Kishinev, Moldavian SSR
Kishinew, the capital of Moldavia, has many churches, and all of Moldavia once numbered about 200 Catholic churches, with as many priests. Presently, the only church in Kishinev (On October 25th Street) has been closed for over ten years and in its stead the faithful have been given the cemetery bell tower (Azovskaya No. 11). Moldavia used to have churches in Bel'stry, Rybnitsa, Rosh-kovo, Orgeyev, Bendery, Soroki and other cities and villages. Now all are either closed or demolished. The entire republic has only the cemetery bell tower and only one preist—Vladislus Zavalniuk (born 1949, graduated the Riga Seminary in 1974 and directly assigned to work in Moldavia).
The faithfid of Moldavia have to bear many hardships because of unsuitable conditions at the bell tower: because of the large crowds and tight quarters, people must often stand out in the street, and even those who manage to get inside cannot pray because they often faint from poor ventilation and heat. Such incidents occur nearly every Sunday.
The local government often imposes various punishments on the priest because he often ministers to the faithful without permission from the government. To visit a sick person, a certificate is required from the physician stating that the patient is truly ill, as well as certificates from the local government, from the Kishinev Rayon Committee Chairman and from the Religious Affairs Commissioner. In practice, no one has yet been able to obtain all these certificates. There are many instances when the sick die without a priest. The priest has many times been detained on the road and his taxi driver many times punished by a suspension of his license for driving the priest.
130 km (80 miles) from Kishinev is the Village of Ivanovko. Many Catholic Poles live there. The militia arrived while the priest was hearing the confessions of old and sick people, dispersed everyone and forbade the priest from entering the Rayon of Rybnitsa.
Considering the priest too zealous, the government decided to rid itself of him: He was drafted. He had not been drafted into the military as a student because of poor health. The medical commission of the Kishinew Military Commissariat ruled that the priest was healthy and fit to serve in a work detail. He was ordered to report to the induction center on May 15, 1975 with a "small bag of things."
And so, farewell services are held on May 15th. The entire parish, about 1,000 persons, tearfully escorts its only priest to the army. The priest joins the formation wearing his cassock and the faithful pray behind the fence. One woman appraoches the Major and pleads:
"I have two sons. Take them, only leave us our priest."
The young priest in his cassock draws everyone's attention. The officers begin to feel uneasy. One Major approaches the priest's mother and asks:
"Tell your son to remove his cassock, so the doesn't draw everyone's attention to himself."
"He is a priest," replied the Mother. "You are drafting him only because he is a priest, he therefore goes dressed as a priest. I myself would not allow him to remove the cassock."
After lengthy consultations and to the great joy of the parishioners, the priest was released. The faithful practically carried him to the church. The Catholics had regained their shepherd, but persecutions did not cease.
In 1977, just before the Wednesday of Holy Week, Father Zavalniuk was detained in car and spent the entire night at the Rybnitsa City Militia. Government officials thus disrupted Holy Thursday services. The government began a more intensive campaign to keep the priest from ministering to the sick and dying. The government forbids the priest to enter the village of Krikovo, 12 km. (7 miles) from Kishinew, where many Catholic Germans reside, without a handful of permits. Executive Committee Chairman Cilka Grigori responded as follows to the Catholics' petition: "What! You want us to be written up inKrokodil? The Religious Affairs Commissioner told them to seek permission from the Executive Committee, which in turn sent the people to the Rayon Executive Committee and so forth. In the meantime, the woman died without the priest. The priest was not even allowed to come for the funeral.
Novo-Andrijashevk Village (Slobodzeisk Rayon)
Novo-Andrijashevk is 120 km. (70 miles) from Kishinev. Catholic Germans live there. Many transfers must be made to reach the Kishinev church, the trip is long and difficult; it is therefore impossible for the sick and the old to reach the priest. People often die here without the Sacraments. The faithful are continually demanding permission for the priest to come. Finally, Religious and Cult Affairs Commissioner Vikonskis granted permission for the priest to visit the village of Novo-Andrijashevk once a month. But this permission was soon rescinded, on the pretext that there are no suitable facilities. The Catholics tried to gain the use of the Orthodox church (Ukrainian SSR), but the Odessa Metropolitan did not grant permission for the Catholics to use their church just once a month.
The Catholics of Bel'tsy are continually asking that a house of worship be certified them, because their church has been closed and converted into a sports facility. There are many Catholics Poles and Germans in Bel'tsy. One Catholic, Chaikovski, is willing to donate his house, but the government refuses to certify it as a house of prayer and does not allow people to assemble there. The faithful have gone to Moscow, and petitioned the Red Cross, but all in vain. Father is not allowed to come here. The militia has recently confiscated his car and circulated the rumor that the car was allegedly stolen.
Village of Sloboda-Rashkovo
This is a village 170 km. (110 miles) from Kishinew where most of the residents are Catholic Poles. In earlier times, Sloboda-Rashkovo had its own church, which today stands closed and neglected. Overcoming great difficulty, Catholics travel to the Kishinew church, but due to the large number of people and overcrowding they do not always have the opportunity to confess and receive the Sacraments.
The priest has tried to find a solution to the difficult situation: At the request of the faithful, he began to minister particularly to the old and sick at their place of residence, travelling throughout the large parish. It is then that all kinds of obstructions were imposed. The government demanded countless permits, punished taxi drivers who attempted to drive the priest. The people then began to demand that the former large Kishinew church be reopened, so that once the difficult trip to Kishinew has been made, it is possible to pray. The efforts of the faithful were in vain. The statement of the Catholics of Moldavia requesting that the old church be reopened received a reply from the Kishinev Executive Committee Secretary Kobeleva, stating that the old church belongs to the Cultural Ministry, and the faithful must content themselves with the bell tower in the cemetery.
Then, the faithful of Sloboda-Rashkodo began to demand permission for the priest to come to their parish. The Catholics wrote to various agencies, made ten trips to Moscow, until they finally obtained such a permission. But the people had no place to assemble for joint worship. Believers offered to convert their homes into a church. From all the offers, the goverment chose the house of Valentina Oleinik. People gathered from neighboring villages and cities whenever the priest came to this house of worship. Although permission had been granted the priest to come, government officials nonetheless persecuted them. Devotions to St. Martha were to be held on July 29th. The Catholics of Rashkovo received permission from the government to pray on that day at the home of Valentina Oleinik. Many people assembled to mark this important occasion and waited for the priest to arrive. Aware of the feast, the government stationed the militia on the road on the on the pretext that a quarantine was in effect and the priest must not be allowed to pass. After long negotiations, the priest was allowed to proceed on foot to Rashkovo (about 3 km.—1.8 miles) but his car was turned back. The priest arrived at Rashkovo tired and very late.
The priest was not allowed for the very same reason to leave Rashkovo for the August 2nd devotions in Kishinev. And this is how recollections were obstructed in Kishinev.
As the priest was trevelling by bus to Sloboda-Rashkovo on September 11, 1977, he was again detained on the road. The militia held the Rev. V. Zavalniuk until late evening and suggested that he return to Kishinev. But since it was night and no means of transportation was available, and Kishinev was 170 km. (110 miles) away, militiamen on night duty at headquarters allowed the priest to go spend the night in Rashkovo after a lengthy telephone consultation with their superiors. Once more there was no Holy Mass on Sunday. It is difficult ot count all such incidents. The faithful assemble, the house of worship overflows with people, but the priest does not arrive. The Catholics of Rashkovo tried to secure permission to reopen the former Rashkovo church, but upon receiving a stern reply from the government, found another solution: they began to build their own house of prayer. They used the most primitive building methods, they worked at night because during the day they had to work on the state farm. The government tried V. Oleinik three times for giving her house to the faithful.
On October 24, 1977, V. Oleinik and V. Pogrieenuju were arrested by the local government and security agents on the road near their homes and were thrown into a vehicle with such force that V. Oleinik became unconscious. They were secretly driven to the Kashenko Rayon where they were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to 15 days in a strict security prison. These elderly retired women are charged with allegedly writing anonymous letters and slandering Chairman Kozhuchar of the Kamensko Rayon. In addition, they were charged with brutal behavior against government officials. Upon releasing them from prison, Rayon Executive Committee Secretary Kozhuchar threatened the women: "We had no trouble taking care of exploiters, we used repression and no one said anything; we will have no trouble hanging you also. You have ruined two large parcels of fertile land with your construction! We will demolish everything!"
Wishing to recompense the government, the faithful offered their own meager property, just to secure permission to continue building the church. The parishioners built this house of prayer at a great personal sacrifice in rest, money and other conveniences. All pensioners worked, children worked carrying stones and sand in bags. People brought a pail of cement, stones, some gave their own bricks. The people pasted together their nest of prayer like swallows. At night, electric lights were often disconnected, so they had to work by candlelight.
When the people turned to government officials for all types of daily living matters, they always received the same reply: "Go see the priest and let him give it to you." The faithful tried to go complain to Moscow, but, on their way, they were forced to get off the train by the militia and were taken to the security police.
Valentina Oleinik, exhausted by the endless ridicule and hardship, wanted to leave her property to her daughter and went to the notary office. Upon learning that the citizen was from Sloboda-Rashkovo, the notary furiously opened his office door and shouted: "Get out."
On November 24, 1977 the Sloboda-Rashkovo militia confiscated all hunting rifles. Children were ordered to assemble in school one hour earlier the following day. Twenty of the most active believers were summoned to the Rayon, allegedly for the purpose of certifying the church committee. A non-entry zone was established 2 km. (1.2 miles) from the village: no one was allowed to either enter or leave the village. And at about 9:00 A.M. the village of Sloboda-Rashkovo resounded with countless vehicles. Approximately 500 militiamen arrived with dogs and the house of every believer was surrounded by 3 to 5 militiamen to prevent anyone from attempting to leave. Fifteen government officials and militiamen kept the school surrounded all day, not even allowing the children to use the toilet to prevent them from escaping to the church. V. Oleinik and seven other women were driven half-naked and barefooted to the Ukrainian SSR and released in the field. Only that evening was a war dispatched to bring them home.
Countless vehicles drove into the village: about 15 buses with people on board, about 25 passenger cars, 40 first aid vehicles, 2 bulldozers, 2 excavators, 4 tractors and one fuel truck which provided the vehicles with fuel. The miliatia was called in from four Rayons:Rybnitsa, Kamenko, Rezino and Dubasar. The army stood by the woods and a helicopter flew overhead watching for any possible disturbance.
Activity continued frantically from 9:00 to 4:00 P.M. All church articles were thrown into vehicles—pictures, vestments, rugs-and were taken to another village and thrown into a stable. The tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament was thrown unceremoniously into a car and also taken to the stable. The consecrated hosts were scattered in the stalls and the chalice was taken to the state farm office.
The church which was nearing completion was replaced by a plowed field, next to which "heroes of the operation" struck various poses for pictures.
The church committee which had been summoned to the Rayon was kept there all day for nothing.The deceived and exhausted parishioners were forced to walk 25 km. (15 miles) home because orders had been issued not to drive them home. On the way, three of them hopped aboard a mail vehicle, but the militia which patrolled the entire road, stopped the mail truck and ordered the women out. On their return home, the faithful saw the remains of walls, planks, stones, etc. sold along the road like so much firewood. The entire village wept when they saw such a catastrophe. Later, everyone gathered at that holy spot, like the Jews at the temple in Jerusalem, and lying prostrate in the form of a cross, kissed the ground and prayed for God's mercy. The children returned from school crying.
The people's greatest anguish was to learn where the Blessed Sacrament had been taken. At first they were sent from person to person without being told the truth. On November 29th, V. Oleinik was summoned (because the government did not allow the priest to come take care of the Blessed Sacrament) to take back the church articles. In the filthy and stinking stable, vestments were hung on posts, holy pictures were propped against the walls, and everything else was thrown into a pile. The tabernacle was open and the hosts were scattered on the ground. The people threw themselves on the ground and weeping picked up the hosts.
Rayon Executive Committee Secretary Vorona stated: "We must maintain order everywhere. I cannot allow my daughter to suffer on my account. She works in Cuba as a translator." She therefore continues to use all sorts of methods of intimidation to prevent people from seeking the truth and making the terrible facts public.
Today, the Catholics of Rashkovo pray in and outside a former small kitchen. New people coming into the village are constantly checked and suspicious ones are turned back. The priest has probably been forbidden to enter that village.
School Principal Aleksandr Fiodorovich personally visits the cafeteria on Fridays and forces believing children to eat meat. The weeping children hide the meat and try to use cunning to avoid being forced.
Beginning October 7, 1977, at the order of the Religious Affairs Commissioner, the sick, the dying and other believers can be ministered to only upon receipt of a permit. Since thd permit must be obtained from different agencies, the people have begun to complain to higher authorities. When this matter reached Cult Minister Kuroyedov, and it was pointed out that no one has the right to demand such permits, the Moldavian Religious Affairs Commissioner, V. Vikonskis, began to blackmail the priest, Rev. V. Zavalniuk, asserting that the government has never demanded such permits and that the priest himself invented the permits and refuses to minister to the faithful without them. In order to rid itselt of the only priest in Moldavia, the government is trying to build a case against him for slandering the Soviet government by fabricatin the permits.
Catholics from all Moldavian villages and towns are sending telegrams asking for spiritual support: confession and Communion, under pressure by the faithful, the Commissione is changing tactics: he does not demand permits, but whenever anyone wishes to summon the priest, a telegram must be sent to the church committee chairman who must first check with the Commissioner and receive permission from him. Only then can the priest go see a patient, but only on the condition that he ministers only to that one patient, although in such instances many elderly and sick persons assemble at the home of the one the priest has been summoned to see.
Commissioner V. Vikonskis is strongly urging the Rev. V. Zavalniuk to get a change of "climate", i.e. leave voluntarily, otherwise, he threatens to prosecute him.