From 1952 until 1957,1 had more than one occasion to speak in this modest seminary church. I had occasion to give meditations and conferences. In the long time which is past, much has changed. We know that changes are not all uniform: some are happy and some are sad. In the course of this long period of time, not all the changes were joyous. It would be difficult to recount all of the developments.
Today assembled in this solemn symposium celebrating the close of the Marian Year, and recalling the abundance of God's graces granted to us with the beatification of the Blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, and the solemn anniversary of the beatification which took place not long ago in Marijampole, we feel in a very special way that the happiest changes began during the Marian Year. We can say as was said at one time at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, that the best has been kept until now.
It is precisely during the Marian Year that the most remarkable changes are taking place in our nation under the title of restructuring. Their special significance our nation experienced not so long ago in Vingis Park when, for the first time after so many years, tricolors waved so proudly . . . When questions of concern to the whole nation were considered. It is too bad that we do not see our national flag here today. Surely, it is no stranger to us? Surely, it is not something unworthy of our gaze, or are we unable to rejoice in that which our whole nation rejoices today? Surely all this is not unacceptable to the clergy? It is not without reason that those who experienced that joy of restructuring in Vingis Park threw it up to us clergy that we have become so alienated, without feeling, as if we did not desire restructuring or change, as if we had become entirely too accustomed to the sad situation. The restructuring movement gives me no peace. Delegations keep coming, one after another, asking why we remain silent. Let these remarks of ours only be like a reply, that we are not silent, that we are concerned.
Today I wish, not only in my own name, but in the name of all the Catholic clergy, to express and to clarify our spirit, what it is that we really desire and yearn for, what we complain about, what we are concerned about, and what we demand.
For several decades, Catholics and the adherents of other faiths in our country, were excluded from public life, bounded by church walls, by the limits of the churchyard and the cemetery. The changes now taking place in our society invite and urge us, the hierarchy, the priesthood and the faithful, to take a new look at our place in the nation's history today. During the past several months, many restrictions of speech have dropped off; during the past couple of years, some well-known proponents of culture in the Soviet republics, and through them, those in our own republic have spoken out about the significance of religious life for the national spirit, for its morale.
It has already been acknowledged publicly that the soul of our nation was hurt, not only by enforced collectivization, unplanned organization, but also by heedless imposition of atheism. People's consciences were damaged when they had to say something different from what they were thinking, and to do something different from what they said; when they had to ridicule something which was and is sacred to their parents and also to themselves.
The Church does not preach vengeance, even though it recognizes that one must not lightly forget crimes against humanity, and against the freedom and life of innocent people. Believers, it is true, did not organize and carry out the deportations. They were organized and carried out by others. They did not sign death warrants or long-term sentences. However, there were and perhaps still are, believers deceived in the shameful army of secret informers who cooperated with those horrors and still assist the machinery of oppression. Such lay believers, and especially Church ministers, we warn most solemnly: let us not deceive ourselves; let us not try to justify our meanness of spirit; let us remember our painful responsibility before God, before the nation.
No price can be too great for us in order that we might finally feel ourselves free people of righteous conscience. At the present time, two destructive eras in the history of the country are constantly brought up: the cult of the dictator and the period of stagnation. How and how much have these periods effected the life of the Church? In the days of the personality cult of the dictator, the Church suffered. In those days, this was not acknowledged, but now, there are those who dare to say so publicly, only reticently.
Surely, we priests are not about to expose these things reticently. Every third priest in Lithuania, and four of the five bishops, were in prison; the leaders of many Catholic organizations were imprisoned and exiled, proponents of Christian culture, zealous faithful, the whole Catholic press, schools, organizations, and fraternal organizations were surpressed, religious orders were dispersed, many churches and three seminaries were closed, and monastery and seminary libraries were confiscated. The Church suffered painfully, but it remained the only institution in the country which would not worship the dictator. During the thaw after the dictator's death, neither the religious press nor schools were restored; on the contrary, churches were again closed, wayside crosses and shrines were systematically destroyed, the war against God in the press and in schools and anti-religious pressure against intellectuals and officials was escalated. Children and youth were driven off the altar by threats, and Bishop Steponavičius of Vilnius, who objected to this, was exiled to Žagarė, and has not been restored to office to this day. (On December 30, 1988, Bishop Steponavičius was reinstated. - Trans. Note)
During the era of stagnation, efforts were made to create inertia even within the Church. Stagnation sank deep roots and at the present time the all-Soviet Council for Religious Affairs and its representatives in our government find it very difficult to reorient themselves to dialogue with the Church: they wish to go on dictating and administering in the same old way. In some cases, there is only talk about restructuring, but nothing concrete is done in this regard. Quite the contrary.
It has been announced that 150 young men will be allowed to study at the Theological Seminary in Kaunas. Today, someone through some vague channels not revealed in the press, is already proclaiming that only 145 young men will be able to study. Who had to, or was able to, change the quota already given us? I did not receive information, nor did the other bishops of Lithuania receive any. By what channels do such directives come? Let them announce publicly in writing or in the press that fewer young men will be accepted to study at the seminary in Kaunas than was originally allowed, and let them explain the reasons.
This has not been done. Such news reaches us only by vague, clandestine, secret channels. Surely, we bishops and priests cannot remain silent and go along with this. History shows that freedom is never presented as a gift, but when the right conditions have come about, the people themselves, the public, must begin to act like free people and to demand freedom themselves.
Today, we can wait no longer. For three years now, they have been promising and repeatedly postponing the promulgation of new religious regulations, and it is still unclear when they will publish them. We have been lulled to sleep and comforted by promises... Since the Soviet government has abrogated the Concordat of the Lithuanian Republic with the Apostolic See, and declared non-interference in the canonical activities of the Church, the measures taken by the Office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, the Rayon government and other organs in these matters, had no juridical basis for us and should cease.
If we are to have true restructuring and normal conditions, let them allow the Church to be guided without interference by Canon Law and the hierarchical and pastoral activities it sets forth. This is the only way in which steps will be taken in the religious sphere toward the creation of a legal state which was the concern of the significant forum which recently took place in Vingis Park.
Priests: Both pastors and assistants, in my opinion, should immediately begin the open catechizing of children and the religious education of youth without waiting for the Office of Religious Affairs to announce that it is allowed. Do not wait, either, for any special communication from the bishops. This right is conferred on you by Canon Law, so why do you need a letter from the bishops. It is not the bishops who forbade the priests to teach children and youth catechism. Let us begin ourselves, right now, to regain those positions which we lost.
The hierarchy, the clergy and the faithful must not stop demanding that the cradle of Christianity in Lithuania, the Cathedral of Vilnius, be returned to the faithful, and that the profanation of the Church of Saint Casimir in Vilnius,
Cardinal Sladkevičius celebrating Mass in Vilnius.
so dear to all of us, be discontinued; that the return of the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipeda be accomplished more expeditiously and that permits be given to erect new churches where, in the judgement of the hierarchy, they are needed by the faithful. (The Cathedral of Vilnius, the Church of Saint Casimir and the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace have all been returned and building permits have been issued for a few new churches since the cardinal spoke. -- Trans. Note)
Let us not stop pressuring all responsible agencies to restore freedom of religious press. Hierarchy, clergy and the faithful themselves, and not government agencies, should decide which publications and in what quantities are needed by them. Having seized hundreds of church buildings, and over a dozen presses forty years ago, the state should not feel as though it were doing us a favor when it tosses us some crumb, and then shouts it to the whole world.
Let the faithful be prepared to make use of all possible pastoral resources, individually or collectively exercising their apostolate in the care of the elderly, the invalid, the orphan and the sick. We hear that welfare work will be allowed, and that perhaps some religious orders might be allowed to work in this area. But so far, these are only scattered reports. We urge lay believers and especially the clergy, to support by all available means the public's efforts at renewal and democratization. It is not necessary that we join various movements as clergy, but let us be favorable toward these things and support them by all possible means. If it appears that the laity participating in the renewal movements need consultants, theologians or canonists, the Bishops' Conference will choose and supply them.
The Church has suffered much during this time; much as been taken from it. Nevertheless, we intend to be patient, to avoid negative attitudes or heedless actions. However, let us not forget that the believing public can be patient only when it sees concrete steps being taken one after the other, and not vague promises being made.
Last year, in the sermon scheduled for the day of the baptism jubilee (The 600th anniversary of the conversion of Lithuania celebrated in 1987 ~ Trans. Note), the bishops have stated: "We are fraternally grateful to those who sympathize with the Church; to all who, on account of internal or external obstacles, cannot receive all the sacraments, but who hold the values of the Gospel in high esteem, support the Christian spirit by their behavior, speech and art; to all who support and protect the efforts of individual believers and the whole Church."
One is prompted to add to these words gratitude to all proponents of our national culture who, prompted by feelings of justice and love of country, raise their voices ever higher on behalf of Christian values, against their devaluation, and in opposition to discrimination against the faithful. These are my introductory, unpolished remarks. ...
We believe that through the intercession of our Heavenly Mother Mary, through our deep devotion and the implementation of her words, "Do everything that He tells you," this situation will change for the better. "Do everything that He tells you."
With these words, Our Heavenly Mother addressed mankind and each one of us for the first and only time in the manner of a commandment, directing us to do what He is waiting for, what He wishes and demands. The misfortunes in our nation began precisely when, enjoying freedom, we did not do what the Lord told us, did not carry out the commandments He gave us — this was the beginning of all our misfortunes. The best changes will come and manifest themselves in the most beautiful way and we will be able to say as was once said at the wedding feast of Cana - that the best has been kept until now, if every one of us, and especially the clergy, resolves in our hearts to do everything which Jesus Christ commands us.