In 1430 in Trakai, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas, who had led the Lithuanian nation onto the broad road of European Christian culture, died.
In 1930 an independent Lithuania celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of Vytautas. Newspapers and books bore the banner of the Year of the Grand Duke. Special committees were organized to commemorate the anniversary. A museum and monuments were erected and the portrait of Vytautas the Great was transported about Lithuania, urging the nation to new resolve and undertakings.
Fifty years went by. On October 25 Lithuanians who love their nation and revere the memory of Vytautas The Great came to Trakai to commemorate the 550th anniversary of the Grand Duke's death.
The authorities had told the pastor of the Trakai church in advance to lock the church on that day and disappear. Police and security police hindered journeys to Trakai under a variety of pretexts. They stopped chartered buses and cars and took exception to the drivers' documents.
They ordered the passengers out; many of them had to reach their destination on foot. A number of priests were prevented from coming to the celebration: Father Algimantas Keina, Fr. Alfonsas Svarinskas, Fr. Antanas Gražulis, Fr. Jonas Kauneckas. Traffic police escorted Father Keina home. Father Svarinskas and Fr. Kauneckas were escorted home by security police. Father Gražulis had his automobile documents confiscated.
Those who arrived at Trakai gathered at the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, erected by Vytautas the Great in 1409. Here a famous miraculous image of the Mother of God is to be found.
Security agents and all sorts of petty spies constantly wandered about the church. They observed the people and their attitudes or eavesdropped on people conversing in the churchyard.
At noon six priests — Canon Bronius Antanaitis, Father Vincentas Jalinskas, Fr. Leonas Kalinauskas, Fr. Kazimieras Montvila, Fr. Algis Pasiliauskas, and Fr. Antanas Lukošaitis — concelebrated mass. Girls dressed in the national costume knelt in prayer. Father Vincentas Jalinskas in his sermon described historical events, the importance of Vytautas the Great to the Lithuanian nation, and his great contribution to Lithuanian Christianity.
After mass the crowd of about a thousand believers and ethnographers set out for the castle. The police buzzed about while some security agents filmed those participating and others eyed with angry faces every participant. The crowd went boldly and enthusiastically since most of them were already used to such intimidation tactics.
By the shore of Lake Galve, police and security agents bustled about. Everyone was surprised to find that the start of the bridge to the castle had been dismantled and a sign was posted stating "Under Repairs." It was obvious that the several boards from the bridge had been torn out so that no one would enter thecastle. Someonequipped/'Thecastleis still standing after centuries of storms, but the bridge, built under the Soviets, cannot avoid repairs!"
The crowd on the shore honored the memory of Vytautas the Great with fiery verse, songs, hymns, and the national anthem of (independent) Lithuania. Even here it was impossible to avoid casualties, however. The Chekists detained Jonas Saukaitis; his suitcase looked suspicious to them. It contained liturgical vestments. During interrogation police officials twisted the youth's arms, and when he refused to speak, they threatened to beat him. During the search a cassette was confiscated from Saukaitis.
The priests who participated were warned in writing by Commissioner Petras Anilionis of the Council for Religious Affairs that they had violated the Regulations for Religious Associations by participating in the services at Trakai without permission.
The ethnographers travelled to Vilnius, wishing to visit the museum, but it was closed even though it was a normal working day.
Most painful of all was the fact that this great jubilee was ignored by the Soviet press, radio, television, and all cultural agencies.