Written by BISHOP JONAS BORUTA SJ
I learned about The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania in the first year of its issuance. Encouraged by Rev. Jonas Lauriūnas SJ, I began to write news items for the Kronika in 1973. Usually, they concerned university life. Afterwards, asked by Lauriūnas, I began to translate into Lithuanian news items received from Russia and Ukraine.
While working at the Institute of Physics of the Lithuanian Academy of Science and being a post-graduate student preparing a dissertation, from 1973 I began to study at the underground seminary for priests. I had to pass examinations given by Lauriūnas and the Jesuit Provincial superior Jonas Danyla. They would also sent me to Rev. Vaclovas Aliulis MIC and the Marian Provincial superior Pranciškus Račiūnas probably with the intention that they would be better acquainted with the candidates seeking priesthood in the underground seminary.
In August 1982 I was ordained a priest and in November of the same year I traveled to Ukraine hoping to be employed there as a priest (as another graduate of the underground seminary Vytautas Merkys SJ had done). Unfortunately, after a month the local KGB ordered me to leave Ukraine within 24 hours.
I came back to Lithuania at the beginning of January 1983. Soon afterwards the repressions against the members of the TTGKK and the publishers of the Kronika began. On 26 January 1983 Alfonsas Svarinskas was arrested and in May - Sigitas Tamkevičius. I had been keeping close ties with Tamkevičius since my ordination as a priest. He had asked Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius to ordain me in the small church of Skaistgiris, to which he accompanied me along with Rev. Leonardas Jagminas SJ. They were the only witnesses to my ordination. After returning from Ukraine, I would often visit him and help him in priestly work.
During the trial of Svarinskas to which he had to travel, Tamkevičius invited me to stand as his replacement in the parish. Before departing to the courtroom, he took a sheet of paper and a pen (which usually helpedus 'to talk' so that the 'listening walls' would not hear us) and wrote: "If necessary, take care of the Kronika.'"
I understood those words as a thoughtful insurance if anything happened to him. I was convinced that for that work in the Kronika there were better prepared people - the members of the Catholic Committee - who could accomplish it better. But, if no one else were available. "O.K. if necessary I'll help," - I wrote in response.
Work in the Kronika
I intuitively felt that the publishing center of the Kronika was in Kybartai, but we had never talked about it. When Tamkevičius was arrested, there was no publishing crisis for the Kronika. He had organized everything so well that the information for the next issue had been collected, its technical base had been prepared, and the sisters-nuns were able and willing to continue the work. I felt somehow calm that there were other people besides me who would take over the work. However, at the end of August during a retreat for the sisters, the head sister of the Congregation of the Eucharist Jesus appealed to me to help issue the Kronika.
I had already been acquainted with Sister Gerarda Elena Šuliauskaitė who was one of the main assistants of Tamkevičius in publishing the Kronika. I had a talk with Sisters Gerarda and Pija Bronyte Vazgelevičiūte during which we talked about how to collect and distribute the received material (which material is suitable for the Kronika, and which for Aušra), how to prepare it and obtain the Church approval of exiled Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius (in Žagarė) for each issue. Since I was not connected with any parish (the RRT representative did not grant the 'servant of the cult' registration certificate without which one was not allowed to carry out the duties of a priest to the graduates of the underground seminary) and traveled all around Lithuania, every few months I would visit Žagarė with the materials for the new issue of the Kronika. Sometimes the Sisters would make this trip. The most important thing was to coordinate the material which mentioned the undue concessions of some priest to the authorities. We had to know the opinion of the bishop and receive his approval before issuing the material. No light-minded decision could be taken here.
The bishop would read the brought articles silently, but when he would reach anything that interested or intrigued him he would unwittingly begin to comment loudly. At such moments I would put my finger to my lips and warn him: "Your Excellency, Your Excellency..." He would smile, increase the volume of the turned on radio so that the unseen ears would not hear his words, and continue reading.
The opinion of Bishop Steponavičius was very valuable. He did not want anonymous information to be published for which no one wouldbe responsible. For example, one young priest wrote a good article about the commemoration of the anniversary of Saint Kazimieras. Bishop Steponavičius read the article and said: "If it were signed by believers and sent to the authorities, it would have a totally different value." After publishing 2 or 3 other issues, it, nevertheless, was included. The bishop smiled and said: "One such article is OK, but let us make sure that the Kronika does not become a place for anonymous advertisements."
Another important problem which I had to resolve with Bishop Steponavičius was the fate of the TTGKK and its relationship with the Kronika. After the arrests of Svarinskas and Tamkevičius, other members of the TTGKK were also persecuted and they began to declare that they were ending their activities. Juozas Zdebskis then began to restore the Committee, now as an underground committee. However, it was not convenient for him to do this because with the assistance of KGB falsification, already in 1980 he had been excused from the Committee. At the time when the other members announced that they were ending their activities, it was not suitable for him to do this independently. However, Zdebskis was agitated. He was convinced that the Committee must exist and act.
When I began to care for the Kronika and it continued to be published, Zdebskis was again worried about who was leading it now. He tried to learn this for a whole year and we knew that. In the spring of the next year, after the arrests during a retreat the senior Sister of the Congregation of Eucharist Jesus Ksavera Julija Kuodytė came up to me and said: "I can no longer not tell Zdebskis who is now caring for the Kronika."
Establishment of the Underground TTGKK
When I met Zdebskis afterwards, our conversations became very practical - we tried to resolve the problem of the relationship between the underground Committee and theKronika. A little while later we traveled together (with Saulius Kelpša driving) to visit Bishop Steponavičius. Taking him along we traveled to a forest in Latvia and discussed the matter there. We decided that the underground TTGKK would continue its activities, but its documents would be announced in the Kronika in an informational form, i.e. the original texts would not be given, but their contents would be presented in other words.
I would meet with the members of the underground TTGKK from time to time to discuss the problems of publishing the Kronika, its delivery to the West, and other Church matters. If we had to make a more firm statement on some question, we would prepare it and sent it to the authorities in the name of the underground TTGKK. These meetings of the Committee were attended by Juozas Zdebskis, canon GvidonasDovidaitis, Petras Dumbliauskas SDB, Antanas Gražulis SJ, Lionginas Kunevičius, and me. We would usually meet in Tabariškiai (near Kaunas) at the home of Dumbliauskas or at the home of Dovidaitis in Pilviškiai.
Difficulties in Preparing the Kronika
After the arrest of Tamkevičius, unforeseen problems arose in the issuance of theKronika. The first number issued after the arrest was not distributed quickly. In October we issued the second number. In November during the Merciful Mother of the Gates of Dawn festivities, we learned that someone has issued a completely different version of the first post-arrest issue, which contained not current information, but articles about events in the previous century such as the Kražiai slaughter, etc. This news caused anxiety since I happened to hear that the KGB had told the witnesses being interrogated in the Tamkevičius case that the themes and style of articles in the Kronika had changed completely after the arrest of Tamkevičius. This raised anxiety because the KGB officers wanted to use this to prove that Tamkevičius was the editor of the Kronika.
Perhaps persons with good intentions had done this, wanting that the issuance of theKronika would not be broken... But this raised a very great anxiety for us, especially as this new edition, issued by who knows who, reached the West with suspicious speed (even though our real edition had already been received). We began to seek ways how to mark the real Kronika which was being sent to the West.
Someone could sense who was doing the most important work in the issuing of theKronika and eyes turned to Kybartai. Efforts were being made and pressure was being applied to replace the Sisters who were the main publishers of the Kronika and assistants in its transmission to the West. Such desires were even expressed in the congregations of the sisters. Undoubtedly, such 'reorganizations' would have very seriously hurt the harmony of the established ties of the publishers, the work itself, and its sending to the West. Bishop Steponavičius did not approve of this and postponed such initiatives. I also had the opportunity to participate in deciding these questions in my capacity as the spiritual father of the congregations. It is difficult to say whether this was inspired by the KGB to make the publication more difficult or by someone's sincere wish to help. All these events caused a lot nervous tension and worries. Those were the most difficult days in those times.
Due to my travels all around Lithuania the geography of information was extended. This made it more difficult for the KGB to find the sources of the information in the Kronika and its publication. On the other hand, there were also problems connected with articles received from other sources. We would received super patriotic articles and poetry.
Sometimes the information was very distorted. We feared that this could be the work of the KGB and that the paper of these articles could be marked by chemical or radioactive substances. Suspicions increased when somebody broke into the churches of Šiluva and Josvainiai where these articles had been hidden. We had to check and screen information. Bishop Steponavičius did not like the inclusion of poetry; he would say: "Facts, only facts!" But poetry was also needed. After reading the poetry, Bishop Steponavičius would say: "But make sure that there will not be too much or too frequent poetry."
My duties were to determine the order of the articles and to write the lead article. Sometimes I did not have the time or adequate conditions to write. In the year commemorating the Baptism of Lithuania, the KGB increased their work. In one issue of the Kronika instead of the lead article we placed the sermon 'Broken Crosses' by Jonas Lauriūnas, which many priests already knew well and had even used. We knew that this would not expose the author to any danger - in the event of interrogation he could explain that this sermon was already well known by many priests. We added our own addition to the conclusion of the sermon. Father Lauriūnas SJ in a half-joking, half-serious manner commented afterwards that we had stuck some patriotic sentences onto his sermon and a totally extremist ending.
The publishing of the 73rd issue was a dramatic event. All the material collected for this issue was buried in an underground hiding place in Kazlų Rūda. The KGB was already treading on our toes there: from November 1986 until the beginning of January 1987 a car was parked through both night and day with watchers who were replaced every few hours near the house. It was quite impossible to take the material since the ground was already frozen and any digging would be heard. At long last, after the weather became a little warmer, Sister Pija (Bronė Vazgelevičiūtė) decided to bring the material to us. Probably, some sheets of the articles had been marked by the KGB and she was followed. (Incidentally, when the material was removed from Kazlų Rūda, the car with the officers also disappeared). It was not possible to take the material to Kybartai so she brought it to Vilnius. However, using a typewriter in an apartment in a multi-story apartment buildings was also not safe. Then two copies of this issue were written by hand in part at my apartment and the other part at the apartment of the Sisters. It was decided to take one copy to the dissidents in Moscow for sending to the West (because it was impossible to photograph it) and to try to send the other copy through tourists. Sister Sadūnaitė volunteered to take the copy to Moscow.
However, both copies fell into the hands of the KGB during a search. (One copy torn up by Sadunaite and thrown into the toilet was pulledand pieced together by the KGB. It is in the KGB archive.) Sadūnaitė was detained, and the apartment of Sisters Vazgelevičiūte and Šuliauskaitė was searched and they were interrogated, but... Later that very evening Sadūnaitė was released from the KGB prison. Gorbachev's perestroyka had already started and, apparently, permission for arresting her was not given by Moscow.
In order to issue number no. 73 and send it to the West, we had to recreate it immediately. We had to restore it from our memory since all rough copies had already been destroyed. (We usually burned them in the bathtub and then threw the ashes into the toilet). We recreated the issue from memory and it reached the West. Vatican and other radio stations began broadcasting information from this issue. However, in recreating the issue from memory, several news items were not included.
Now when the doors of the KGB archives are open, we can see the shorthand notes on the margins of the texts from radio broadcasts: 'Why has this news item been left out?' (One of the news items was about the commemoration of Prof. Pranas Dovydaitis in the church in Pilviškiai). They compared the news items from the recordings of foreign radio broadcasts with the news items in the glued-up version and full copy taken from Vazgelevičiūtė and ... did not understand that they already had in their hands the original edition of the Kronika. They thought that it had to be somewhere else and that there were copies of the 73rd issue in addition to those they had seized. The fate of the Kronika was on the verge of disaster...
After this event KGB attention was directed to Kybartai. Searches were conducted at the home of the Sisters almost every week. Some important incriminating things were found, but they were not arrested. It was not clear what they were seeking? Maybe they wanted to intimidate and stop the activities without arrests? But even in such conditions of frequent searches and watching, the sisters from Kybartai worked, edited, typed, and the issues of the Kronika came out one after the other. This shows the great heroism of the Sisters: Bernadeta, Birute, Onute, and Virginija. They had to have not only courage but also the strong inner spiritual peace, which only faith and prayer can provide.
Assistance of Friends from the West
To publish the Kronika we needed not only dedicated people but also financial funds. For we had to have typewriters, at least several sets of typewriter letters (so that they would not have the same letters with which the very first issues had been typed), photographic equipment, and etc. We needed to send packages to those imprisoned for the Kronika and to support materially the members of their families. Lithuanian Americans helped us both in delivering the news of the Kronika to theworld and in providing the just mentioned financial support. When I was editing the Kronika, Rev. Antanas Saulaitis SJ from the U.S. or other visiting Jesuits usually provided us with the photographic equipment. When they could not (or did not know what) to bring from there, they would purchase here in the special foreign currency shop. Unfortunately, we could not accompany them to this shop because the KGB would have immediately understood for whom and for what purpose the photographic equipment was being purchased. Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid from the U.S.A. purchased 2 or 3 automobiles for the people who had contributed the most to the copying and technical maintenance of the Kronika. When I was editor, Rev. Antanas Gražulis SJ was the major supplier and supervisor of this equipment. He would care for the purchasing of typewriters and the replacement sets of letters and their conversion as well with preparing souvenirs in which to hide the photographic negatives for sending to the West.
Gintė Damušytė who at time worked for the Religious Aid (New York) showed a great deal of courage. The Soviet authorities would at times not allow her to visit Lithuania and she had to stay in Moscow. Gražulis would then travel to meet her. If there had not been people like her, if there had not been people dedicated to the Church and Lithuania there, we would not have been able to accomplish much. We thank them!
The Kronika stopped its publication when the Cathedral of Vilnius was returned, when Bishop Steponavičius came back from exile and Tamkevičius from a labor camp, and when it was possible to write the truth in the Sajūidis press which did obey Soviet censorship. The Kronika fulfilled its pledge that it will cease publication only when persecution is terminated and the Church regains freedom. Together with the return of the Vilnius Cathedral, the journal Kataliku pasaulis (The World of Catholics) began publication. Today we have the following other Catholic publications: Bažnyčios žinios (The Church News),XXI amžius (The XXI Century), Dienovidis (The Midday), Sandora (Concord), and Naujasis Židinys-Aidai (The New Hearth - Echoes).
Lord, what a blessing it is that you allowed us to contribute to this! Our greatest reward is that You chose us, that You allowed us to mediate when through Your church You extended Your sacrifice on the cross in our land. I wish also today that all of us would work in accordance with the old principle of those days: to work without looking at what other people are doing and to do everything that I can do here, now, in the place where God has placed me and allowed me to work for His greater glory. For the greater glory of the One who loves all of us.