On July 12, 1988, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, who had been arrested January 26,1983, accused of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation and sentenced under L.S.S.R. Criminal Code Par. 68 Id. to seven years strict regime labor camp and three years exile, was released from the Perm strict regime labor camp. After spending five-and-a-half years in various strict regime labor camps,
Father Svarinskas was released on condition that he leave the homeland and go to West Germany at the invitation of Bishop J. Stimpfle of Augsburg.
On the evening of July 15, 1988, Father Svarinskas arrived in Vilnius. Father Svarinskas, sentenced three times, and having spent 21.5 years in various camps in the gulag, having suffered much physically and mentally, returned to the homeland unbroken, full of resolve and energy, to continue working for the glory of God and the good of the nation.
Lithuania, trying to be re-born in its religious and national self-image, greeted this spiritual giant with respect and awe, receiving his words of instruction like a spiritual legacy to the nation. Father Svarinskas spent just over a month in Lithuania, visiting a whole list of parishes: Vidiškė, Viduklė, Telšiai, Tauragė, Šiluva, Igliauka, Kybartai, Marijampolė, Vilnius, Paberžė, etc., and everywhere he was welcomed by hundreds and thousands of loving hearts, the faithful of Lithuania, longing for his word.
But perhaps the clearest sign of solidarity with him was demonstrated by believing, and even unbelieving, Lithuania, during the last moments of Father Svarinskas' leave-taking from Lithuania, when on August 22,1988, Father Svarinskas offered a Mass of farewell at the Gates of Dawn in Vilnius.
From early morning, people flocked to this shrine in Vilnius, packing the Church of Saint Theresa. Over the sea of heads, tricolor flags waved proudly and bouquets of flowers could be seen. The number of young people, including a group of girls decked out in national costume, was a beautiful sight to see.
Concelebrating Mass with Father Svarinskas, yesterday's prisoner of conscience, were five other priests, among them: Father Vincentas Velavičius, a member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, and the former prisoners Father Jonas-Kąstytis Matulionis and Father Juozas Razmantas. The intention of the Mass was for the rebirth of Church and country.
During the sermon, Father Svarinskas thanked his fellow countrymen for their prayers, and for continuing his struggle. He thanked the re-awakening intelligentsia of Lithuania, reminding and inviting them to seek true freedom the only possible way, by fostering decency and by overcoming alcoholism, immorality and drug addiction. The priest's fervent remarks full of love were met with the spontaneous applause of those assembled.
After Mass, farewell remarks were given by Father Algimantas Keina. He emphasized how our religious conviction and human solidarity had been fostered by the imprisonment which Father Alfonsas had heroically accepted, and he expressed the conviction that our ties of love and cooperation would continue uninterrupted.
Speaking on behalf of the young Catholics of Lithuania was Robertas Grigas. He emphasized that the names of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and other prisoners of conscience had become for the nation symbols of freedom and justice like the Vytis, like the tricolor, like the Pensive Christ. Young believers will not stop striving for the ideals presented by Christ; they are inspired and fortified by the innocent suffering of the just.
In his response, Father Svarinskas expressed his embarassment over the exceptional respect shown him, saying that he considered himself an ordinary man who only tried to do his duty well. He indicated that there are many more who have suffered: Balys Gajauskas, bearing the chains of the gulag for thirty-seven years and Viktoras Petkus, for the twenty-seventh year. Father Svarinskas said that he firmly believed that he would return to Lithuania from his compulsory exile. ("Rehabilitated", Father Svarinskas, was scheduled to return to Lithuania in the spring of 1990. - Trans. Note)
The whole church, to organ accompaniment, resoundingly sang the national anthem. Endless lines of people — children, youth and adults — approached the altar, congratulating, thanking and presenting flowers to him. As he emerged on Didžioje Gatvė, Father Svarinskas was greeted by the applause of the people crowding the street. The words which Father Svarinskas had uttered in his sermon were confirmed: "The producers of the film about me asked, Who are you, Father Svarinskas?' Behold, you are the answer."
After Mass, Father Alfonsas went to the hospital to visit Father Babonas, pastor of Kavarskas, who had been seriously injured in an automobile accident.
About noon, a cavalcade of cars left for the Vilnius airport. Their arrival at the airport was met by an astounding sight: a huge crowd of people surrounding the terminal, the yellow and white Papal flag and the national tricolor proudly waving over their heads, and countless little flags. Standing off to one side could be seen a little group of militiamen and civilians, but they did not interfere with those assembled.
As Father Svarinskas alighted from his automobile, there arose a storm of applause such as Vilnius had not heard for a long time. At the feet of the priest were strewn cut flowers over which he walked as on a carpet to the terminal. People kept bringing their beloved shepherd flowers, kissing his hands, thanking him, greeting him and weeping. Surrounding Father Svarinskas on the terminal steps, the crowd chanted in unison, uLie-tu-va bus lais-va!" ("Lithuania will be free!")
As the priest disappeared into the building, he was followed with a thundrous »Lau-kiam! Lau-kiam! Lau-kiam!" ("We will be waiting!")
Inside, a pleasantly smiling airport employee politely explained the procedure for checking in and departure, and helped with all the formalities. When he re-emerged on the steps, the priest was again smothered with flowers and a constant stream of prayerbooks, holy cards and postcards passed hand to hand until his hand became too cramped to continue signing autographs. Once again, the national anthem rang out. The young people sang songs of exile and folk songs, and patriotic poems which had become folk songs. Everything was filmed without interruption by official and private cameras.
It was announced that the flight was delayed for an hour. The airport official invited Father Svarinskas, the other priests and his friends, into a separate lounge. The airport personnel acted most respectfully. Respects were paid to Father Svarinskas and momentoes were presented even by people not especially close to the Church.
After the flight had been postponed several more times, Father Svarinskas, bidding a final farewell, passed the checkpoint. The people stood outside the wire fence separating the runways from the terminal grounds, singing patriotic songs and waving bouquets and flags. Thus they waited for about an hour, until the jet took off into the clear Lithuanian sky, physically tearing from us him with whom we have grown one in heart by common endeavors. Nothing, however, can tear him from loving hearts or the life of our re-awakening country.
To send Father Svarinskas off in Moscow, a small group left from Lithuania, joined by Russian ex-prisoners and supporters.
In the leave-taking from Father Svarinskas, the official lying propaganda experienced a crushing blow. The nation clearly demonstrated what the vilified, tormented Father Svarinskas who, with the power of the Lord, had conquered coercion and evil, means to Lithuania. Once again, it demonstrated its solidarity, its gratefulness for the sacrifice which had been made, and the determination to follow the way of sacrifice for God and country.