On November 25, 1981, the news spread throughout Lithuania: Father Bronius Laurinavičius had met a tragic death. It was hard to believe because sad rumors often circulate throughout Lithuania or are even deliberately spread that someone has been arrested, someone has been killed, beaten, and some of these rumors do not prove accurate. But this time it did prove accurate .
At around 8:20 P.M. on November 25, 1981, near the intersection of Dzerzhinski and Žalgiris Streets in Vilnius, a Maz-503 truck, driven by Lazutkin, mortally injured the Pastor of Adutiškis and member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, Father Bronius Laurinavičius.
Upon hearing of this tragic event, Lithuania's believers and priests unanimously stated that this was the KGB's handiwork! Several days earlier, Tiesa (The Truth) had printed an article by reporter Danguolė Repšienė against Father Bronius Laurinavičius, allegedly for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
The circumstances surrounding the death were very unclear. The Lithuanian SSR Ministry of Internal Affairs took the case of the priest's death from the Vilnius Motor Vehicles Department and handed it to Inspector Vaitiekūnas.
From the very instant of the priest's death, people were puzzled by certain strange circumstances. Many people rushed to the scene of the accident. The militia dispersed them, not allowing them to gather, with the exception of an inebriated woman who diligently explained to everyone that supposedly "the old man was drunk, crossed against the red light and walked in front of the vehicle." When people assembled the following day at the accident scene, a woman reeking of alcohol again approached and explained that the priest had stepped in front of the vehicle.
The following day, the Vilnius newspaper Vakarinės naujienos (Evening News) and the radio briefly announced that on November 24th, "at 8:20 P.M. on Žalgiris street, a Maz-503 vehicle (driven by G. Lazutkin) struck down and mortally injured a pedestrian."
In another issue, The Evening News invited all who had seen the event to go to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The people who witnessed the accident and suspect that it was the KGB's work are afraid to talk publicly, fearing unpleasant reprisals. We will therefore present some of their testimony without naming the witnesses.
A woman went to the militia on November 25th, and said she had seen what happened. A man stood on the sidewalk. He was approached by several men who took him by the arms and began to talk to him. The man appeared not to want to talk. As a truck passed by, the men suddenly pushed the man wearing a hat under the vehicle.
The witness was asked whether she could identify those men and when she expressed a doubt, the militia asked her to leave.
A schoolboy told a similar account of the tragic event. He saw only the moment when four teenagers pushed the elderly man under the approaching truck.
When Lazutkin, who drove the Maz-503 truck, returned to the garage following the accident, he told his fellow workers about it, but also consoled himself that he would not be prosecuted because some men had pushed the man under his vehicle.
Somewhat later, driver Lazutkin told the family of Father Bronius Laurinavičius that just past the intersection he had suddenly seen the man who was hit, 10-12 feet in front of the vehicle. He had barely come to a stop when two drunk young men ran up to the truck, opened the cab door and shouted: "What have you done?" When the motor vehicle officials arrived, they took down the name of one man, but did not detain the other.
When they arrived on the accident scene, the paramedics stated that the man seemed to have been pushed under the vehicle because he was lying face down, his palms were clean, but his face severely injured.
At the funeral, one could truly feel some sort of government hand doing everything possible to make the funeral of such a prominent and beloved priest as devoid of solemnity and with as few participants as possible. But for the Vatican Radio announcement, most priests and believers would not have learned of Father Laurinavičius' death and funeral in time.
In his will, Father Laurinavičius requested that he be buried near the Švenčionėliai church built through his efforts, but a meeting of the Švenčionys Rayon executive committee decided against granting permission to carry out the decedant's last request.
It is very painful that the Dean of Švenčionys, Father Ulickas, did not inform Fathers Algimantas Keina and Kazimieras Žemėnas that they had been named executors of Father Laurinavičius' will in time and that the Dean kept secret until too late where Father Laurinavičius wished to be buried.
On November 27th, the people of Adutiškis as well as many priests and believers from all corners of Lithuania gathered for the funeral. The exiled bishops Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius also came to pay their last respects and pray for the decedant, and with a group of priests concelebrated the main funeral Mass. The homilists — Fathers Kazimieras Vasiliauskas, Algimantas Keina, Kazimieras Pukėnas, Jonas Lauriūnas and others—enumerated many of the priest's noble character traits. A moving tribute was paid by Father Jonas Lauriūnas, who revealed that Father Laurinavičius was great not only for building the church, but especially for promoting the spiritual church. A hard childhood had inured him; as a priest he therefore knew how to rise early, pray and work zealously, to the point of forgetting to eat because of his preoccupation. Paying least attention to himself, the deceased had been very sensitive to others in every kind of misfortune. He had been greatly concerned about the fate of the Church and the future of the nation. Age had not subdued him, he had maintained his zest for life throughout. "He was one of the mightiest oaks in the forests of Lithuania, one of the brightest stars in its firmament."
Father Kazimieras Pukėnas described the late priest's humble life, his learning (he knew five languages), his priestly zeal and how, unafraid of trouble, he joined the community Helsinki Group and defended the rights of believers. "We pledge to continue on the path you have beaten, to promote the happiness of all Lithuanian believers, all Lithuanians," the homilist stated in conclusion.
A very meaningful talk was given at the graveside by His Excellency, exiled Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, who described one after the other the truly heroic traits of the deceased priest's character. "At a time when the majority of Lithuania's priests were intimidated by atheist pressure, in Švenčionėliai children served Father Laurinavičius at the altar for Mass, and girls strewed flowers in processions. Seeing his fellow countrymen wronged, the decedant stood up to defend the rights of Lithuanians, believers and the Church. As a result, he was subjected to searches, encountered various difficulties, however he remained unswerving. Lately, he had been slandered in the newspaper because he had drawn small children to God. Perhaps that is a crime in the eyes of the atheists," the bishop said, "but in the eyes of the faithful it is a great honor. Every priest must fulfill his duties well in order to keep our nation's future Lithuanian and Catholic."
In conclusion, the exiled bishop urged priests to work zealously for the honor of God, to defend the rights of the Church and the people, and urged the faithful to safeguard the teachings of their pastor, to safeguard the faith and hand it down to their children.
Father Bronius Laurinavičius was born in 1913 into a small Lithuanian colony in Byelorussia, the Parish of Gervėčiai, the Village of Giliūnai. In 1944 he graduated from the University of Vilnius Faculty of Philosophy-Theology and was ordained a priest.
His first parish was Švenčionys. While serving in Ceikiniai from 1945 to 1948 under difficult postwar conditions, he renovated and enlarged the Ceikiniai church. From 1948 to 1956 he worked in Kalesninkai where he renovated the church. In 1956 Father Bronius Laurinavičius was transferred to Švenčionėliai. The old church was small and little birches were springing up on the construction site. The walls had been built only as far as the windows and everything had been left to fate. The new pastor undertook a bold project: to complete the church's construction. After serious difficulties and countless trips with delegations of believers to the highest Soviet government agencies to request various permits and materials, the church was finally completed and consecrated. It is the only church built during the postwar years, still operating in Lithuania. The numbers of young people and children increased in the Švenčionėliai church. The atheists in power did not like this and in 1968 Father Laurinavičius was transferred at the order of the Soviet authorities to Adutiškis where he ministered not only to his own parishioners, but to many Catholics of Byelorussia as well.
In addition to his successful pastoral work, the late priest devoted much energy to the defense of human rights. At the risk of arrest, he joined the Lithuanian Helsinki Group following the death of Father Karolis Garuckas and in recent times, as a result of the convictions of Mečislovas Jurevičius and Vytautas Vaičiūnas, he remained the only group member not arrested and able to work. It is obvious why the KGB detested him. Father Bronius had confided to close friends that two attempts had already been made to run him down.
The KGB followed his every step and on November 21, 1981, Tiesa (The Truth) published a long article by Danguolė Repšienė entitled "Į gyvenimą — ne per šventorių" ("Into Life — Not Via the Churchyard") attacking Father Laurinavičius for attracting schoolchildren to the church. After this article, everyone waited for the Soviet goverment's reaction, but no one expected such a vile deed.
The blood of the good priest, staunch Lithuanian and fearless fighter for Church and national rights spilled on the street of the capital and the sacrifice of his life will summon all decent and thinking Lithuanians to fight for truth, freedom and light to attain a bright future for us all.