After the 1978 Christmas holidays, certain Western press correspondents rushed to report that this year's Christmas holidays in the Soviet Union had passed in a peaceful and orderly fashion, as never before since the war. There were no Communist Youths at the churches to disrupt services, there were no teachers to chase children from churches, etc. This was supposedly true of Moscow, Kiev, Vilnius. In this same vain, others went even further by reporting that the relationship between the government and religion and the Church is supposedly normalizing in the Soviet Union. These correspondents did not know what was happening in the more remote places they have never visited and with whose inhabitants they have had no contact whatsoever.
In the district of the Western Ukraine, where the majority of the population consists of Catholic Ukrainians, the situation is quite different. It must be pointed out that Soviet organs follow in the footsteps of Czarist administrators in never calling a Ukrainian Catholic, but just Uniate in order to debase him as a schismatic of the Russian Orthodox Church who has sided with the Catholic Church. The people of the Ukraine, especially the Western portion, have been Catholic since ancient times, but of the Eastern rite: this was and still is equally intolerable to both Czarist and present-day Russia. If a Ukrainian calls himself Catholic, he is assail-led: "You are not Catholic, but Uniate in other words, you have broken away from Mother Russia and now spread discord between the people of Russia and the Ukraine. Just before Christmas, a commission from Kiev and Moscow arrived in Western Ukraine and began to summon the remaining old and ailing Ukrainian Catholic Priests. Those who could not come in person were visited at home and were subjected to exhausting talks. The purpose of these talks was to terrorize the priests so they will not have the courage to conduct services when they go visiting or receive the faithful in their homes to attend services. These priests, most of whom were prosecuted several times simply for refusing to be Russian Orthodox, have already been robbed of everything. Already in 1946, during the "first blow" as the security police has dubbed it, when all Ukrainian Catholic bishops and priests were herded together and sent to concentration camps, their church articles and religious literature were stolen. Then, during the "second blow" in 1957, those priests who returned home after the 1953 amnesty were denuded of everything, even ordinary dishes and boxes were taken on the suspicion that they might be used for Holy Mass. After the "second blow" (it was to be the last) few Ukrainian Catholic priests were left. And these were elderly, ailing and broken by torture in labor camps. Now they once again have no peace. The Chekists mock them: "You will have no peace even in death; we will watch who attended your funeral, what is written on your tombstone, etc. A Catholic priest will die somewhere, his friends will bury him and then they will be interrogated, threatened and harrassed in various ways . . ." People who attend services at the home of a Catholic priest are often detained by Government representatives, are dismissed from work, etc. It should be known that every Ukrainian Catholic priest is followed by a whole band of security police collaborators. He can be taken off a bus or train at any time and searched without any reason. The visiting commission warned: "Your Uniate Church is not legal—go pray in the Orthodox churches." To the question of why they don't register the Ukrainian Catholics, as they do other Catholics, they replied: "You are not Catholics; you are Uniates". The priests of the Ukraine complain: "Vatican representatives visited Moscow but did they ever submit the demand of Ukrainian Catholics to Moscow authorities? Five million Ukrainian Catholics still know nothing of this."
The commission did not overlook even old women who had once been nuns. It was especially interested in learning whether they have among them young girls who wish to become nuns.
The brutal battle agains Ukrainian Catholics is waged not only by the security police but also by other government agencies: various organizations, schools, even state farms. State farm authorities keep a close watch over those who do not attend the Russian Orthodox Church, do not give their children Orthodox baptisms, do not bury their dead with an Orthodox priest. Such people are insulted by state farm officials, are given smaller plots of land and are hurt in every possible way.
Such is the "true" freedom of religion and conscience here, guaranteed by Constitutions, Helsinki documents and declarations on human rights. Did the faithful of the Ukraine ask that their Catholic communities be registered? Yes, more than once. Every time believers left for Moscow to ask that the Ukrainian Catholic community be registered and even before they returned home, the KGB was already mouting an attack against the persons who had signed the statement, punishing them, dismissing them from work and arresting priests. Such was the response to complaints and requests.
This is the true picture of the "freedom of conscience" in the Soviet Ukraine. Genocides are taking place somewhere in Chile, South Africa—but not here!
The Belorussian SSR is in competition with the Lithuanian SSR. Newspapers report various scores in this competition. But Belorussia holds an undisputed lead in one area, that of destroying and desecrating churches. The Gothic-style church of Gardinas built at the time of Vytautas the Great has been demolished, the beautiful Vidžiai shrine has been destroyed, the small church of Varanavas which people tried to save—women laid down in the path of oncoming tractors—has been razed from the face of the earth. After this incident, soldiers were called out and the church was turned in one night into a pile of firewood. Well, physical strength and force seem to be the most reliable weapons in ideological battle. Now a cultural center stands on the site of the church. It is easy to imagine what kind of "culture" this building is spreading after looking into the dancehall and seeing drunk youths staggering about and promiscuous young girls.
The atheists of Belorussia are firmly convinced that the best method of fighting against religion is to destroy the church building. This is accomplished in various ways. For instance, the church of Beniakoniai is being destroyed gradually. First, the church is closed down, the sculptures and altar are smashed inside, pictures are destroyed. The churchyard is turned into an open refuse pile. Anyone can do as he pleases there, secure in the knowledge that any acts of vandalism will be tolerated.
Even the tombstone of Adomas Mickevičius' wife was shamelessly knocked down because a cross had been cut into the stone. It was returned to its proper place only by Lithuanian national heritage scholars. But for how long? Any day, the same fate that befell many other religious and cultural monuments throughout Belorussia can befall it again. Atheist fanaticism encouraged by the government is extending its hand everywhere.
Let us look at Naugardukas—the birthplace of Adomas Mickevičius. This is where Adomas Mickevičius was born, baptized and went to school. Let us look at the former Dominican church where the future poet used to pray . . . No, it is impossible to describe. One must see this church, actually this hideously desecrated shrine, to understand to what inhuman acts a person inspired by atheistic fanaticism can stoop!
This church met its sad fate reletively recently. Several years ago the organ still pealed here, hymns echoed. But the priest died. In other words, the time came to annihilate this shrine of architectural importance. The current practice in Belorrussia is as follows: if the priest cannot be eliminated, they wait for him to die and after his death permission is not given for a new priest to be appointed and the church is closed down. And this is how the above-named church was first converted into a warehouse. The organ was destroyed, the altar demolished, as were the sculptures of the saints. Finally, the roof began to leak. Someone suggested that it be repaired but encountered strict opposition: a leaking roof is the best way to destroy the building. Two years later the church building was no longer fit even for a warehouse.
Today, the former church can be entered only through large holes in the foundation. And here one sees what cannot be described .. . Not the fact that everything has been destroyed, desecrated and vandalized, no .. . Such sights can be seen throughout Belo-russia. Much more is revealed here: the most hideous loss of humanity which shakes every decent man to the depths of his soul. The place where people once knelt and prayed (and these were relatives, parents and perhaps even friends) has been turned into a cesspool, and the walls where the pictures of saints once hung are covered with such Russian graffiti that even persons accustomed to all kinds of obscenity would blush .. .
Unfortunately, all this has no impact on the government officials of Naugardukas and the local atheists. Everything is a triffle to them, everything is permitted here: any crime imaginable is no crime just as long as no trace is left of the former church. They are not even embarrassed before tourists who visit the historical sites associated with the poet Mickevičius.
After seeing the barbarically desecrated Dominican church of Naugardukas, one cannot forget either the second Naugardukas church located near the castle ruins. This church is still functioning. But its pastor is an elderly man who survived a Soviet labor camp. The faithful of Naugardukas are very worried that a similar fate might befall this church also, once their pastor dies. Will the government's hand be stayed by the plaque fastened on the outside proclaiming the church's noble historical past, or the plaque on the inside which states that the poet Mickevičius was baptized in this holy place?