The annual procession to Šiluva has become a beautiful and meaningful tradition for Lithuania's faithful, but is a source of irritation to government atheists. Every year they rack their brains on how to disrupt the procession. More than one pilgrim has suffered the consequences. They were filmed, threatened, and put on trial, for example, [Miss] Jadvyga Stanelytė, Mečislovas Jurevičius, and Vytautas Vaičiūnas. These demagogic methods did not succeed in intimidating the faithful, however. On the contrary, this year all of Lithuania especially prepared for the pilgrimage to Šiluva. The day of the procession was publicized in churches.
Since those sentenced because of the procession were accused of not obtaining government permission, on July 8 the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights sent Document no. 49 to the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist party and to the Council of Ministers. The document stated: "On June 25 and 26 of this year, two trials were held in connection with the 1979 and 1980 religious processions from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva. The Lithuanian SSR Supreme Court in Vilnius convicted Mečislovas Jurevičius, a worker, to three years to be served in strict-regime correctional labor colonies. In Sirvintai, Vytautas Vaičiūnas, an engineer, was sentenced to two and one-half years to be served in ordinary-regime correctional work colonies. We cannot understand the grounds for trying Vytautas Vaičiūnas in Sirvintai. Both defendants, good Catholics and men of high morals, were charged with organizing and actively participating in processions from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva without executive committee permission. The defendants could not have organized marches of this magnitude, and not one witness substantiated this charge. Because Jurevičius and Vaičiūnas were not organizing the processions from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva, they did not request a permit. Processions from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva are traditional, and the faithful assemble for them without anyone organizing them.
"We wish to point out that executive committees of Soviets of people's deputies never issue permits for processions, for example, the pastors of Viduklė, Kybartai, and Skaudvilė have gone to the executive committees more than once requesting permits for processions. They received neither permits nor any response whatsoever to their requests. Former Vice Chairman Z. Butkus of the Raseiniai Executive Committee told the pastor of Viduklė: 'We will never issue any permit for processions!' Experience has shown that local organs of the Soviet government act only as representatives of atheists, under the guidance of some sort of secret instructions and directions. Therefore it should not come as a surprise when, having lost hope of receving permits for processions, the people no longer request them.
"The faithful have more than once appealed to the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights asking it to defend their rights as guaranteed by articles 48 and 50 of the Lithuanian SSR Constitution. Therefore we appeal to the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR and request that the faithful be allowed their traditional purely religious procession from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva, to be held on August 23, 1981."
At the beginning of August, the priests Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius, Algimantas Keina, Vaclovas Stakenas, Kastytis Kriksciukaitis, and others were summoned by rayon executive committees and were read a warning from Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis: "On the basis of Article 50 of the Regulations for Religious Associations, the executive committees of the soviet of people's deputies of the rayons of Raseiniai and Kelme have decided against granting a permit to organize a procession from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva on August 23 of this year. I therefore warn you that those who organize such a procession may incur the administrative measures provided in the May 12, 1966, decision of the Lithuanian SSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, 'Regarding administrative responsibility for the violation of laws concerning religious cults/ or Article 143 of the Lithuanian SSR Criminal Code."
This year has been one without precedent for the Lithuanian Catholic Church. The rosary has caused the police, the security police, the military — the entire Soviet governmental apparatus — to feverishly exercise all possible "preventive" measures.
In offices and factories (in Telšiai, Panevėžys, and elsewhere) officials tried to convince people that there was no need to go to Šiluva. Factory and office managers in Vilnius, Kaunas, and other cities were forbidden to send employees and automobiles on business trips to the Samogitia area until August 23. The First Secretary of the Jurbarkas Rayon Communist party ordered collective farm directors not to let their people have any means of transportation until August 27.
On August 9, 1981, veterinary staffers in Kaunas circulated the news that the Republican Veterinary Board ordered the employees of the Žaiginis State Farm (located 8 kilometers from Šiluva) to discover a swine viral disease and declare a quarantine. Although no disease was present in the swine, the Raseiniai Rayon newspaper printed the following announcement on August 13:
"Attention Rayon Residents
"In connection with the appearance of a highly contagious swine viral disease at the Žaiginis State Farm, a quarantine is being imposed on the Žaiginis State Farm and the neighboring Skaraitiškė State Farm and the Atžalynas, the M. Kalinin, and the Pikčiūnai collective farms.
"Beginning August 15, entry into these farms is forbidden to every means of transport and all outsiders.
"Until the end of the quarantine, to be announced at a later date, trading in pigs is forbidden at the Raseiniai market.
The Executive Committee of the Soviet of
People's Deputies of Raseiniai Rayon"
On August 15 Valstiečių laikraštis (Farmers' newspaper) and many other rayon newspapers printed articles urging the adoption of precautionary measures against contagious animal diseases. Lithuania's veterinary staff received no notification, however, that livestock in Raseiniai Rayon had contracted contagious diseases, although all Lithuanian farmers are normally informed of the possibility of livestock disease even when the epidemics are occurring in neighboring republics such as Latvia or Byelorussia.
Thus the quarantine completely encircled Šiluva. It is an interesting fact that the Vosiliskis State Farm, located on the other side of the 2aiginis State Farm was not included in the quarantine zone.
Beginning on the evening of August 20 security police vehicles began surveillance of Fathers Sigitas Tamkevičius, Alfonsas Svarinskas, and Jonas Kauneckas. Until the evening of August 23 they followed them day and night wherever they walked or drove.
It is possible that these priests were specially isolated also to keep them from meeting with the German bishops who were visiting Lithuania at the time.
The following individuals were called for "warnings" to the Vilnius Prosecutor's Office: [Miss] Nijolė Sadūnaitė, Vytautas Bogušis, [Miss] Elena Suliauskaitė; to the Kaunas Prosecutor's Office: Volskis, [Miss] Julija Kuodytė, Saulius Kelpša, [Miss] Aldona Raižytė, [Miss] Angele Ramanauskaitė; to the Klaipėda Prosecutor's Office: [Miss] Tekle Steponavičiūtė, Ignas Petrauskas, [Mrs.] Irena Česnauskienė; to the Vilkaviškis Prosecutor's Office: [Miss] Birutė Briliūtė, [Miss] Bena Mališkaitė; to the Šiauliai Prosecutor's Office: Jonas Tamulis, [Mrs.] Stasė Tamulienė, [Mrs.] Jadvyga Petkevičienė, [Mrs.] Elzbieta Klimavičienė, Jonas Petkevičius, Juozas Šileikis; the Raseiniai Prosecutor's Office: [Miss] Monika Gavėnaitė. They were all summoned to appear on August 20. Each individual who went to the Prosecutor's Office (Many did not) was told that according to available information, he or she was one of the organizers of religious-political marches, that such processions violate public order, and that great harm is done society, etc. After this introduction, an official warning was issued: "The organizing of group actions under the cloak of religion is liable to prosecution." They were ordered to sign such warnings, but all refused. An official at the Šiauliai Prosecutor's Office claimed that all these "preventive measures" were not merely a whim of the local government. A sample of the written warning had been received from Moscow, and all known organizers of religious processions, as per information available to the government, were being informed of it.
Beginning on August 20 the following notice was posted in the Kelme bus station: "Buses will not run to Tytuvėnai on August 21 and 22. Service will be resumed at noon on August 23. Quarantine." A notice was posted at the Šiauliai bus station stating that certain routes to Kaunas and Šiluva were either cancelled or diverted via another route, for instance, through Kryžkalnis, and the notice at the train station stated: "Tickets are not being sold to Tytuvėnai and Lyduvėnai." Trains did not make stops at these stations. Moreover, several policemen patrolled every train car and prevented any passage between cars. Even passengers disembarking at the Viduklė station were questioned, and if it was discovered that the traveller was not a local resident, he was not allowed to leave the train. Tickets for buses regularly running through Tytuvėnai or Šiluva were not sold in any bus station during this period.
Roadblocks "adorned" the Žemaiciai Highway all the way to Stulgiai, beyond Kryžkalnis. Roadblocks manned by the police and veterinary staffers were erected every 5 kilometers on the road from Kelmė to Šiluva. The following sign was posted at the roadblocks: "Warning! Road Closed. Quarantine." A Pioneer work camp was moved from Tytuvėnai, and garrison and security police tents sprouted in the woods there.
Helicopters were on standby at the Šiauliai Airport.
Traffic police had even arrived from other republics: Latvia, Georgia.
On August 22 the trunks of passenger cars were searched in Vilkaviškis, Kaunas, Endriejavas (near Klaipėda), Kryžkalnis, and elsewhere. It was impossible to reach even Šakiai from the Dzukija and the Suvalkija areas. Traffic police officials stopped cars, explaining that a quarantine existed in Šakiai Rayon. Vehicle inspection posts had a printed sheet of certain license plate numbers. They were to be removed under any pretext if found on the road. The plate was removed from Jonas Mickevičius's car in Kybartai, although the car had no violations.
All roads and paths to Meškuičiai were also barricaded during that period. The Hill of Crosses was encircled by several cordons of soldiers to prevent anyone from reaching it, singly or in a group.
A tour group returning to Viduklė from Riga stopped at the Hill of Crosses. It had barely turned off the main road when it was stopped by a policeman and a drunk security agent. The driver's license was confiscated, and he was ordered to go to the Šiauliai police headquarters. Finally, the tour leader managed to get the driver's license back and end the trip.
Rumors circulated that a special staff from Moscow had been set up in Kelme to deal with the Šiluva procession.
On August 23, according to local inhabitants, Šiluva had more uniformed officials than town residents, not counting the security police plainclothes men.
Rayon officials demanded that the pastors of Šiluva and Tytuvėnai keep their churches locked on August 23, saying "Your churches will be empty anyway on Sunday." Both churches were open on Sunday and services were held.
One Participant's Impressions from the Trip to Šiluva:
"We reached Raseiniai by express from Vilnius. At the Raseiniai station more pilgrims joined us. There were nine of us now. At the bus station we were astonished to see the notice stating that buses were not running to Tytuvėnai.
Advised by local residents to go to Kelmė and from there take the Pašiaušė bus to .1 stop not far from Tytuvėnai, we set out on this enticing but at the same time frightening trip.
We got off at the Jampolė Station. It was still 8 kilometers to Tytuvėnai. What could we do? — we started walking. After some distance, we met a man who warned us that we would certainly not reach Tytuvėnai by taking the main road because cars full of policemen had been buzzing about in all directions since Friday and policemen were stationed at the crossroads. The kindhearted Samogitian advised us to keep to poor country roads or, better yet, to push through the woods. We had barely left the main road when we heard a vehicle. We were being pursued. We turned toward the woods. Six uniformed men, and not just any men . . . from a lieutenant to a lieutenant colonel, jumped from the vehicle, shouting at us to get in. Ignoring them, we continued on. The poor souls became very excited. Waving their hats, shouting, ducking under the barbed wire which fenced the pasture, they began to chase us. We didn't even consider running. What had we done? The "guardians of the law" began to scold us sternly, asked us where we were going, and began to explain that this was a quarantine zone, which must not be entered. Finally the officials decided to take us in "for clarification."
The fearless women began to shame the policemen, "Brother Lithuanians, aren't you ashamed! There is no plague here! Look at the animals, the cows grazing. This is pastureland. Is there perhaps a cattle plague too? You know very well where we're going."
The officials softened somewhat but still urged us to get into their vehicle. But when we firmly replied, "We came on foot, we'll return on foot!", they drove off. After walking some distance, we returned to the main road and stopped at a home. The lady of the house ran out into the road to meet us and, not yet recovered from her fright, said: "I just returned home and saw the police. I became so frightened I wondered what my husband, who was at home, had done that a car full of policemen had come!" The woman made us welcome and offered us food. Another neighbor came over. We all laughed at the plague that began on Friday afternoon and was to end on Sunday.
Local residents told us that many policemen had been brought to Tytuvėnai and suggested that if we wanted to get there we should travel singly or in pairs on small roads under cover of the shrubbery. This was not easy because we didn't know the road and night was approaching. Suddenly one of the women among us resolutely said: "I'm going! Who's with me?" Two more women joined her, and after some hesitation, so did we. On the way, someone speculated out loud: "Maybe they'll let girls by." We quickly took off our jackets, let down our hair to look younger, and hurried on. Then suddenly we saw the road block! We could see a veterinarian in white, two tipsy men, and one more strange-looking person staggering around. We acted brave and tried nonchalantly to slip past the road block.
"Documents!" one of them shouted.
"What documents? We're going home!" we exclaimed in astonishment.
"Where? What village? Your names?" rattled off a "guardian of the law" in one breath.
"Beyond the Kiškėnai Station, to the right . . ."
"You're not allowed! Your names?"
I barely had time to state my name when one of them began to shout:
After my friend explained that she was going from Vilnius to see her parents and was not carrying any documents because she had already had to pay a fine once for losing them, the veterinarian relented. "Let's let them through. But," he said, pointing to a uniformed man standing nearby, "will he let them pass?" That man did not even want to discuss it.
One of the four attempted to explain: "We've been posted here .... It's our duty .... If we let you through we'll have to telephone the security police that we let two girls pass." At that time, a milk wagon was going by. The policeman advised us to ask the driver to bring our father, and they would let us wait here (what a great favor!). We replied: "So, we'll sit here on the ground and look at you! If we have to wait in a ditch until our father is brought then we might as well return to Vilnius to get our papers!" We explained and turned back.
Thank God, we again found some good people. The lady of the house gave us some food and her husband decided to lead us along the paths to Tytuvėnai and got his bicycle. We removed our shoes and set out on our odyssey barefoot. Whenever we came to a house, he told us to go ahead alone and he followed after waiting a while. He took us quite a distance in this fashion and, wishing us luck, returned home.
At this point, the sun peered from behind a cloud. The weather was incredibly fine. Along the way we met some boys, who stared at us in amazement as though we were from outer space: how had we managed to get so close to Tytuvėnai! The boys told us that the police were everywhere and were looking through stalls, barns, and even searching basements for strangers and were taking away any they found. As early as a week ago instructions had been distributed to the people warning them not to provide any lodgings to arriving pilgrims. Anyone who dared to disobey would be punished. When we asked where we could find a place to stay, they advised us not to even look. We learned that several squads of soldiers had been quartered in the trade school. Because it was getting dark, we turned toward a home. A woman standing outside began to wave us away, as though to make us vanish from her sight as quickly as possible. Poor people, how terrified they were. The people of Tytuvėnai had always gladly welcomed the pilgrims. Last year, the police also checked every house, but the villagers came to the church and personally invited people to stay with them!
Lights already shone in other homes, but they did not warm us. We tried our luck again, asking for lodgings at one house and another, but we were only pointed to a rick of barley in the field. Where could we go? We decided to go there. We sent one girl to inspect the supporting framework. We threw out a dead rat, but what could we do? We spread straw on the ground, and all six of us crawled in. We managed to huddle together, but did not even attempt to lie down, for there was no room. There was still some straw at the top of the frame, but the sides were bare, and the wind blew from all directions. It was cold. We had not prepared for such a night when we left home. We were unable to sleep all night, but our spirits were high. We felt this was truly a journey of atonement. Thank God!
We crawled out from under the framework at about 5 a.m. and began to run around so as to warm up. Then, remembering the advice of those good people, we separated into pairs and moved on.
We had not gone far when four policemen appeared. "Good morning! Where are you going? Your names? Your documents please!"
"Well if it's not allowed, we can go back . . ." we attempted to explain. We did not notice a car drive up.
"Why, these are the same girls who were on their way to see their father yesterday," said one of them, recognizing us.
We were driven into some yard and ordered out. They escorted us, policemen gawking at us from every step of the stairs. In the office we found several old women and a half-drunk man. It actually felt good, and I thought, "At least I'll warm up here. We should have gone with them last night. At least we would have spent a warm night." We looked dreadful. Our clothes were full of barley beards. They recorded our names, addresses, where we work or study, why we had come. Then they began to call us individually for interrogation. Here the procedure was the same, with the same questions. Later we all were placed in a bus and driven somewhere. The woman said the police were apprehending all those who attempted to reach the church and taking them away for "clarification." We said the rosary and other prayers as we were driven. They did not say where we were being taken. Other arrested women told us they had been guarded by a Georgian policeman that night. He had said that he knew two months ago that he would have to go to Lithuania and help quell Lithuanian young people. Apparently, those women had set out for Tytuvėnai on Saturday but had barely left Šiluva when policemen approached them and took them to the stationhouse, where they were kept all night. That half-drunk man was a local resident. He had gone to visit a neighbor but did not take his papers with him, and so he also was brought to the guardhouse!
They drove and drove and then let us go. They let us out of the car and told us to go wherever we wanted. We walked straight ahead but didn't know where we were. The first traveler we met explained, "All the roads are far from here, and there are no buses." God had not abandoned us, however. Unexpectedly a car caught up with us and stopped. Discovering what kind of travellers we were, the kindhearted man made four trips to bring us all to the highway. It was a simple matter to reach home from Kryžkalnis. We boarded a bus and reached the Old Town section of Vilnius in several hours.
Few were fortunate enough to reach their objective, Tytuvėnai. There could be no talk of Šiluva. A small group of pilgrims which left Kaunas on August 22 reached the Tytuvėnai church on Sunday after many adventures. In the town the police were apprehending pilgrims and dispersing the faithful from the churchyard. The group from Kaunas knew of certain pathways and finally managed to reach the church. After the Sunday masses the visitors went out into the town. The local people, seeing strangers in the street, went out of their way to speak with them, wondering how they had reached Tytuvėnai and admiring their courage. They explained that large government forces were holding Tytuvėnai and the surrounding area under siege. Most of the officials carried radios. At night a strong spotlight mounted on a high tower illuminated the surrounding area and the outskirts of the town.
As might be expected, the small group of pilgrims was surrounded by a group of policemen. They were taken to operational headquarters and ordered to explain how they had reached the town, where they had spent the night, who showed them the way, etc.
"We are ashamed to admit," said the pilgrims, "that as free citizens of a civilized country we spent the night in the fields like wandering gypsies."
The officials were astounded that nearly all the pilgrims were well educated.
The visitors were interrogated both as a group and individually. It was obvious that the purpose of the quarantine had been to stop the pilgrimage to Šiluva. They then demanded that this farce of an interrogation, which lasted some three hours, be terminated. Hemming and hawing, failing to even write a report, the police asked in what direction they wished to go. Although they expected to be deceived, they requested to be taken to Raseiniai. The police placed the pilgrims on an empty bus and drove them under police escort not, unfortunately, toward Raseiniai, but toward Radviliškis. It seems that the premonition had been correct. When they reached the first quarantine roadblock, they were told to get off. With great difficulty the little group of pilgrims managed to reach Radviliškis and from there their homes.
Why did the Soviet government take such measures to stop a purely religious procession?
A statement uttered by one Chekist could be a probable answer:
"In Poland everything also started with the rosary!"