"As the joyous twenty-fifth anniversary of your assumption to the honorable ministry of bishop approaches, we send you this letter with great spiritual joy and goodwill.
"Indeed, as we write, our spirit soars and leans toward you, Reverend Brother, towards the distant land of Lithuania, towards the famed Lithuanian nation, which is so dear to us and which the Holy See holds in especially high regard because of its Christian faith, to the land where you were born, where you have lived to date, and still are living. It seems to us, as we write this letter, that we are with you, talking and celebrating the approaching joyous occasion.
"Therefore, may we extend our most sincere and heartfelt yearnings and our best wishes. May we also express to you, from the bottom of our heart, well-deserved respect for your pure faith, pastoral zeal, spiritual and intellectual attributes, and the notable merits you have earned by nobly and conscientiously fulfilling the duties of your holy ministry by attending to the salvation of men's souls. You have spent nearly your entire life preparing for this holy ministry and fulfilling it with zeal, following in the enlightened footsteps of those men of the past who, in seeking the greater glory of God and the welfare of the Catholic Church, toiled with great zeal and perseverance and admirably professed the Lord Jesus in words and deeds.
"Upon completing grade school in your native village of Miciūnai, you first acquired a secondary education at the Lithuanian Vytautas the Great High School in Vilnius and later studied philosophy and theology at Vilnius University. After your ordination in 1936, you were assigned to Gardinas as school chaplain and religion teacher. Three years later you were named pastor of Palūše, Daugėliškis, Adutiškis, and also the dean of the Švenčionys Deanery. In 1955 after Bishop Kazimieras Paltarokas of Panevėžys petitioned the Holy See, our predecessor, Pius XII of revered memory, chose you titular bishop of Antaradas and also named you assistant to Bishop Paltarokas. Upon his death you were named Apostolic Administrator, first of the Diocese of Panevėžys and later of that section of the archdiocese which was in Lithuanian territory.
"These, Reverend Brother, are the highlights of your life which, excluding others, we wished to mention separately. 'If you count the years, it is a short time; if you count the work accomplished, you evaluate a life' (Pliny the Second, Fourth Letter, 24:6).
"Therefore, on this honorable day as you glance back at the road travelled and remember your past, cast your eyes upward and sincerely and fittingly thank the Good Lord for the great assistance and grace with which he generously refreshed you in the many and great difficulties, hardships, and crosses of the sacred ministry to help you become a true follower of Christ and a good shepherd.
"Therefore, recalling His infinite mercy and goodness, joyfully adore the Almighty with fitting honor. Find joy in Him and commit yourself into His hands with complete confidence, for as the psalmist says: 'They that trust in the Lord are as Mount Sion, which is not moved, which endures forever' (Ps 124:1).
"May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy, whom the Lithuanian nation addresses with special prayerfulness and respect, keep you in her loving care; may Christ, who 'through His incarnation has in a certain respect assumed the fate of every man' (Gaudium et Spes 22), support you through the power of the Holy Spirit and grant you an abundance of heavenly graces.
"In concluding this letter, we cannot allow the opportunity to pass of greeting the Lithuanians who believe in the Lord and urging them, in a fatherly way, to always live 'formed by faith, strengthened by hope, united by love'(St. Augustine, Serm. 127: P.L. 3d, 1476) in unity with their bishops, as well as declaring that we hold them in high regard and love them fervently with special affection. May they know and also feel and be convinced that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth, is with them now and will always be with them all in the future because we feel it is especially fitting for the Supreme Pontiff to show special concern for those children who live in difficult circumstances.
"Furthermore, in order that this anniversary be fruitful and salutary to you and also to your faithful, we grant you the power to bestow on the participants at an appropriate time following high mass in our name and authority a blessing with plenary indulgence in accordance with the rites set by the Church and with the appropriate liturgical forms.
"Finally, in confirmation of the above-named items and in proof of our brotherly love for you, we bestow with special love from this noble city our Apostolic Blessing upon you, Reverend Brother, as well as on other bishops, priests, and men and women who have dedicated themselves through vows to the service of God, and also on all the people of this much beloved land.
The Vatican, August 20,
1980 The Second Year of Our Pontificate
Pope John Paul II"
In January 1981 the priests and the faithful of Lithuania while commemorating the twentieth anniversary of His Excellency Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius's exile (exiled without a trial on January 18, 1961) prayed for the exiled bishop and sent him greetings. The following is the text of one of the messages from the people of Vilnius:
"We have come to thank you and God that during this very trying time for the Church and the nation he entrusted the helm of our diocese to you. Although Your Excellency is not in Vilnius personally, you are with us in spirit. It is a great help to see you, unbroken in the storm, steadfast amid the whirlwinds of deceit and lies! You were not seduced by tempting promises and were not intimidated by threats but became a beacon visible not only to Lithuanians along the banks of the Nemunas River, but to the entire world as well.
"You are our Leader.
You are our Father.
You are the honor of our Nation and the Church.
"We thank you!
We love you!
We pray for you."
On April 17,1981, it will be twenty-two years since His Excellency Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius was exiled.
In 1959 Religious Affairs Commissioner Rugienis informed His Excellency Bishop Sladkevičius that by the decision of the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR he was to leave Kaunas for Nemunelio Radviliškis. The police immediately removed his name from the Kaunas city register, and the bishop began life as an exile on April 17.
His Excellency Vincentas Sladkevičius has been exiled for twenty-two years now without a trial.