Read this and pass it on! Appearing since 1972
CHRONICLE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LITHUANIA, No. 61
In this issue:
Lithuania January 6, 1984
It was especially good and pleasant to hear over Vatican Radio that the faithful of faraway Ireland are praying for our nation.
We believe in the power of common prayer. Many of the faithful, hearing about the days of prayer for Lithuania which had been proclaimed, immediately joined in the common prayer in Lithuania, as well.
Gathering in spirit at the feet of our Good Mother, we felt comforted and strengthened.
After the official warning by the prosecutor in 1979 to Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, the stream of unofficial threats and rumors increased. It was said that the KGB had secretly decided to kill them by setting up an accident, or in some similar fashion. Throughout Lithuania, rumors flew that Fathers Svarinskas and Tamkevičius had already been injured in an accident, arrested and that searches had been made of their residences.
People hearing those rumors often warned the priests not to drive about at night alone, and to avoid all sorts of traps. KGB agents did not hesitate to telephone the priests and to threaten them with violence. Those rumors were probably spread by the KGB especially to intimidate the fearful.
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius
The situation became such that more zealous priests could expect all sorts of unforseen incidents at any moment.
On November 29, 1983, in the Supreme Court of the LSSR in Vilnius, the trial of the Pastor of the parish of Kybartai, member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius began. For this judicial doing-in of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, the KGB prepared very carefully, in advance. During the summer, diocesan chanceries received written instructions forbidding the collection outside churches of signatures to protest and petitions.
The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, speaking over Lithuanian television, threatened penalties for those collecting signatures and even for those signing. The KGB, in more than one place, took direct brutal action against those collecting signatures. Several times, disinformation was spread among the people to the effect that the trial had taken place outside Vilnius, and Father Tamkevičius had been sentenced to twelve years. Hence, many people, hearing about the correct date for the trial, thought they were being misled and they arrived late for the trial, or never came.
With the approach of the trial date, most organizations were warned that at the end of November and the beginning of December, they should not let their employees off from work. Some students, and pupils of special schools, were warned by the school administration that if they wished to avoid unpleasantness, and wanted to continue their studies, they should not attend the trial, but should postpone even personal business in the area of Vilnius.
In the notes of the Servant of God, Archbishop Matulaitis, we read, "Our Church suffered so much under the Czar, and now, there are new sufferings, and those, in the name of freedom of conscience. Oh God, how strange this world is . . . Those same people who, not of the press, now allow no newspapers with different point of view . . . those people who so fervently demanded freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of speech, now refuse to allow a person with different opinions even to open his mouth . . . They once demanded equal rights, and now, they recognize them only for their side. How often the wild outlaws' rule of justice is applied here." (Notes, 174-175).
Perhaps nowhere in the world is there so much talk about all sorts of freedoms as in the Soviet Union, and nowhere are they so crudely violated as in that same Soviet Union. L. Boerne has said, "There is not a man who would not love freedom, but the just man demands it for everyone, and the unjust man, only for himself." The whole world understands freedom of religion as follows, "If you want to — believe; if you don't want to — don't believe." By the same token, you are not constrained to do everything which is associated with the practice of religion, or its disuse.
Among us, freedom of conscience is explained as follows: "According to the proletarian Marxist understanding of freedom of conscience, freedom of atheism is the freedom for every citizen to escape from religious illusions, to develop a scientific Marxist worldview, and to lead one's life by it, without interference ... as long as the believer has not shaken off religious illusions, there cannot be complete freedom of conscience. In conditions of the socialist system, by the concept, 'complete freedom of conscience', one wishes only to signify the greatest achievement in the war for man's escape from superstition. Complete freedom of conscience will be attained in Communist society." (Soviet Laws Regarding Religious Cults and Freedom of Conscience).
With the sentencing of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and the arrest of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, the faithful of Lithuania began collecting signatures to petitions and protests addressed to Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist party, and to the Prosecutor General, demanding the release of the unjustly arrested priests. In order that the expressions of protest with their signatures would reach the addressees, and not be held up back in Lithuania at KGB headquarters, the faithful would take them in sections to Moscow, and leave them registered at the reception desk.
The expressions of protest in behalf of freedom for the priests were signed by one hundred twenty-three thousand (123,000) of the faithful, of whom twenty-two signed in blood. More of the faithful would have signed, if the atheists had not taken repressive measures just to disrupt the collecting of signatures. The atheists of Lithuania tried with threats to tell even priests to forbid the faithful to sign texts of the declaration. KGB agents, using physical
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas
force, hunted down people gathering signatures, stuffed them into vehicles, and took them to militia stations. There they intimidated and threatened them, confiscated texts and signatures, and dealt out 50-ruble fines.
Kriokialaukis (Rayon of Alytus)
On July 13 and 15, 1983, the Pastor of Kriokialaukis, a member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Father Vaclovas Stakėnas, was interrogated at the Vilnius KGB. Interrogator Pilelis was interested in such questions as: "When did you become acquainted with Father Sigitas Tamkevičius? How many of his sermons have you heard and on what occasions? What sort of problems did Father Sigitas Tamkevičius touch on in his sermons? For what purpose did you join the Committee? Do you still consider the Committee active? Why do you refuse to write a statement saying that you will not participate in Commitee activity?"
When Father Stakėnas refused to resign in writing from the Committee, after a few hours, the interrogator tried to show that the Committee's activity is anti-state and he tried to say that the purpose of the Committee was to serve the Vatican, Radio Liberty and other foreign radio stations.
Pilelis ended the interrogation with the threat, "If you continue this meaningless struggle, we'll see who wins!"
At the present time, the KGB is holding up en masse, letters addressed to prisoners and to exiles.
Letters from the camps are also received infrequently; Only a few letters have been received from Father Svarinskas.
Julius Sasnauskas and others in exile are not receiving letters. Their letters to Lithuania are also not reaching the addressees.
KGB agents once mentioned to a young woman under interrogation that letters to the camps supposedly interfere with the rehabilitation of the prisoners.
Following is an excerpt from a letter of Viktoras Petkus, which has reached us:
"It is true that man has harnessed nature, conquered the planet and opened a window to space, but has this made him happier? Man himself has evoked forces which he cannot control. Hence, have those proponents of progress not made a great detour? Have they not degraded true spiritual values? They have not realized where the basic wisdom of mankind is concentrated, they have not plumbed the depths, but merely given themselves over to technology.
To: The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union Copy to: The First Secretary of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of Lithuania From: The Priests of the Lithuanian SSR
Thirty years ago, or earlier, during the era of personality cult, some leading personages in the Soviet Union thought that Communism could not be brought about without force or fear. The XX Plenary Session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union put an end to those shameful tactics. Many camps were emptied and closed. Exiles returned home, sundered families were reunited and cultural and economic life did not suffer at all as a result, but on the contrary, improved.
It is most unfortunate that not all the anomilies of the era of the personality cult were done away with. Some of them survive to this day. One of those anomalies is the restriction of the freedom of conscience and religion, the demeaning of religion, and atheization by force. That all this is truly an anomaly is clearly demonstrated from life. In Europe today, there is a whole array of socialist states, in which those anomalies are almost unknown; where believers are not discriminated against either in school or at work, where a voluminous religious press is published and where cultural and economic life nevertheless advances no more slowly than among us.
In the confidential Information Bulletin, Nr. 1, for this year (1983), Secretary Petras Griškevičius of the Communist Party of Lithuania speaks about practical problems in the struggle against "clerical extremism" and about Party organization tasks in educating the people of the republic in atheism.
The Party leader first gives a general overview of the Church in Lithuania. He rejoices over the fact that many of the clergy are loyal to the government. However, there are a number who are extremist in their attitudes, who try to draw other priests to their side, especially the young ones. The general tone for these ideological diversions is set by the Vatican.
The Party Secretary especially attacked Pope John Paul II for his constant sympathy for the Church in Lithuania. He mentioned that many priests come from abroad and try to bring unfriendly literature into Lithuania. They have even bought Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius and other priests small automobiles.
He did not spare angry words for the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, either. They allegedly promote the writing of all sorts of petitions and disobedience to the Regulations for Religious Associations.
The thirty-five year old organist at the church of Zhitomir, Sofija Bieliak, was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of exile for disseminating information about the apparition of the Mother of God at Fatima.
On September 10, two bus-loads of pilgrims (about sixty persons) were on their way from Riga to the religious festival at Šiluva, but they did not reach their destination. Not far from Šiluva, they were stopped by traffic police. The officers asked who had organized the pilgrims, and why they came to Lithuania to pray. Konstancija Cimanovskaya admitted being the organizer of the pilgrimage. Everyone was told to turn back. Since the people did not agree, they were taken off the bus and reached Šiluva by scheduled buses, while the militia escorted their rented buses to the border between Lithuania and Latvia and told the drivers never to return to Lithuania on such an errand.
Lietuvos ateitis (Lithuania's Future) Nr. 6, a periodical publication for youth, appeared at the end of May, this year, discussing national problems and problems of interest to Lithuanian youth.
Lietuvos ateitis Nr. 7, dedicated to the convicted Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, appeared at the end of September. In the publication, the trial of Father Svarinskas and the arrest of Father Tamkevi-čius are widely discussed, and a message from the believing youth of Lithuania to Lithuanian youth living abroad appears.
Aušra (The Dawn) No. 35/75. In February, 1983, the thirty-fifth issue of the underground publication, Aušra, appeared. In the publication, the article entitled "One Hundred Years for Aušra" received particular notice, in which the climate nineteen years after the press ban when the first issue of the first Lithuanian newspaper, Aušra, appeared is thoroughly described. It was the beginning of the Lithuanian renaissance, the first conscious step of Lithuanians into their future. According to Professor Biržiška, "This was the greatest revolution in the world, known to history: The rising up of a small nation, barely beginning to be conscious of itself against the great Russian-German-Polish alliance," the publication writes.