The postwar years were difficult in Lithuania. Innocent people were deported to Siberia, the corpses of slain patriots were dragged through city streets, and the prisons were crowded with innocent people. Those years were difficult for the Jaugelis family as well; the father sat in prison while the mother was constantly interrogated by security police. On September 9, 1948, Jaugelis's second son, Virgilijus, came into the world. Providence allowed this boy to suffer from the very beginning of his childhood. During the winter the hungry child pressed close to his mother in an unheated room. She gave her children all that she had: a true faith in and deep love for Jesus and Mary. The small boy, wearing a threadbare fur jacket, would hurry to church daily. There, approaching the altar on his knees, concentrating intently, he recited three parts of the rosary and then served at mass:
Having completed high school, Virgilijus did not hesitate to turn directly to the theological seminary. In 1966 the seminary administration would not include Virgilijus on their list of candidates because there were no openings, due to the very low quota imposed by the atheistic government. The Religious Affairs Commissioner simply crossed off anyone above the limit.
In 1967 the secret police summoned Virgilijus when they learned that he wanted to study at the seminary and tested his integrity. The zealous Stalinists did not like Virgilijus's strong-willed character and "Herod's allies blocked Virgilijus's path." The rector of the seminary informed him: "Your request is denied this year."
In 1968 fate again failed to smile on Virgilijus; the rector wrote: "This year, due to the lack of openings, we cannot approve your request. Please apply in May of next year." In 1969 the seminary's reply offered no hope: "You are hereby informed that your request is denied and that you will not be able to study at the Intradiocesan Seminary at Kaunas, (signed) Rector of the Seminary."
Virgilijus began to work as a driver, but the thought "I must be a priest," did not leave him. He became a member of a Third Order, attended a closed retreat, deepened his religious outlook, and helped to raise the church of Pajavonys from its ruins. In 1970 the rector again sent the standard reply: "We cannot satisfy your request to enroll in the seminary this year. Try to reapply next year." Virgilijus attempted to do so, but the Chekists' "veto" was so firm that the nervous seminary vice rector did not even allow Virgilijus to apply in 1971.
These bitter experiences formed the character and philosophy of the future priest: to expect nothing good from the conquerer but to persist in striving towards one's own goals. Virgilijus did not succumb (and many did); he became one of the most active fighters for religious freedom. He was beaten by the Chekists during Father Juozas Zdebskis's trial merely for asking to be admitted into the courtroom. To ensure that he wouldn't forget obedience to the Soviet government, the heirs of the Iron Feliks (Dzerzhinsky — Tr.) added ten days in prison.
During this time the underground theological seminary was formed in Lithuania, and Virgilijus began his philosophic studies. It was not enough for him just to study; he wanted to be in the forefront of the fight for the Church's freedom. In 1972 he was one of the most zealous collectors of signatures to the memorandum of seventeen thousand Catholics in which they demanded from the Soviet government the freedom of belief. Some Judas telephoned the police, and the courageous young man wound up handcuffed like a murderer at the Prienai Internal Affairs Department. The signatures were confiscated, and he was threatened with severe punishment if he dared to collect more in the future. But Virgilijus dared; he went from door to door in the parish of Santaika and collected some fifteen hundred signatures to the petition asking that the government not obstruct the bishop in appointing a pastor for this parish. A Judas did not appear this time; no one rushed to betray him, and a pastor was named to the Santaika parish at once.
In 1972 the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania fell into Virgilijus's hands, and he searched for ways to duplicate it. In the meantime, the eyes of the security police followed the young man's steps. In 1973 the storm of searches touched Virgilijus's apartment as well; in his possession were found mimeograph masters on which Ieškau Tavo veido (I Seek Your Face) by Grauslys had been typed. The Chekists charged that this was the method by which Virgilijus duplicated an issue of the Chronicle, and he was arrested. Virgilijus became gravely ill in the security police cellars. During his trial he could barely stand. He was physically weak, but he was strong spiritually. He did not defend himself at the trial, nor did he repent in order to soften the judges' hearts. He accused the executioners of the Church and the nation. The future priest spoke prophetically that others would stand in the place of those destroyed, and that militant atheists would be unable to hold back the surge to freedom of Lithuania's Catholics (see The Chronicle, no. 13). The court's decision: two years. Virgilijus found himself in Pravieniškes, among robbers, murderers, and rapists. He did not like speaking about himself, but those who were imprisoned at Pravieniškes know the living conditions in this "hell on earth" and can easily recreate the young man's inhumanely difficult slave labor in a place where the criminals differed from the jailers only by their insignia.
The Chekists realized that Virgilijus might die in the labor camp, and the party did not want Lithuania to have a new martyr. "Benefactors" from the KGB released him, barely alive near his doorstep; better he die there quietly and not in custody. Later a party secretary justified this action by saying, "We did not want him to die . . ." Completely exhausted and suffering badly from cancer, Virgilijus barely managed to crawl to the cathedral and there, at the feet of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother, collapsed. The hospital replaced the labor camp, but the cross did not leave Virgilijus. He recovered slowly after a serious operation, and the priestly vocation attracted him even more. Virgilijus sensed the brevity of his life and reminded those who hesitated, "I must hurry." Beginning his work as a sacristan, he was never without a book. He continuously experienced exhausting pain, but the persistent young man prayed and did not lay aside his theology textbook.
1978 was a year in Virgilijus's life that was mixed with both pain and joy. In a quiet room during his first mass, Father Virgilijus offered to God not only Christ's bloodless sacrifice but himself as well, so that the homeland might regain its freedom, so that the Church would resurrect those lost and shackled in prison and those fellow countrymen occasionally lost on misguided paths. In order that the sacrifice be complete, immediately following his ordination Father Virgilijus took his monastic vows.
The people of Kybartai were astonished when yesterday's sacristan went to the altar on November 1 as Christ's priest! The faithful did not rejoice in their young priest for long; his serious illness again made him bedridden. Calmly resigned to God's will, he smilingly endured great pain. Not many knew of the heavy cross he carried, especially during his last years. Father Kauneckas said at his funeral: "People say that death straightens even the hunchback, but Father Virgilijus suffered so much that even death could not straighten him; nor will it ever." Father Virgilijus offered his last mass for the arrested Povilas Buzas and Anastazas Janulis. Having personally experienced the Chekists' interrogations, he knew how much these fighters for freedom of the faith would have to endure.
On February 17, 1980, Father Virgilijus received the Last Sacraments and slept in Christ. Before his death he often said he would return to Kybartai soon. On February 19 Vatican Radio reported the news of Fr. Virgilijus's death and funeral. In the cozy Kybartai parish church, the coffin of the young priest-martyr was covered by a sea of white flowers; in honor and love young men and girls dressed in national costume stood guard around the coffin.
The memorial services lasted four days. They were days of recollection; even more so, days of victory. Suffering had been conquered, the victory won!
The night before the funeral, youths from the farthest corners of Lithuania began to flock to Kybartai and "surrounded Father Virgilijus's casket like grains of amber."
On February 21 thousands flowed into Kybartai. It was both impressive and sad to see the crowds of children and youths from various localities of Lithuania with beautiful flowers in hand rushing to bid farewell to the priest — a martyr for the freedom of belief. Approximately a hundred priests arrived that day, though they all knew the government would not view their presence favorably. Looking at this crowd of people, one couldn't tell if the tears shed were in sorrow over the young priest's death or in joy for the Church and the nation, which had gained a new martyr and saint.
The youth, oblivious to exhaustion and cold, gathered in the church early in the morning and said the rosary in unison. Many priests approached the altar to offer the Sacrifice of Holy Mass. The pastor of Kybartai, Father S. Tamkevičius; Father J. Kauneckas; the pastor of Viduklė, Father A. Svarinskas; and the pastor of Pajavonys, Father V. Jalinskas, spoke lovingly of the deceased.
Father S. Tamkevičius recounted beautifully Father Virgilijus's road of suffering and victory. He said, "Father Virgilijus was straight as a bullet: he said what he thought, he did what he said .... He longed for the priesthood; he hurried to be the Lord's priest for at least one day. The young priest approached the altar, administered the sacraments, and visited the sick with such joy! His perseverance was heroic, his devotion to the Lord complete. Anyone who watched Father Virgilijus as he prayed could say, 'this man knows how to pray.'
"And if we now need apostle-priests, then, most of all, we need priests who have resolved to suffer and die for God and Country."
Father Svarinskas called this funeral a joyous day, for it was the day of "his birth in heaven." The homilist continued: "Father Virgilijus is a flower of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, a beacon for the young, a torch, which during these times of raging godlessness shows the road to the ideal, to the goal. He reached his goal through extraordinary efforts, and his exemplary life speaks graphically to youth: 'Don't be afraid of sacrifice, don't be afraid of work, and you will attain what your heart desires.' He sacrificed everything to God and won; the spirit conquered matter."
Following the Solemn High Mass, a huge procession of children, youths, and priests with flowers and candles lined the entire churchyard. The coffin was carried around the church, and the procession stopped near the high steeple of the Kybartai church: Father Virgilijus's gravestone. Here Father V. Jalinskas addressed the crowd. "My dear Virgutis, Priest of God, I knew you from your earliest days. Very few are granted such a cross by the Lord. You grew to love it and carried it throughout your entire life to the very top of Calvary. I can still see you today, a small child in a threadbare fur jacket circling the miraculous cross of the Saričiai church on your knees, passing others, even adults, and then hurrying to the Sorrowful Mother. I asked you once, 'Tell me, my child, why do you love the cross and the Sorrowful Mother so much?' 'When I pray, I am warmer,' you replied. You loved everyone, for God has no bad children, only unhappy ones, ignorant ones."
Father Jalinskas particularly stressed the idea that 'Herod's henchmen' must be removed from the seminary. Young men must be accompanied to the seminary by their pastor and not by the security police.
Following the funeral, the faithful did not leave the grave of Father Virgilijus Jaugelis too quickly. Many were unsure of whether to mourn the fact that the angel of death had cut down Christ's soldier before his time, or to rejoice that from his grave he would illu minate even more strongly all of Lithuania, inviting everyone to the heights of faith and freedom. The dead can sometimes wage a greater battle than the living.
Today no one passes Father Virgilijus's grave unmoved. From some it draws a tear; it reminds others to abandon the path of Judas, and follow those who believe in the resurrection of the Church and the nation.