On August 2,1988, at the Interdiocesan Theological Seminary in Kaunas, a symposium was held for the hierarchy and clergy of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. The symposium opened with a hymn to the Holy Spirit. Two papers were read: "Mary in a Priest's Life" and "The Pastoral Letters and Lessons of Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis, Archbishop of Vilnius." Holy Mass was concelebrated by Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius, Bishops A. Vaičius, J. Preikšas, J. Steponavičius and R. Krikščiūnas and about 30 priests.
During the Mass, Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius spoke on behalf of the bishops (see p. 2). The priests, attentively listening to the cardinal's remarks, voiced their support and confidence in the present hierarchy, and outrage at the government's interference in purely internal Church matters: crude handling of the Kaunas Theological Seminary and meddling with the assignment of priests. Everyone seconded the remarks of Father V. Jalinskas, the Dean of Lazdijai. It is disturbing that the final selection of applicants to the seminary is made by a government representative.
This year again, the list of candidates to the seminary was taken to Vilnius ... We must endeavor to free the Church from subservience to the interests of the state, to cut as much as possible the tentacles of this subjugation. The admission of young men to the Seminary is strictly the concern of the clergy and the current situation is unjust. A final stop must be put to the practice of terrorizing seminary applicants, by demanding pledges of cooperation with the security police, slandering priests and the priesthood itself.
This is a violation of the Constitution, a criminal act, and the perpetrators must be made known and held accountable before the law; shame on the state for using such methods to subordinate the Church, stated Father V. Jalinskas. It is wrong to consult Vilnius when assigning priests. This, also, is an internal Church matter and no one has the right to meddle in her internal structure. Under current circumstances, a priest is often uncertain whom to obey: the bishop who consecrated him or that unseen hand demolishing the Church's structure? Father Jalinskas voiced the painful experience of many a priest.
Father Zenonas Navickas, of the Diocese of Kaišiadorys, raised the matter of prisoner priests. The priests supported the demand that Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius be rehabilitated and not held in exile as in the case of Father Tamkevičius or exiled to the West like Father Svarinskas.
Father Algimantas Keina, pastor of the Valkininkai parish, posed a series of pastoral questions. Father Svarinskas, who attended the symposium, shared his experiences as a priest, thanked everyone on behalf of the prisoner priests for their prayers, moral support and, stating his gratitude, pledged always to be united in prayer and deed, wherever he might be, with the Catholic Church in Lithuania.
At the conclusion of the symposium, concrete demands were drawn up and offered for submission to the government:
- That Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius of the Archdiocese of Vilnius be permitted to return to Vilnius and resume his office of shepherd;
- That the Cathedral of Vilnius, the churches of St. Casimir and Mary, Queen of Peace in Klaipėda be returned to the faithful;
- That permission be given to rebuild demolished churches and build new ones where the Church's hierarchy deems the faithful need them;
- That parents be guaranteed the right to teach the faith to then-children without interference;
- That people be guaranteed they will not be discriminated against for their religious beliefs;
- That applicants to the theological seminary cease being intimidated;
- That the faithful be afforded the opportunity to be excused from obligatory work on major religious holidays;
- That religious movements and societies (charity and aid societies, temperance movements, etc.) be permitted to operate; that the faithful be granted the possibility to use mass information media to disseminate the faith and promote morality, publish books and newspapers.
The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary was sung at the end of the
Žemaičių Kalvarija (Plungė Rayon)
On July 2-10,1988, as every year, Žemaičių Kalvarija (Samogitian Calvary) was the site of the great religious festival of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. This year, it took place in an atmosphere of spiritual uplift which everyone felt. The religious fervor of the faithful, and especially of the people of Samogitia, was bolstered by the news that the Holy Father had accorded the title of minor basilica to this Žemaičių Kalvarija shrine. Prayers of thanks for this grace were included in the festival solemnities. Worshippers attended in large numbers on Sunday and in particular on July 6th, known as Priests' Wednesday.
On that day, His Excellency Bishop Juozas Priekšas preached at the High Mass. Urging the people to cherish the faith inherited from their forefathers, he called everyone to a steadfast union with the Catholic Church.
In his morning sermon, Father Jonas Kauneckas pointed out to the faithful that the mass information media is used to propagate sex — the nation's moral perdition which can have much more serious repercussions than the nation's physical destruction in the postwar years. The preacher invited everyone, in this Marian Year, to resolve and fight for purity and chastity, virtues treasured in our nation for centuries.
At the conclusion of the High Mass, prior to the renewal of the temperance pledge, the priests were briefly addressed by the exiled bishop of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Julijonas Steponavičius, saying that we will not resurrect the nation to a new life without the help of God and religion. We must be beacons in the struggle for national sobriety. Offering help to our countrymen who have succumbed to the cross of drunkenness is the sacred duty of all Lithuanian priests, spoke the bishop. He recalled the example of the Irishman Matt Talbot, who with the help of prayer and the sacraments, showed that even a man sunk in the mire of alcoholism can become a saint.
On July 6th, the Marian Year was also commemorated at the Žemaičių Kalvarija shrine. Present at the ceremonies were Their Excellencies Bishops Julijonas Steponavičius, Juozas Preikšas, Antanas Vaičius - Bishop of Telšiai with jurisdiction over the shrine - some 110 priests and an vast throng of believers, among them many youths.
For six whole days from July 2nd to 7th, the Bishop of Telšiai, Antanas Vaičius, presided at the High Masses and, after them, accompanied the people on the Stations of the Cross.
The sermons at the stations recalled the recent past, when the
Pilgrims at the shrine of Žemaičių Kalvarija.
godless government employed various bans and threats to abolish the tradition of visiting the chapels: it barred priests from leading and accompanying the people to the stations (only Father Klemensas Arlauskas, the retired pastor of Ylakiai, had the courage to defy this ban); some years the multitude assembling for the stations at the churchyard gate was barred by armed militiamen who threatened to fire if the crowd crossed the churchyard line, though even then the armed officials yielded when they saw the people's determination and the Stations of the Cross tradition remained intact.
The preachers recalled the time when "unknown evildoers" stole from the chapels valuable pictures which later found their way into the Museum of Atheism, and only through the intercession of the Cultural Fund did the Church manage to recover them. The people of Samogitia also remember the days when, arriving at the stations, they found the chapels locked by government officials and had to break down the doors; when it was forbidden to invite guest priests to the religious festival and only two priests, the local pastor and retired pastor, were permitted to minister to the throngs of worshippers. Recalling the difficult days of the past, the faithful drew upon resolve and courage to fight, despite any hardship, for Christ's Gospel in the nation and each in his own heart.
During the Žemaičių Kalvarija festival, 26,000 Holy Communions were distributed.
On June 14,1988, the faithful in most Lithuanian churches prayed, remembering the first mass deportations of innocent people, June 14,1941, and their cruel sentence: condemnation to terrible agony, finally to freezing and death by starvation. Beginning on June 14th, the faithful in the parishes formed groups to pray for the dead deportees, and on Sunday, June 19th, in then-memory, sung the Angelus, "God is Our Refuge and Our Strength", the national anthem Lietuva, Tėvyne mūsų and other religious and national hymns; the more zealous priests preached sermons appropriate for the occasion.
Since January 1988, the government has been promising to return, and keeps setting new dates for the return of, the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda. Father Bronislovas Burneikis, the newly appointed pastor of this church, planned to at least begin saying Mass in the rectory which the government has returned and thus minister to the local Catholics. The Executive Committee barred holding services in the rectory.
Josvainiai (Kėdainiai Rayon)
On February 8,1988, Father Leonas Kalinauskas, pastor of the Josvainiai parish, was summoned to the Kėdainiai procurator's office. The procurator, in the presence of the Rayon Security Police Chief Julius Kudreshev, threatened to prosecute Father Kalinauskas, under article 68 of the Criminal Code, for signing a call to pray for Lithuania on the occasion of February 16th; and on February 18th, the rayon newspaper published an article allegedly written by residents of Josvainiai, titled "Remove Your Dark Glasses, Pastor."
In an April 13th letter to the editor, Father Kalinauskas exposed such action of government officials, when collective farm Party Secretary Ksavelis, accompanied by a reporter, visited homes and ordered people to sign the article contrived against the priest. Steponas Lukošius and Juozas Juodeika, both Josvainiai parishioners, refused to sign. Even some atheists came later to apologize to the pastor. They had signed because they feared losing their jobs or incurring trouble.
On July 16,1988, the Saturday of the octave for Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, His Eminence Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius came, at the invitation of the youth, to the Marijampolė church to participate in the Lithuanian Catholic Youth Mass. It has become a tradition among the youth to gather at the tomb of Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis, formerly during the month of January, and during the past two years, in July.
Cardinal Sladkevičius celebrated the High Mass. In his sermon, addressed to the young people, Cardinal Sladkevičius explained what a person needs to experience an abundance of youthful happiness and the spirit to stay youthful through old age: he or she must keep the commandments given by God.
During the services, the Marijampolė youth choir, renowned for its artistry, sang classical religious works in Latin. However, this one day of the year when the young believers of Lithuania from diverse parishes gather in vast numbers at this shrine in Suvalkija, many would have liked to hear and, together in prayer with others, sing youthful hymns in a language familiar to everyone.
After the services, the young Catholics met with Cardinal Sladkevičius in the churchyard. The youth warmly thanked the Cardinal for coming as a gesture of solidarity and support, and pledged to practice in then-lives the ideas they heard in the sermon.
Once again, the joy of this Marijampolė event was troubled by certain incidents. Intimidated by godless government officials, the pastor, Father Leonas Leščinskas, wrestled too vigorously with the Lithuanian tricolor flags, would not permit the youth to sing the anthem of the Ateitis organization in the church, nor provide the Cardinal with an honor guard from the church's main gate; the area in the churchyard set aside for meeting with the Cardinal was not wired for sound, hence most of those who stood farther way were unable to hear either the greetings or the Cardinal's words.
On December 31, 1987, the pastor Father Juozapas Tunaitis, assistant pastor Father Medardas Čeponis and church committee chairman Alfonsas Makačkinas of St. Nicholas' Church in Vilnius sent a letter to the editors of Vakarinės naujienos (Evening News), with reference to a article, published on December 12th in that very newspaper, written by Docent Zenonas Pilkauskas and titled "Unusual Lecture to a Stranger", in which the author attempts through bias, insolence and open lies to show that no such church as St. Nicholas' exists in Vilnius, just as, according to him, there is no St. Nicholas ~ the church has revoked his title of saint. The letter to the editor includes a biography of St. Nicholas and refutes the lie that St. Nicholas is not a saint, which Docent Pilkauskas can verify in the Catholic Calendar - Directory.
Further, the letter states, "It is unfortunate that the author and the editors have no respect for their readers and, aware that the readers have no means to verify the facts as presented, mislead them. Even more disturbing, it is still commonly believed that believers are second-class citizens who can be publicly insulted. We hope that, under conditions of openness, the editors will retract the lie ..."
Unfortunately, the editors did not publish this letter and did not retract the lie. Furthermore, on March 5,1988, the Evening News published a second article under the same heading. This time, the editors ask P. Pečiūra to comment on Docent Pilkauskas' article. Pečiūra, with a tone of irony, repeats the same slanders and is amazed that the priests rushed to defend St. Nicholas.
On April 14, 1988, the priests of St. Nicholas Church, Fathers Tunaitis and Čeponis, and chairman Makačkinas wrote a second letter to the editors of the Evening News, demanding that they stop deceiving people and that, when writing similar articles with so little information on hand, they consult experts -- the letter lists sources where they can themselves easily verify the facts. The Evening News has yet to retract the lie.
On July 25, 1988, 23 individuals, representing the inhabitants of the Pašilaičiai, Viršuliškiai, Šeškiniai and Justiniškiai districts of Vilnius, sent a petition to the Vilnius Archdiocesan Curia, with a copy to His Excellency Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius. The petition states:
"Our capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, has grown in the last decades and has spread, particularly to the northwest. These districts are inhabited by many believers, who have great difficulty reaching the closest churches still operating in the city.
"Therefore, we, representing the said districts, request that you establish a new Roman Catholic parish and grant permission to construct a parish church named for Vilnius Archbishop Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis.
"We also sincerely request the support and cooperation of the spiritual authorities in obtaining legal status for establishing the new parish and building the church."
On March 23,1988, St. George's Church, in the city of Šiauliai, was issued the following warning from the Council for Religious Affairs of the Lithuanian S.S.R.: "It has been determined that on February 14-16, 1988, the house of worship was used not in accordance with its designation. Sermons of a political nature were preached, the anthem of bourgeois Lithuania was sung, the nationalist emotions of the faithful were incited. This was in violation of the statutes governing the use of houses of worship, Article 2, subparagraph C, and the Regulations for Religious Associations, articles 10 and 25, which indicate that houses of worship are to be used exclusively to serve religious needs."
On June 15, 1988, residents of Šiauliai ~ Vanda Ragauskaitė, Mečislovas Jurevičius, Kęstutis Stulgys, brothers Arūnas and Gintaras Zembleckas and Vincas Danielius - went to the editorial offices of the Rayon newspaper Red Flag. The believers demanded that Bulzgis, the head of the propaganda and agitation department, and Sabaliauskas, a department employee, refrain from using the newspaper to slander Father Kazimieras Gražulis, assistant pastor of St. George's Church in Šiauliai. Some time before, several issues of Red Flag had published false articles about the priest.
Agitation Department Chief Bulzgis let it slip that they get directives from above. Vanda Ragauskaitė thanked him for his honesty. The believers asked the editorial staff certain questions, expressed their dissatisfaction with the disinformation rather frequently published in the newspaper, and stated that the rayon newspaper has yet to be touched by restructuring and still employs Stalinists.
Tabariškės (Kaunas Rayon)
On January 9, 1988, the Kaunas Rayon newspaper published an article entitled "Views Differ, But Life Remains Unchanged" by N. Grinevičiūtė. The article assails Father Petras Dumbliauskas, pastor of Tabariškės, for demanding that persons who attend funerals behave respectfully in church. The atheists, who were present in the church, took offense, and complained to the newpaper editor.
When the newspaper reporter arrived to investigate, Father Dumbliauskas offered to answer his questions in writing. In an open letter, Father Dumbliauskas writes: "Every place has its strict etiquette of conduct. For instance, people at a theater do not behave as they do at a sauna, nor at the sauna the way they do at a dancehall, just so, in a church, it is inappropriate to act the same as in a park, stadium or marketplace ...
"People personally select the way they wish to bury their dead relatives, whether with civil or church rites. Individuals who escort the casket to the church are not forced inside with a gun: those who wish, may enter, those who don't, remain outside. Of those who do enter, we require proper and respectful conduct, in accordance with the dignity of the place. Whenever the national anthem of any country is sung, all present rise, though they may be citizens of another state. And if someone were to remained seated? ...
"The church is a place of prayer and a house of worship, and, as such, not the place to demonstrate one's atheist beliefs. For that, we have atheistic centers. It is therefore obvious that such know-it-alls', who debase the dignity of churches and scandalize the faithful are not welcome there."
"Further, the priest cites a series of incidents of discrimination against the Church and problems of daily life: 'Every priest is obligated by the Church: to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, administer the sacraments and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, i.e., to teach people, including children, the truths of the faith. The state forbids us to catechize children and punishes those who obey the Church, Christ, rather than the state and its laws which are contrary to the laws of the Church.'
"True, the state does suggest that children are to learn the truths of the faith from their parents. We respond: 1. Parents do not have the time to teach their children the truths of the faith. 2. The parents themselves, for obvious reasons, do not know well the truths of the faith. 3. All parents who want their children to learn to read and write take them to school. Even teachers do not teach their children at home but send them to school. Parents who wish their children to learn the truths of the faith take them to church, to the priest, but that is already forbidden by law. Where is then the freedom of conscience?
"Christ said: 'Suffer the little children to come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Meantime, civil law decrees that a young man or woman, having reached the age of 18, has the right to participate in public church rites - processions, the church choir, boys may serve at Holy Mass. In other words, a youth cannot be compelled, at maturity he must personally decide whether to believe or be an atheist. A parallel can be drawn: Suppose children, minors, could not be required to go to school, but decided for themselves upon reaching the age of 18, to attend school or remain illiterate?
"Fifteen years ago, when I worked in Liubavas, I was fined 25 rubles by the Kapsukas Rayon government because minors participated in the Easter procession, though they walked with their fathers and mothers. Whether I was fined justly or not, I leave to the editors and readers to judge...
"Statistics from early 1987 show that: Lithuania has 665 priests, of them 86 retired or in residence ~ these are priests who work little or not at all ~ and 12 infirm priests. There are 630 churches, 474 of which have their own priests, while 156 are served from other parishes. Sometimes, one priest ministers to two or three parishes. Clearly the situation is critical. Priests over 80 years old work as pastors. Where, before, parishes had two or three priests, now there is one or none at all. There would be sufficient priests for all the churches of Lithuania if government representatives did not meddle in internal Church affairs and did not limit the number of applicants to the seminary."
Father Dumbliauskas raises the problem of alcoholism and drug abuse, urging everyone to ponder seriously the future of the nation. During this year of restructuring and peace, it is imperative that Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius of Vilnius be reinstated, that the unjustly imprisoned priests, Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, be released, that the Queen of Peace Church in Klaipėda, the Cathedral of Vilnius and St. Casimir's Church be returned. These would be but the first steps to redress the injustices committed against the faithful.
Let us return to the article written by reporter Grinevičiūtė. Upon reading it, it is easy to understand that the author stands, with her entire article, behind the complaining atheists, she vehemently attacks the priest's claim that the state bars priests from catechizing children and punishes those who disobey with administrative fines and even prison. Ignoring the facts, Grinevičiūtė writes: "This is tantamout to political incitement. Not a single priest has been penalized merely for catechizing children, even though the latter is contrary to our laws."
For what then were Fathers A. Šeškevičius, P. Bubnys and the late J. Zdebskis punished?
It is fair to ask: When will Soviet reporters, especially from rayon newspapers, finally stop spreading disinformation against the Church and have the courage to retract the lies already disseminated?!
On the evening of All Saints' Day 1987, in keeping with ancient tradition, the people assembled at the Rokiškis cemetery to pay their respects to the dead. At the old city cemetery, services followed the High Mass and were conducted by Father Eugenijus Staleronka, assistant pastor of the Rokiškis church; at the new cemetery, in order to keep distinct the times of the civil and religious ceremonies for the dead, parish pastor Father Juozas Janulis presided over the rites at 5:00 P.M.
With the faithful already assembled, the pastor Father Janulis, assistant pastor Father Staleronka, sacristan Vytautas Sablinskas and two altar boys drew near. At the cemetery gate, they were met by City Executive Committee Chairman Danielius Jurevičius, Deputy Bronius Puluikis and another individual dressed in civilian clothes. The government officials pushed against the car doors in an attempt to keep Father Janulis from getting out.
Puluikis shouted: "Let's see your written permit!" The pastor explained that he had no written permit but had cleared the matter with the rayon government verbally. Several days before, Father Janulis had been summoned by the rayon government for a talk, during which he had convinced the officials that, by law, no one is permitted to ban religious rites in cemeteries and was given oral consent.
After a time, the pastor left the car and made preparations for the services. The young altar boys held a cross. Executive Committee Chairman Danielius Jurevičius protested: "Minors are carrying the cross!"
The cross was handed to church committee member Sablinskas. Chairman Jurevičius forcibly wrested the cross from Sablinskas and attempted to place it in the trunk of a passenger car. Assistant pastor Father Staleronka warned him: "The cross is blessed."
The faithful recaptured the cross from the executive committee chairman. Deputy Puluikis attempted to disrupt the services, shouting "Move on!" even after they had started. When the procession began to move to another spot, a shoving match resulted between the faithful and deputy Puluikis. The people demanded that Puluikis remove his hat and stop hindering the praying. After this, they no longer directly obstructed the services and limited themselves to observing.
Some time later, a commission was dispatched from Vilnius to investigate the incident. The local government was forced to make a public apology in the press. The December 3-9 issue of Gimtasis Kraštas published an unprecedented item: The Rokiškis city government authorities have apologized to Father Juozas Janulis, the pastor of the Rokiškis church, for the incident which occurred on the evening of All Saints' Day 1987, at the new cemetery of the city of Rokiškis.
Gargždai (Klaipėda Rayon)
On August 23,1987, the faithful of the Mikoliškės parish (Kretinga Rayon) solemnly commemorated in their church the 600-year Jubilee of Lithuania's Christianity. The ceremonies were attended by Bishop Antanas Vaičius. It is impossible to reach Mikoliškės by scheduled bus on time. For many years now the faithful of the Mikoliškės parish have demanded that the bus administration change the bus schedule and, if the authorities deemed this to be impossible, to allow them to exercise their rights under Article 3 of the Regulations for Religious Associations which provides that "Religious communities have the right to acquire means of transportation." Hundreds of signatures were collected. The Office of Commissioner for Religious Affairs Petras Anilionis is preventing the faithful from procuring a bus.
The parishioners of Gargždai were travelling to the ceremonies on a bus they personally rented. Around Lapiai, some 4 kilometers before Mikoliškės, they were stopped by the traffic police. The passengers were ordered off, and the bus driver's license was confiscated, despite the fact that he had a travel order and the passengers had paid in advance.
Geniai (Alytus Rayon)
On April 20, 1988, during the night, in the village of Geniai, someone replaced the old collapsed cross with a new one. It stood less than one day - it was demolished at the order of government officials.