A few years ago, the Catholics of Ireland gave the persecuted Catholics of Lithuania a symbolic gift: A small statue of Mary which was supposed to go to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Dawn Gate in Vilnius. The Soviet government would not allow the statue to be taken to Lithuania, and so it was temporarily kept in the Church of St. Casimir in Dublin.
In January, 1983, an "ecumenical delegation" of clergy from the Soviet Union travelled through England and Ireland. The delegation was arranged by the Council for Religious Affairs, and its purpose was not ecumenism, but propaganda: In the Soviet Union, there is freedom of religion. In Moscow during the briefing session on how the clergy should conduct themselves during the trip, the Dean of Šakiai, Msgr. J. Žemaitis, asked a responsible staff member of the Council for Religious Affairs what he should do if the Catholics of Ireland asked him to deliver the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Lithuania.
The official said that he could accept it. It appears that the Catholics of Ireland, with their demands to send the statue to Lithuania had annoyed the Soviet government so much that the latter had decided to make use of this delegation to bring the statue to Lithuania. In Dublin, Soviet Embassy staff members were overjoyed that finally, they would be able to unload the statue of Mary.
When the delegation returned to Moscow, customs officials came and confiscated the statue. Arriving home, Msgr. Žemaitis telephoned the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, to tell him about the unpleasant incident. After a while, the Assistant Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Jozėnas, announced that the statue of Mary could be picked up, only it would have to be kept in the Church of Šiluva. The KGB did not want the statue to stay in the capital drawing devotees.
Finally, Msgr. Juozas Žemaitis and the Dean of Šiluva, Vaclovas Grauslys, brought the gift of the Catholics of Ireland from Moscow to Lithuania on February 16, the day when Lithuanians throughout world commemorate the anniversary of the dearly re-won independence of Lithuania.
Not without the involvement of the Council for Religious Affairs, the gift of the Catholics of Ireland was delivered to Šiluva quietly, without ceremony. Priests and faithful were not informed about it. So that the Catholics of Ireland would remain satisfied with such a silent reception of the gift, the Council for Religious Affairs ordered Bishop Povilonis to send an acknowledgement to the Cardinal Primate of Ireland.
This delivery of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to the KGB plan, was supposed to be proof that Lithuania is not a nation of martyrs. Proof was necessary at this time when one of the best sons of Lithuania, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, was thrown behind bars at the hands of the occupant.
The Catholics of Lithuania remember warmly their brothers in Ireland, and are very grateful to them for their solidarity and prayers at a time when it is necessary to walk the road of thorns. A special place in the hearts of the faithful in Lithuania is occupied by Michael Bourdeaux, the Director of Keston College, who has written more than one book about the concerns of the Catholics of Lithuania.