Several months have passed since some unusual events for the Church of Lithuania: the principal celebrations of the 600-year jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania and the proclamation of Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis as Blessed. With the passage of time, the thoughts of many return to the celebration, once again experiencing the holiday spirits and recalling those things which dimmed the joy of the aforesaid celebration.
The faithful of Lithuania had hoped that the Soviet government would allow our Holy Father, John Paul II, to come to the jubilee celebration, at least for a brief visit. However, the government acknowledges this right — of inviting the Pope to a jubilee — to the Russian Orthodox Church alone; in their day the latter took advantage of the Czar's favor. The Soviet government, it appears, continues the old traditions of the Russian Empire. Of all the religions in the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church is exceptionally privileged!
This tendancy is quite apparent also in the "gift" of the Soviet government to the jubilee of the baptism of Lithuania - the publication titled The Church in Lithuania, published by Minds Publishers. When the Bishops' Conference of Lithuania refused churches in Lithuania without including a picture of the main church in Lithuania, the Cathedral of Vilnius (converted into an art gallery), the government itself took on the editing and publication of this book.
Preparation of the album was turned over to the well-known KGB agent "concerning himself with" Lithuanians overseas, V. Kazakevičius and Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee Lector, J. Sakalauskas, assisting regional newspapers with articles full of uninhibited and naive atheistic propaganda.
Let us turn attention to the title, The Church in Lithuania, (not churches or religions in Lithuania, but Church). Included are not only photographs of shrines of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, but also Russian Orthodox churches, Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques. And everything is encompassed by the title Die Church in Lithuania.
In the future, it remains only to acknowledge the leading role in that "church", already "united" by the atheists, as belonging to the most loyal Orthodox Church, which allocates the most money to the Peace Fund, and the influence of the Pope of Rome, so unacceptable to the atheists, will be finished.
This publication is not the only example confirming that the guardians of Soviet "freedom of religious culls" have not stopped dreaming about that. It was also only the Russian Orthodox Church which was allowed to invite the Cardinal of the Philippines to Lithuania.
During the Easter holidays this year, on Holy Saturday, a delegation of four seminarians from the seminary in Kaunas, headed by fourth-classman Alionidas Budrius, was officially allowed to attend the Orthodox Easter Vigil. Such visits do not take place without the consent of the atheistic government. Is it fitting to send as yet unformed seminarians, who have not yet studied thoroughly the basics of their own theology, to ecumenical meetings, especially since none of the older priests or seminary instructors participated in that-delegation? Will seminarians "shaped" in the course of such visits, upon becoming priests, not take it upon themselves to bring the master plan of the Soviet atheists to fruition - the inclusion of the Catholics of Lithuania under the administration of the Russian Church? Historical experience has been too painful for Lithuania, for its lessons to be ignored.
On May 24, 1987, the jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania was commemorated in the Archcathedral Basilica of Kaunas. The impression was quite poor. True, Holy Mass was concelebrated by several bishops, and Bishop Antanas Vaičius preached. However, no jubilee decorations were to be seen in the basilica. The faithful had hoped that on the occasion of the jubilee festivities, they would be able to visit the tombs of those great figures in the history of the nation and the Church: Bishops Motiejus Valančius and Pranciškus Karevičius and Msgr. Maironis... It was promised but apparently a call from the "appropriate" agencies... and an extra lock was put on the doors of the crypt for the jubilee, so that it really would not be possible for "mischievous extremists" to get near the graves of our national heroes. Only a small group of teenagers sang "Lietuva Brangi" ("Beloved Lithuania", written by Maironis) at Maironis' tomb and placed flowers there; they attached a palm branch to the doors of the great Bishop Valančius' crypt, which zealous "guardians of order" quickly broke up and discarded.
During the jubilee services, many people could not get into the cathedral. They stood outside, but they could see or hear nothing — there were no loudspeakers in the churchyard. The city government would not give, and perhaps no one seriously asked for, permission for a solemn jubilee procession around the outside of the cathedral. Only the procession at Easter is allowed. However, such a jubilee occurs only once in a hundred years, and on its account, the Soviet government really would not have collapsed!
Processions in the churches of Lithuania are an inseparable part of the traditons of all celebrations. During the difficult times of the Czarist oppression, such processions took place in the Archcathdral of Kaunas at the beginning and the end of 1900, when the nineteenth centennial of the Birth of Christ was celebrated. So the times are more difficult today for the faithful of Lithuania than the times of the Lithuanian press ban and the massacre of Kražai.
On June 28, jubilee solemnities took place in Vilnius. It was well that a timely word was said by him who is despised by the government and labled extremist and disruptor, the exiled bishop, Julijonas Steponaviči a result, the jubilee was celebrated not only in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, but in six churches. It is not difficult to imagine what a "holiday" mood there would have been with the rain pouring down and the crowd standing out in the dirt of the excavated churchyard which has still not been put in order. The faithful also missed jubilee decorations.
The Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Šiauliai succeeded in erecting an impressive memorial on the occasion of the jubilee, while the church of the same title in Vilnius erected only a poor, simple cross in its churchyard. Akiračiai (Horizons), the Lithuanian-American liberal magazine and Gimtasis Kraštas (Native Land), praised the pastor, Father Vaičekonis, for being able to "get out of the government much for the benefit of the Church."
This time, apparently, they were not successful in "getting" either paving stones for the surface of the churchyard or permission for a more imposing memorial. Hence, it was not fitting to begin the jubilee services with a tribute to Chairman Konstantin Kharchev of the Council for Religious Affairs in Moscow and his deputy in Lithuania, Petras Anilionis, with whose help, the Church of Lithuania is restricted in every way.
After the jubilee services, a knot of young people wanted to place flowers at the tomb of one of those responsible for the Baptism of Lithuania -Vytautas the Great - in the Cathedral of Vilnius. When they arrived at the closed doors of the Vilnius Cathedral, the Cradle of Lithuanian Christianity, a sign had been hung on the door in anticipation: " due to technical difficulties". The youngsters were watched by civilians, among whom KGB agent Reinys was recognized. Shortly, a man and a woman with angry countenances approached the little group. The woman, introducing herself as a representative of the city government, demanded that they withdraw from Gediminas Square because allegedly by gathering there, they were interfering with some sort of unknown song festival. To the question why some citizens are allowed to stand around in Gediminas Square and others are forbidden, a civilian replied, "Get out of here before I call the patrol, and they take you out".
The group of youngsters now before the closed church doors prayed in silence while behind them, the uneasy security agents mumbled, "Go to some house of prayer!"
Three white flowers were left tucked in the doorway of the cathedral. The group of youngsters went off down Gorky Street to the closed Church of-Saint Casimir where a militia car caught up with them. Hanging on the door of the closed church (a Museum of Atheism) was a notice that the museum was "Closed today due to technical difficulties".
Photographs of the young people praying before the cathedral were presented to the seminary in Kaunas, so that the seminary administration would not dare to admit a single one of them. This year, once more, applicants Gintas Sakavičius of Kapčiamiestis and Saulius Kelpšas of Garliava were not accepted into the seminary. The administration, intimidated by the KGB, would not even accept Kelpšas' records.
On July 8,1987, the commemoration of the Baptism of Lithuania took place at Žemaičių Kalvarija. Participating were four bishops: Julijonas Steponavičius, Vincentas Sladkevičius, Juozas Preikšas and a guest from Latvia, the exiled Bishop Dulbinskis, this year celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his episcopate. The sermon was preached by His Excellency, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, who spoke of the significance of Christianity for Lithuania. The bishop responded to suggestions by the atheists in the press that accepting Orthodox Christianity from Moscow would have been "more useful" than Roman Catholic Christianity from the Poles. If this had happened, we would today most likely no longer be speaking Lithuanian.
His Excellency, Bishop Juozas Preikšas, presided over the procession of the Passion of Christ to the hills. During the procession, the pastor of Skaudvilė, Father Jonas Kauneckas, gave three sermons extolling the importance of the cross in the life of the Lithuanian Catholic and the steadfastness of the Lowlanders, defending and maintaining the Catholic Faith received six hundred years previously, mentioning the spiritual emptyness which the atheism forced on the souls of contempory youth creates today.
The services were taped by state television. The militia and the traffic patrol this year were less obtrusive and more courteous at Žemaičių Kalvarija.
When His Excellency Bishop Antanas Vaičius returned from Rome, Commissioner Petras Anilionis threatened to summon the Deans of the Diocese of Telšiai to the chancery and warn them about "offenses" during the festival at Kalvarija. The Commissioner was particularly annoyed by the sermons delivered by Father Kauneckas and the old national anthem sung after the procession around the hills on Priests' Wednesday.
The beatification of Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis was the fulfillment of a long-standing hope of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, and of the Lithuanian nation. Pope John Paul II proclaimed its fulfillment to the whole world on June 28, 1987. To have our own intecessor and intermediary at the Throne of God is a special spiritual treasure. It is a joyous experience to have our nation's newly beatified looking at us not from pages covered with the dust of ages, nor from remote recollections in legends and tradition. He lived and worked, we might say, in our days. The steps in his noble and meaningful life, his steady and self-sacrificing rise to the honors of the altar, were observed by no small number of witnesses still living. The personality of Jurgis Matulaitis aroused and continues to arouse great wonder and admiration. Alas, not in all!
On June 30,1987, an article by J. Sakalauskas entitled, "What Does the Vatican Bless?", was printed in the Kaunas Tiesa. The author of the article, asking on the basis of what merits the archbishop was beatified responds: "In proclaiming saints and blessed in all ages, it was first of all their devoutness which is revered combined with their acetisim, their renunciation of earthly life. Later, with the development of culture, when people agreed to be no longer impressed with such manifestations of religiosity, they began to look for more popular merits for those chosen."
According to Sakalauskas, the Vatican dared to beatify Joan of Arc and canonize Maximillian Kolbe and finally, "after lengthy inquiries", to choose Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis.
Sakalauskas can not understand this choice at all. Since Archbishop Matulaitis "zealously adopted the clerical sociology based on Pope Leo XIH's Renim Novarum, gathered workers into Christian societies and organized a Catholic students' movement."
In Vilnius, under the government of Vincas Kapsukas, (early Lithuanian Communist - Trans. Note) although he did not mention the Bolsheviks by name, Matulaitis spoke of their vices and deceits. Moreover, surely not without Bishop Matulaitis's knowledge, several public attacks by the clericals took place in Vilnius against the Soviet government. "Really, how did a Catholic priest dare to get involved in such activities? If he had studied Marxist-Leninist philosophy, assembled the workers of Communist organizations, edited the Communist newspaper, extolled the achievements of the Bolshevik nation and subordinated the Church to the interests of the state (like the Orthodox), today he could boast the title of A Hero of Socialist Work."
The Communist Youth edition of Tiesa (Komjaunimo tiesa), for June 19, discusses this question even more "scientifically" in the article, "Whence Saints and Why?", by Docent J. Stankaitis of the Pedagogical Institute of Vilnius. Stankaitis calls this Archbishop Matulaitis's qualities of moderation in the use of this world's goods: aceticism, patience, obedience, forgiveness of enemies "objectively irreconcilable with human dignity, socially reationary and injurious characteristics". (What lofty philosophical terminology!)
Stankaitis claims that the Vatican canonizes saints according to various political and diplomatic circumstances. This, the author of the article maintains, is the way we got Saint Ignatius Loyola, Saint Casimir, about one hundred American Saints (sic), missionaries to Africa, China and Uganda, and even Maximillian Kolbe (a routine atheistic paradox - to condemn facism and vilify its victims).
The most "reactionary" political significance is attached to the beatification of Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, Stankaitis rails, since how could such a "bitter servant of reaction, opponent of the revolutionary struggle, founder of anti-Socialist movements, clerical anti-Communist and even an intermediary between facism and the Church be raised to the honors of the altar?"
Worse offenses would be difficult to imagine, unless it were the "excavation of a tunnel from Bombay to London" (as in Abuladze's film, Repen-tence).
In reality, the person of Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis can arouse positive or negative reactions: positive for those whose own behavior has been marked and is marked with wisdom, and a controversial one when the evaluators themselves lack tact, wisdom or justice. Many of his contemporaries were impressed with Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis' wisdom, justice and spirit of brotherhood. "He had to carry the burdens of all and to take them to the Most High so that those left behind might have it easier," wrote Vaižgantas.
His life was based on love of neighbor, and in national matters - on truth and justice. Appointed as Bishop of Vilnius, he said: "I am prepared to serve everyone on an equal basis. Christ died for all nations, for all social classes, tendancies and views. Hence, it is my duty also to serve everyone, especially the people, from among whom I have been taken and to whom I have been assigned. My field is the Kingdom of Christ, my party is Christ!"
If it is possible to call his treatment of his neighbor perfect, then his treatment of his enemies can be called heroic. And enemies he did have, at all times, and many, although even the worst of them could not accuse him of much, especially of vengefulness: "We must rejoice and praise God that we are worthy to suffer for His name and for the Church," the Archbishop said more than once.
Believers honor Matulaitis beatification in Marijampolė.
In the words of Vaižgantas, "In every person, the student, the criminal, or the enemy, he first of all sought 'nuggets' of goodness."
The archbishop himself wrote that, "It would be easier in the eyes of God to justify too much leniency rather than too much strictness."
Father Stasys Yla has said, "Archbishop Matulaitis lived and worked for two realities -- the Church and the nation."
He sought that all his energies be dedicated to the good of the Church and to its growth. Love of country and nation is obligatory for every Christian; it is a natural law which Christ Himself confirmed by His example. Archbishop Matulaitis was guided by the motto, "To stand to and be dedicated to sacrifice".
He wished the same for all his countrymen: to live by unshaken Faith, in union with God, renouncing self, dedicatated to the honor and glory of God, and service and the love of neighbor, energetically and boldly to defend God and the Church, and constantly to perfect one's interior life.
These are the qualities and guidelines characteristic of holiness which have taken Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis to the honors of the altar. It is a noble and honorable road, which brought the archbishop to the Throne of God. This was the road of the saint, sometimes appearing hopeless, but promising much.
On July 12,1987, in the church of Marijampolė, ceremonies if connection with the beatification of Archbishop Matulaitis took place. Almost three days before the ceremonies, a retreat was conducted in church. The retreat was conducted by the Dean of Šakiai, Father Juozas Žemaitis. Saturday evening, Bishop Preikšas blessed the newly appointed chapel of Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis and on that occasion, preached an appropriate sermon.
On Sunday, the principal Mass was concelebrated by all the bishops of Lithuania and about eighty priests. The sermon was preached by Bishop Antanas Vaičius. The bishop shared with the faithful his impressions from the solemnities commemorating the Baptism of Lithuania and the beatification of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis in Rome and conveyed the Holy Father's exhortation to pay particular attention to religious education of children and youth.
Crowds of people flocked to the services starting the evening before. During the principal services, the crowd overflowed not only the church and churchyard, but the streets in the vicinity were also filled with worshippers. Only it was regrettable that a large part of the worshippers did not have the opportunity to go to Confession. Confessions were heard only in church. At the end of the services, the visiting priests hurried off to their parishes, so that the most determined individuals who got into church after services had to wait in line at the confessionals into evening.
In preparation for the solemnities, the pastor, Father Leščinskas, was warned by the "appropriate organs" that the services should in no way be different than for customary religious festivals. However, it was impossible to satisfy this wish of the atheists; all of Lithuania felt a holiday euphoria.
There were various interferences. For example, before the solemnities, the pastor of the parish, Father Leščinskas, agreed to have young people or just groups of worshippers pray and sing in organized fashion at the tomb of the Blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis all three days of the solemnities from after the principal Mass until evening prayers.
When the date of the solemnities arrived, loud organ music resounded in church every afternoon, perfomed by the emeritus Father Gracijus Sakalauskas. It was impossible to carry out the planned programs. The cathedral choir which had come specially from Telšiai was not allowed to sing the Way of the Cross around the hills at the agreed-upon time. Only Saturday evening, at the intervention of the priests, that possibility was granted. Any suggestions concerning the decoration of the church or the variation of the services met with the response from the pastor, intimidated by the atheists, "Over my dead body!"
Nevertheless, the celebration left an indelible impression and strengthened the Lithuanian nation's ties to the Catholic Faith it has cherished for six hundred years.
After the services, the faithful would not leave the church or churchyard for a long time. Gathered in groups, they prayed, sang hymns and folk songs and read verses specially dedicated to the jubilee and Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis.