Large crowds of the faithful gathered, with over eighty priests from various dioceses. About sixty priests vested, and went to meet the Bishops Liudas Povilonis and Antanas Vaičius. Mass was celebrated for the spiritual re-birth of the nation, and for sobriety. His Excellency, Bishop Povilonis, gave a thoughtful sermon. After Mass, the people, attentive and filled with joy, sang "Marija, Marija" which has become a religious national anthem.
On September 12, the Saturday of Šiluva festival, after the principal Mass, the youth and adults, continuing a tradition born last year, moved on their knees from the main altar, through the entire church to the churchyard. In the beginning, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas preached, illustrating by examples the difficult plight of the Church in Lithuania today, and the wide-open efforts of the atheist to liquidate it. The preacher cited the words of Petras Griškevičius, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania, spoken May 17, 1981, in the Second Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania:
"It is necessary in every way to strengthen the bond between international and patriotic education on the one hand, and on the other, and war to DESTROY religious anachronisms." An anachronism for government atheists is God, the Church, Faith, and the word liquidate obviously needs no commentary. Father Alfonsas Svarinskas invited all present to pray for His Excellency Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, whom the atheists wish to demean — they are making efforts even to mislead the Vatican.
During the sermon, the helicopter constantly flew over the town, so that people who were farther from the loudspeakers almost did not hear the priest's sermon for the noise. After the sermon, the priest, with cross in hand, the youth and adults — everyone — praying the rosary, began to move around the church on their knees. There were children, students, intelligentsia and alongside, the elderly and the sick.
People standing in the churchyard knelt. After going around the church on their knees, they returned to the main altar. The hearts of all beat joyfully for God and country.
The procession around the church lasted more than one hour and a half.
During the entire festival at Šiluva, 38,000 people received Holy Communion. Last year, there had been 28,000.
During the festival, the faithful collected signatures under petitions demanding the return of the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, in Klaipėda, built by the sacrifices of the faithful of Klaipeda and all Lithuania, and confiscated by the government.
Measures were taken against those collecting signatures: in church, in the chapel, in the churchyard and the cemetery, Security Police hovered about and, threatening the people in every way, tore the petitions from the peoples' hands.
The security agents forced the women who had been collecting signatures, (Mrs.) Jadviga Baronienė and (Mrs.) Genė Paleckienė, into a car and drove them to militia headquarters. Here they were subjected to a close personal search, in the course of which officials even tried to tear off the soles of Jadvyga Baronienė's shoes.
During those days, security agents arrested a little old lady who had been collecting signatures, and seizing about 2,000 signatures from her, pushed her into a car, shaking their fists, and took her to the security police. "I am not afraid to die for the good of the Church . . . and I will keep on collecting signatures!", the elderly woman affirmed. Later, she showed her frinds and relatives large bruises on her arms.
From time to time, the militia and their auxiliaries would raid the women selling religious items, and confiscate everything.
Militia officials did not try to keep order in the streets and roads of the town; on the contrary, they disrupted it in all sorts of ways. The second day of the religious festival, drunken militiamen would show up in the street. On the basis of available information, about thirteen high-ranking officials who were drunk during the religious festival lost their drivers' licenses. "If the festival had been extended for a week, all the officials of the rayon would have had to walk," said the people of Raseiniai. And why not drink? It is more difficult for a sober man to attack innocent believers.
Altar in the Chapel of Our Lady of Šiluva, Lithuania.
On September 16, the Raseiniai Rayon newspaper Naujas Rytas (New Morning) published the following item:
"The Rayon Prosecutor's Office has announced that on September 12, 1982, at about 8:00 PM, Militiaman L. Norgilas, a highway patrolman of the LSSR Interior Ministry's State Graffic Police while driving an officialcar on Komjaunimo Street in the City of Raseiniai, would not allow a motorcycle, operated on an arterial road (K. Požėlos Street) without a license by A. Jankauskas to pass, obstructing and slightly injuring him. The incident is under investigation, and the one responsible for the accident will be penalized. At the time of the accident, individuals behaving like hooligans prevented an inspection of the site of the incident, and disturbed the peace. An investigation is being carried out, The culprits will be made to pay.
Raseiniai Rayon Prosecutor's Office"
Here is what really happened: A couple of drunken militiamen were driving a Klaipėda militia car down Komjaunimo Street to the store for liquor, and bumped into the young man riding on a motorcycle. He was thrown onto the sidewalk. The inebriated militiaman told the victim to disappear. The young remained where he was, waiting for the militia. Those responsible for the accident, along with Raseiniai Miliatia personnel, drove around the block and returned to the site, and finding the young man waiting there, began to beat him.
In response to the cries of bystanders, workers came running from the "Šatrija" Factory, and surrounding the militia car, would not let it get away, and later overturned it. A larger group of militia arrived and tried to rescue their comrades, but in vain. The crowd seized apples and stones and began to attack the militiamen. Others even threw vases of flowers from the balconies. The people shouted, "You're not just confiscating rosaries at Šiluva, you know! You animals, what are you doing?"
Those assembled demanded that the State Traffic Police Chief, Col. Vaitasius, come from Vilnius, Rayon leaders summoned fire-fighting apparatus from Raseiniai, Girkalnis and Viduklė; but the firefighters, arguing that they had been trained to put out fires, and not to control people, refused to turn their hoses on the crowd. That night, the administration came from Vilnius and, dismissing the militia and promising to punish the wrongdoers, asked everyone to disperse. After midnight, people began to scatter. In the side streets, the militia seized people and began to beat them. Officials extinguished street lights in advance so that it would be easier to punish the people. Many were arrested. There is no more exact information, since everything is being carefully covered up.