Slabadai is a large and expanding community on the bank of the Šešupė River. Here is a communications center, a school, a house of culture, a store and trade center. At Slabadai there is also a chapel, which was formerly part of the parish of Kudirkos Naujamiestis.
There a priest had always lived, to serve the faithful of the area. During the post-war years, because of a shortage of priests, Slabadai was served by priests from Kudirkos Naujamiestis.
Still later, because of interference from the Soviet government, the priest used to come to Slabadai only for funerals. When Slabadai became part of the Rayon of Vilkaviškis, the residents were served by the pastor of the parish of Didvyžiai. Father P. Perlaitis occasionally held services for the deceased, but upon being warned by the vice-dean of Šakiai that by doing so he could make matters worse and the government might not allow him even to bury the faithful, he stopped holding services.
When the new pastor, Father Antanas Lukošaitis, came to Didvyžiai, J. Urbonas, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Rayon of Vilkaviškis last October (1976) forbade the celebration of Mass in the church of Slabadai even at funerals. In the opinion of the vice-chairman, services could not be held because the faithful of Slabadai had not even chosen a parish council. Hearing of this, the faithful of Slabadai immediately organized the requisite committee of twenty, elected a parish executive committee, and submitted the names to the Council on Religious Affairs for confirmation.
The faithful waited a month for a reply. Vice Chairman Urbonas of the Executive Committee of the Rayon of Vilkaviškis took steps to dissolve the parish council of Slabadai. In a closed meeting of the local Party organization, collectivist Girdauskas was forced to resign from the parish council.
On October 27, Jonas Bušauskas, chairman of the parish council of Slabadai, was summoned by Vice Chairman Urbonas. The vice chairman inquired about Bušauskas's daughter Julija, whom they had listed with the militia juvenile authorities, just because the girl, at the request of her parents, had taken around to some individuals one of the parish documents for signature.
The girl was intimidated at school, and only the energetic intervention of her mother forced Urbonas and the administration of the Arminai school to rescind its decision, and remove the girl's name from the juvenile delinquents' list.
Vice Chairman Urbonas demanded that Bušauskas sign a statement that the parish executive committee had been formed without calling a public meeting. If Bušauskas had signed such a document, the rayon government would have announced that the election of the parish executive committee was not valid.
Bušauskas, sensing the trick, refused to sign the document drawn up by Urbonas. Parish Council Chairman Bušauskas was brow-beaten for sending direcdy to Vilnius the parish council records of the meeting, the creation of the executive committee and the petition to allow the parish at Slabadai to function. In the opinion of Vice Chairman Urbonas, he should have first been consulted on all these matters. It appears that Urbonas was reprimanded by officials of the Council on Religious Affairs for evoking, by his tactless behavior with the faithful, a desire to form a legal religious group.
On November 1, Mrs. Bušauskienė and Anele Bacevičienė went to Vice Chairman Urbonas to request permission for the pastor of Didvyžiai to hold memorial services on All Souls Day. The women submitted a request from the faithful, which had been signed by twenty-nine persons.
The vice chairman refused to allow services without agreement from Vilnius. The vice chairman took the occasion to pull the file on the pastor of Didvyžiai, and started reading about the priest to the women. The latter, however, interrupted the reading, saying that they had come not to hear about the priest, but to gain permission for services. Then the vice chairman tried to convince the women that it was not the people who needed the services, but the priest.
On November 9, it was announced that government officials were coming to Slabadai, and many people gathered at the chapel. They waited from morning till night in vain. The officials doubdessly wanted fewer people present, so they came the next afternoon.
The afternoon of November 10, Vice Chairman Urbonas came to Slabadai with Representative Raslanas of the Council on Religious Affairs. They found the faithful gathered at the church, demanding permission for services to be held. Collective farm-woman (Mrs.) Julė Morkevičienė said that people working day after day become bone-tired, and on Sunday they have to go ten kilometers to reach church, and so they wanted services to be held at Slabadai. All present unanimously defended their right to pray nowhere else but in their own chapel.
The government officials went to inspect the chapel itself, which was beautifully decorated. They wanted to know why the faithful never needed a church earlier, but needed one now. As they were leaving, the officials said that they were going to visit the pastor of Didvyžiai, and if he entertained them well, he would be allowed to hold services.
Soon the government officials were knocking on the rectory door in Didvyžiai. Vice Chairman Urbonas and Representative Raslanas of the Council on Religious Affairs tried to put the blame on the pastor for agitating the people to demand services and the creation of an executive committee.
The pastor calmly explained that it was not he who had aroused the public, but Urbonas himself, by forbidding funeral services in Slabadai, had aroused the dissatisfaction of the people and their desire to set up an official religious community.
The government officials tried to convince the pastor that Slabadai did not need any council, that the executive organ of the parish at Didvyžiai could take care of their affairs. Finally they allowed services to be held at Slabadai, the celebration of religious feasts, and promised to send written permission two weeks later.
The faithful of Slabadai waited impatiently for a reply from the government. Discovering that permission to hold services had been granted, they were very happy.
The pastor decided to begin holding services beginning with the First Sunday of Advent. On November 23, 1976, Vice Chairman Urbonas gave permission for services to be held on all Sundays of Advent, but forbade calling on priests from other rayons for assistance, even from the neighboring parish of Kudirka Naujamiestis.
The vice chairman of the rayon promised to visit Slabadai to inspect the chapel with Chairman Gerardas Holbach of the District of Juodpėniai, and to allot the material necessary for the renovation.
Not long afterwards, the wind shifted. On November 24, Vice Chairman Urbonas summoned Chairman Jonas Bučauskas and forbade regularly scheduled services. Each time the people of Slabadai wanted to have services in their chapel, they had to bring their request to the vice chairman of the rayon. The vice chairman based the new regulation on the fact that someone deputized by the rayon government would have to see how many people participate in the services, would have to check out the priest's activities, and would have to hear the sermon. For all services in the chapel, the chairman of the Juodupėnai District, G. Holbach, would have to be present and check up on the pastor.
The people of Slabai are joking that the District Chairman— a Communist—would be able without hesitation to go to church and to pray.
The parish council of Slabadai tried by telephone to inform the vice chairman of services coming up, but he demanded that the faithful come in person. The chairman of the Rayon Executive Committee tried to talk Chairman Bušauskas, of the parish executive committee, out of his position as chairman, and offered to include him in the parish council of the church at Didvyžiai. This is how he "implements" the separation of Church and state.
On November 27, 1976, Parish Council Chairman Bučinskas and Mrs. Anelė Bacevičienė went to see Rayon Vice Chairman Urbonas, and presented a written request to allow a priest to hold services. The vice chairman rejected the request, on the grounds that the application was not in proper form.
The parish chairman offered to re-write it; whereupon, Vice Chairman Urbonas, raising his voice, said that the request must be submitted two weeks in advance, and should indicate the day and the hour of the planned services, and the name of the priest conducting them.
Urbonas told the people to spare their trips, since there was no religious group in Slabadai, there was not even a church, and no religious group could be registered.
Chairman Bušauskas courageously asked, "Why do you keep fooling us and frustrating us? Vilnius and you allowed us to hold services, but now you are interfering again. We're going to Vilnius. The vice chairman then reminded the emissaries of the Faithful that this was not America. In other words, "Don't strain, because you'll never get what you want, anyhow."
The atheists of Slabadai simply laugh at the efforts of the faithful to achieve services in their chapel. They say that they will not allow a priest to hold services here.
It is believed, with some foundation, that such a sudden revocation of permission given to hold services is no mere coincidence. Most likely, the vice chairman of the Council on Religious Affairs informed the Council on Religious Affairs in Moscow, and is carrying out instructions he received to interfere in every way possible, so that services would not begin to be held. Where has it been heard that the Soviet government would allow a church and a chapel to open? It is able only to close them down.