One after another across the country, celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the Baptism of Lithuania are taking place. This will continue throughout the jubilee year. In various parishes, they will be celebrated in different ways, depending on how much heart and effort parish leaders and the faithful themselves put into them. The main celebration of the jubilee took place June 28 at the principal Mass in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Vilnius. At the same time, celebrations took place in five churches in Vilnius. Presiding at solemn services in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul was His Excellency, Bishop Liudas Povilonis; in the Church of St. Theresa, Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas and the Administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Msgr. Algirdas Gutauskas; in the Church of St. Nicholas, Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius and the Administrator of the Diocese of Panevėžys, Msgr. Kazimieras Dulksnys; in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Juozas Preikšas. In two churches of Vilnius, solemn jubilee services were held in Polish: Holy Spirit where Bishop Vladas Michelevičius presided and and St. Raphael where Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius was the celebrant.
Participating in the jubilee celebration were guests: the Bishop of Riga and representatives of the Orthodox and Protestant churches. Participating in the services from the government were Commissioners for Religious Affairs Konstantin Kharchcv from the U.S.S.R. and Petras Anilionis from Lithuania.
During services, a pastoral letter from the bishops and the diocesan administrators of Lithuania, specially intended for the occasion, was read to the faithful urging them "to learn, to be guided by and live by the living Christian spirit -- the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit".
Perhaps the warmest and spiritually uplifting celebration took place in the Church of St. Nicholas. The faithful received with great warmth and cordiality their shepherd, His Excellency, Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, who has not been allowed to return to Vilnius for twenty-six years. Ignoring the demand
Participants in the 600 jubilee celebration in Vilnius.
of the government atheists that during the solemnities he preach only one sermon — read the bishops' pastoral letter -- Bishop Steponavičius addressed the assembled faithful from the altar.
In his sermon, he gave a sensitive overview of the road travelled by the Church in our country for six hundred years: the ups and downs experienced by the Church and the nation. The most important role fell to those tireless laborers in the vineyard and inextinguishable beacons who by their example and works showed not only their own nation but the world that the Church is that firm rock not yielding to any temptations or onslaughts of hell. These were Saint Casimir, Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, Blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, Mažvydas, Poška, Sirvydas, Bretkūnas, Valančius, Baranauskas, Maironis, Vyžgantas, Jakštas and a host of others.
"Under the operation of Divine Grace, every difficult period for the Church, every undeserved loss and suffering as well as the contemporary state atheism produce and develop new defenders of the Faith and even martyrs. It is not fear and denial, but courage and loyalty which must guide those to whom our religion is dear, to whom Christ is the strongest support and help," said Bishop Steponavičius.
In the churches, during the Prayer of the Faithful, solemn promises and words of thanks to the Most High were uttered by children, youth, newlyweds, parents, seminarians and priests. Joining in the Prayer of the Faithful was the crowd of thousands which filled the churches and churchyards, and outside some churches, the streets and squares. With Their Excellencies the bishops leading, the nation renewed its baptismal promises and a medal dedicated to the jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania was blessed.
At the end of the solemnities, after taking leave of their shepherds, the faithful who had assembled from the various corners of Lithuania dispersed, bearing in their hearts a renewed credo, the hope that God would continue to bless and protect the Church of Lithuania in the face of all-out efforts today to impose atheism.
In preparation for the principal celebration of the 600-year jubilee of he Baptism of Lithuania, the ordinaries and the commission for the celebration of the jubilee were constantly obliged to consult in all organizational matters (even those purely ecclesiastical such as how many sermons to preach, etc.) with the appropriate government officials, specifically with the staff of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, and to obtain from it permission for even the least move. The Commissioner himself, and those like him, did not let the least opportunity pass - meetings with bishops, priests and faithful, press and television reports - to trumpet the constant desire and great efforts of the government to help the Catholic Church of Lithuania to prepare for this unusual feast, so that it might transpire as smoothly and solemnly as possible.
Let us briefly recall some of the government's "efforts to help" the faithful. Let us page through the Soviet press. This jubilee year, as never before in the press, the Catholic Church, the pope, clergy and faithful are being angrily and sarcastically attacked and the feelings of the believing individual are being ridiculed without restraint. Let us just page through the press for June. It glitters with such atheistic articles such as:
Tiesa (6-13), "The Vatican and the Archbishop's Last Mass"; Tiesa (6-4), A. Balsys' "Removing the Guise of Mysticism"; Tiesa (6-7), "The Traveller from the Vatican"; Teisa (6-6), Henrikas JaSkfJnas' "I Cannot Remain Silent"; Literatura irmenas (6-13), "Calling Them by Their Real Names"; Komjaunimo tiesa (6-18), "The Gentle Inquisitor"; Komjaunimo tiesa (6-19), J. Stankaitis' "Whence Saints, and Why?", etc., etc.
Television: Prior to the jubilee, it, too, tried to help as much as it could. Program followed program. A whole series of film clips, being shown for nth time, were called on to help out Akiračiai (Horizons) and newsman Stuina: The Sting, Nine Levels of Downfall, The Devils Work for the Priest's Benefit, etc. The purpose of all of them was the same, to denigrate the Church, to ridicule the faithful or, as Anilionis says, to assist in the jubilee.
Lithuanian television organized so-called interviews with various representatives of the public. It should be understood that there were no believers among them. During one such interview, the Hill of Crosses became the most important target. Participants in the program, as usual, "unanimously" expressed annoyance with this "center of obscurantism and extreme fanaticism". Allegedly, Catholics with their crosses have desecrated a burial site of their pagan forebears. They demanded that the hill itself be destroyed as an em-barassmcnt to the City of Šiauliai striving for a high level of culture, etc.
What kind of culture are they talking about when evil hands have more than once been raised against the unique Hill of Crosses, without a peer in the world, in every foot of which, together with the crosses, the people's longings, hopes, thanksgiving and petitions have taken root. Or perhaps acts of vandalism and barbarism are now being set as the norm of Socialist culture?
On June 16, Petras Anilionis summoned the bishops and diocesan administrators of Lithuania. In the agenda the Commissioner dealt with three questions.
Jubilee celebrations in the parishes: Anilionis demanded that the bishops spare no effort, try their best to see that in their course, there would be no "extremists' excesses", as the government called them. What does Anilionis consider to be such terrible so-called excesses?
On May 9, in Varlaukys, Father Edmundas Atkočiūnas invited Father Petras Našlėnas, known to the government as an "extremist", to preach at the jubilee commemoration. Such individuals, in the words of the Commissioner, should be forbidden as a rule from speaking at commemorations. Moreover, Father Atkočiūnas allowed to speak in church Jadvyga Bieliauskienė, whom Anilionis continues to consider a terrible state criminal, released early from the place where she was serving sentence by decision of the Soviet government only on account of poor health.
Mrs. Bieliauskiene urged the faithful to join the temperence movement which is now being officially encouraged. Hence, a clear thinking, even an active, atheist should not consider Mrs. Bieliauskienė's talk a state crime; however, for Anilionis, the very fact that such people are allowed to speak in church is a crime which according to him is incompatible with Canon Law and therefore a challenge to the entire Soviet state. In a word (and this for the Commissioner is the worst thing), such excesses modelled on the extremist actions of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and of Polish clericals, supporters of Solidarity, shall not be tolerated and shall be strictly punished.
There were no fewer extremist excesses on February 14 in Valkininkai. The greatest of these was the participation of Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius and the sermon he gave. In the commemoration which took place in the Cathedral of Kaunas, where he could not have acted as an extremist, Bishop Steponavičius did not participate, but he gladly agreed to go to Valkininkai, Anilionis said. Anilionis was also displeased by the fact that the pastor, Father Algimantas Keina, allowed Father Jonas Boruta, an alumnus of the correspondence seminary, to preach at the celebration.
"In some churches, during the commemorations, montages were produced portraying restrictions on the Church experienced from Czarist Russia and the Soviet government. This bodes no good, especially when they forget to bring up the Soviet government's help in preparation for the jubilee: the printing of holy cards and calendars in government printing houses," said Anilionis.
During the celebration in Valkininkai, the imprisoned priests, Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius and Jonas-Kąstytis Matulionis were mentioned. This is allegedly a challenge to the Vatican, which promised the Soviet government that during the commemoration of the jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania in Rome, their names would not be mentioned. "The bishops must see to it that such transgressions against public order not take place in jubilee celebrations," said the Commissioner heatedly.
Anilionis also shared his thoughts about the delegation of priests which would be going to the jubilee celebrations planned at the Vatican. He explained by way of warning, that as a preventative to anti-Soviet excesses, government agents had already been sent to Rome to observe how the delegation would conduct itself. He demanded that the bishops warn members of the delegation that if "excesses" should occur, the entire delegation could be recalled before the celebration. He said the Soviet Embassy in Rome would take care of this.
He demanded that they take care that there be no excesses in Vilnius. Anilionis had heard that the Administrator of the Diocese of Panevėžys, Msgr. Kazimieras Dulksnys, assigned to conduct jubilee services in the Church of St. Nicholas, planned to turn over his officiating duties to Bishop Steponavičius. At that point, addressing Msgr. Dulksnys directly, he warned, "Should this happen, remember that you still have to live in the Soviet Union. Such deference to the extremists we will not forgive!"
The second question which the Commissioner touched on during the meeting was the matter of the seminary in Kaunas. "The Soviet government understands the situation. It wishes and it is trying to see that there be more priests in Lithuania. But the bishops, on the contrary, are creating conditions for the extremists to blame the Soviet government for the existing shortage of priests," Anilionis lectured. Otherwise, in his opinion, it is impossible to explain the fact that this year ordination to the priesthood was postponed for three seminarians.
Special attention was called to the case of seminarian Zubavičius. "How the extremists, Bishop Steponavičius and Fathers Donatas Valiukonis and Algimantas Keina are able to lead the bishops and the diocesan administrators around by the nose! It was their fault that orders were delayed for a positively thinking seminarian," Anilionis complained. "It is your affair," he continued, "don't ordain a single seminarian if you wish, but then, it will be necessary to consider as anti-Soviet libel statements and complaints that there is a shortage of priests.
"Apparently, bishops do not ordain seminarians loyal to the Soviet government because they wish to make room for illegally ordained priests. We thought that with the imprisonment of Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, the stream of the illegals would cease. However, this year also, Bishop Sladkevičius of Kaišiadorys again wrote out faculties for two newly-hatched illegals. Therefore, this year the quota of young men accepted into the seminary shall be decreased by two places, and in the future, as many illegals as you ordain, so many fewer shall be accepted into the seminary. I am warning the Bishop of Kaišiadorys not to do so again. We will find ways to punish disobedient ordinaries for such activity."
The more he spoke, the more emotional the Commissioner became.
The third important question, according to Anilionis, requiring immediate discussion would sound something like this: Diocesan support for the Peace Fund is poor. Only the Administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius is paying 100 rubles per parish. The poorest situation is in the Dioceses of Kaišiadorys and Telšiai: There, barely 46 rubles a parish are paid.
Bishop Antanas Vaičius tried to explain, "Commissioner, you are not being consistent. You say that there are too many small parishes in the Diocese of Telšiai to be able to appoint a separate priest for each one, but on the other hand, you require even the smallest collect for the Peace Fund the same amount as the parishes in the big cities."
Anilionis was silent. Later he attacked the bishops because during the Bishops' Conference, they had dared to reject the government's offer to publish a Catholic newspaper, of which only the first two pages would be reserved for information submitted by Anilionis' office. "Even if you don't want it, the newspaper will come out. We have priests who will publish the newspaper even without your concurrence," Anilionis ended.
On June 25, just before the celebration, Anilionis made his last pre-jubilee visit to the Vilnius Diocesan Chancery and all churches where baptism jubilee services were to take place. The Commissioner was intent on giving final warnings and once more checking whether government requirements had been conveyed and not forgotten, on giving the bishops orders or, in other words, "on helping the Church so that the celebration would take place in an attractive and expeditious manner".
So he warned pastors and committee chairmen that one of their most important duties was to keep careful guard over the pulpits, so that some extremist priest would not try to repeat Father Antanas Jokubauskas' 1984 excess at the Jubilee of Saint Casimir in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul. They had to guarantee that the sole sermon read during the celebration would be the joint bishops' communication to the faithful censored and approved by the Commissioner's office. Committee members must be vigilant and stop any attempt by priests or laity to speak in church or in the churchyard. Included in the duties of pastor- and committees, according to Anilionis, must be the concern that outside the churches there be no beggars or purveyors of religious articles. After all, what would guests from abroad think of it? It would be an embarrassment to the Soviet government.
Visiting the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, the Commissioner was dismayed upon seeing the disarrayed churchyard. When Father Vaičekonis explained that this had occurred because the government had not allowed the purchase of sufficient cement blocks to surface the paths, he fell silent. There are large stacks of such blocks next to the Museum of History and Ethnography. Participants in the jubilee celebration who did not get into the Church of SS. Peter and Paul stood in the mud, since it was raining.
Recalling just a few such "great government efforts to help", the participation by the Commissioners for Religious Affairs from Moscow and Vilnius, Kharchev and Anilionis, during the main services in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul becomes impossible to understand.
During this jubilee year of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, the Mintis Publishing House issued 5,000 copies of an album called 77ie Church in Lithuania.
The well bound and well designed publication at first glance appears quite attractive. One could think that it really was a gift to the faithful celebrating the 600-year jubilee. However, the introduction is a commentary on the album. The question arises whether such an introduction was necessary for the album if it was intended for the believers of Lithuania.
Let us cite a few places:
"The Soviet state does not interfere in the internal affairs of the Church, in its activities; it merely sets down the principles and rules for the Constitution of Religious Associations."
"Most residents of Soviet Lithuania, continuing old traditions of free-thinking in our country, do not profess any religion."
They do not forget to emphasize the fact that all churches and church inventory are government property, etc. Whatever else, the Lithuanian Catholic needs no explanation of such Soviet "freedom". He knows it well. In the introduction, it is indicated that the album may be of greatest interest to those who are interested in architecture and art, but this is only in the introduction. Of 630 active churches, in the album there are pictures of 127, some of poor quality and not especially meaningful. Dates of erection are given only for the more important churches of Lithuania, already well-known to most people. However, no opportunity is lost to use the dates of church renovations in a slanted way.
And finally, where is the believer in Lithuania to purchase this album since it is sold only in the Dollar Stores? The Pažanga Book Store in Kaunas sold it only to specially reserved book collections.