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Traditional Catholic Faith => Art and Literature for Catholics => Topic started by: poche on September 22, 2018, 04:36:01 AM

Title: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 22, 2018, 04:36:01 AM
I entered the Kaunas diocesan seminary still during the times of Khrushchev, in 1955. Probably, I was lucky since no one tried to recruit me to be a spy, no one threatened me with anything for which I could have been expelled from the seminary if I did not do. In the third year of my studies, I was called to serve in the army and upon returning encountered a different situation: both the administration of the seminary itself and its spirit had changed. The former rector of the seminary Kazimieras Žitkus (Vincas Stonis) was replaced by Rev. Alfonsas Lapė. I was unpleasantly surprised by some seminarians who agitated for eliminating prayer. When in the summer of 1961 I was called to the Lazdijai district passport division, from which I was delivered to the KGB department where the officer Jonas insistently urged me to "be a friend," I understood who had mixed up the seminary's spirit. Although the bloody period of Stalin was fading, ever denser clouds were gathering over the Homeland and the Church. The 'always correct and never misleading' communist party was planning 'a bright future' for us, which nationalism and religion could hinder. The Council for Religious Affairs diligently implemented the party's program - to destroy religious belief. Not only were the activities of the seminary restricted, but attempts were made to isolate the priests in their parish houses behind a barbed wire of laws and instructions. Punishments ranging from a ban to carry out the duties of a priest to imprisonment threatened those who did not obey them. There was a lack of necessary articles for believers: catechisms, prayer books, and even rosary beads. Under such circumstances one had to decide whom to obey: God or a man? The first opposition steps that led to the origin of the Kronika were made at this time.
Like-minded priests from time to time met to discuss current events and questions concerning priest affairs. The vague future was one of the greatest problems: scores of priests passed away every year, while the seminary admitted only five students each year, leaving other candidates behind the seminary's gates. The plan of the Soviet authorities was clear: to reduce the number of priests to a minimum as quickly as possible, to lock up those working in their parish houses, and make some of the priests their agents. In this way, the Church will be fatally injured - after losing its pastors, it will lie still in agony.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 23, 2018, 03:53:15 AM
  What to Do?
This question made everyone who cared for Church affairs feel uneasy. In 1968 while discussing Church problems, the idea arose to demand the abolishment of the limit on the number of students admitted to the seminary and to try to notify the free world about the persecution of the Church.
The first petitions, which frightened both the communist party and state security, were begun in the dioceses of Telsiai and Vilkaviskis and some of the priests who signed them were scolded and others were forbidden to carry out their priestly duties. It was a very difficult, but possible, task to pass through the iron curtain at that time. We began by typing with a typewriter some information on a white fabric which was then sewn into a dress of a woman traveling to the U.S.A. Later we succeeded in establishing ties with Moscow dissidents. Arimantas Raskinis, who was studying in Moscow, got acquainted with Sergei Kovalev, who became a great friend of Lithuanians.
In 1969 I was deprived of the right to work as a priest and had to find other employment. That summer together with another priest sharing the same fate, Juozas Zdebskis, I worked at the Prienai Melioration Works. We were hired by the superintendent, engineer Jurgis Brilius. He helped us to leave the melioration work and do church work. During that year I gained new acquaintances and acquired experience in working under underground conditions. That year was a real favor of God - it gave me that which I had not acquired in the seminary. It became clear to me and other priests that the Soviet registration certificate which granted the right to work as a priest was not salvation. The most important thing, as exiled Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius said at that time, was to have God's registration certificate.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 24, 2018, 04:15:49 AM
  In Simnas
My appointment to Simnas as a vicar was another favor of God because I had a good pastor Juozas Matulevičius and enough spare time. In meetings with other priests we started discussing the press question: a publication which would awaken national and especially religious consciousness and would reflect the problems of Catholic life was very necessary. The necessity to issue such a publication was supported by the majority of zealous priests, especially Juozas Zdebskis. At that time Zdebskis, Antanas Šeškevičius SJ, and Prosperas Bubnys MIC had been sentenced for teaching children.
With the assistance of Petras Plumpa, I prepared the first issue of the publication. We chose the name Vivos voco for the publication and wanting the Church to bless it, I visited exiled Bishop Sladkevičius and showed him the prepared material. On the bishop's desk I saw the Polish newspaper 'Chronicle', and the 'Chronicle of Current Events' was very popular in Moscow. The bishop looked through the material, thought a little, praised the idea of issuing a publication, even if it was modest, and suggested the name Kronika. The Bishop expressed his opinion: "Would it not be good if the publication would describe some event and then add a brief commentary? Would not such a publication be the most necessary?" There was nothing to do except support the good idea. In this way Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius became the godfather of the Lietuvos Katalikų Bažnyčios Kronika (The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania). Having received the approval of the bishop, I brought the completed publication to Jonas Danyla SJ because the approval of my direct superior (at that time he was the Provincial superior of Lithuania's Jesuits) was necessary for such an important step. Danyla doubted that I would be able to find material, but approved the proposal.
Petras Plumpa corrected and rewrote the first issue. Some articles were rewritten by the sister of the Congregation of the Holy Family Genovaite Navickaite, and I finished the remaining part which after binding I gave to acquaintances. In this way in the first half of March 1972, the first issue of the Kronika appeared in a small room in the Simnas parish house*. Honoring Juozas Zdebskis who was imprisoned in the Praveniskes camp at that time, I wrote the date - the 19th of March. Plumpa promised to make about 100 copies of each issue of the Kronika. He had lots of experience in this field since he had published several religious books using an ERA copying machine located in the attic of a house on Kalniecių Street in Kaunas.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 24, 2018, 11:28:35 PM
  Gathering Information
When I began publishing the Kronika, I did not think of its periodicity. We would prepare an issue when a sufficient number of articles was collected. Actually, it turned out that collecting enough material was quite difficult. We could not place an ad in the main republican daily newspaper Tiesa (Truth)* stating that an underground publication wanted to receive stories about the crimes of Soviet authorities, violations of human rights. Fortunately, I had a large group of priests, nuns, and laymen whom I could trust, who would not betray me and knew how to keep silent. Their justice, honesty, and desire to help were guaranteed. They were very concerned about the affairs of the Church, but perhaps lacked experience.
Not all people easily told or wrote about their troubles especially if they knew that their stories would be published in the Kronika. Often even very good people preferred to be unknown - they did not want to attract the attention of the KGB and maybe even face interrogation. Nevertheless, there were priests and laymen who very bravely supplied the material they had. One of them was the Rev. Bronius Laurinavičius.
At first everyone did not understand why it was necessary to register and publicize the facts of persecution. Those who did not want to write about some event would make the excuse: "Everyone already knows what the Soviet authorities are doing!" But we wanted to present as many facts of brave opposition as possible so that other people could learn from them. Such articles in the Kronika especially helped people to overcome fear and decide to oppose evil.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 27, 2018, 03:38:39 AM
 Some of the articles we received were written with a typewriter; people more aware of the situation would send the fourth or fifth copy. Nevertheless, the majority of the information was written by hand. There was a real danger that the KGB would find the original texts during a search and then be able to identify without great difficulty their authors. So, one of the major concerns was to hide the hand written texts very well and to rewrite them with a typewriter as quickly as possible. I examined my room scores of times and considered all possibilities, but failed to find a suitable hiding place. I did not dare to share my problems with the other good people living in the parish house and load them with such a problem. Perhaps, without reason? It was quite inconvenient and risky to give material to other people for concealment. I rejected this thought at least initially. Seeking a solution to the problem, I went to the Simnas church, where I walked from corner to corner, examining attics, looking and looking... A hiding place had to be both secure and easily accessible. Thus, for several years the Lord hid a large number of hand written articles in the Simnas church. Upon receiving an article or a short news items, I would immediately wrap and place it in the most secure (as it seemed to me) place. After a while it would occur to me that the hiding place was not safe and I would look for a new place in which they would be safe from rats and evil people.
The typewriter on my desk was like a time bomb - it could be confiscated and examined at any moment. Where could I hide it so that it would not be a danger in the months when articles were being collected? It was quite large and could not be hidden in a crack. I had the idea to obtain another set of letters for the typewriter so that I could use one set for the Kronika and the other - for official correspondence even to the KGB. I succeeded in buying several sets of typewriter levers in a shop in Pushkin Street in Moscow. We replaced the Russian alphabet with a Lithuanian alphabet, and the dangerous typewriter was on the desk only when an issue of the Kronika was being typed. It took about 20 minutes for the 'operation' after which a totally innocent object for the KGB remained on the desk. My colleagues also easily mastered this operation. The removed letters fit in the palm of a hand and could be easily placed in a pocket and taken away for concealment.
To diminish further the incriminating evidence I sometimes also changed the dangerous alphabet. I would alter some letters using a soldering iron or pliers and readjust the knocking position of some letters. Later, during various interrogations, I learned that these operations had perfectly misled experts seeking to determine the ‘guilty’ typewriter.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 28, 2018, 03:25:14 AM
  First Colleagues
When I began editing the Kronika, I recognized the need to find colleagues as I did not trust my literary talents. While working in Vilkaviskis, I became acquainted with the brother of my pastor Konstantinas Ambrasas - the Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras Ambrasas. I found him in Leipalingis in his brother's home and told him about my concern. I was very happy that Kazimieras did not hesitate to help. We would agree beforehand when he would visit his brother and after preparing the next issue, I would hide it under my shirt and travel to Leipalingis. I did not inform Konstantinas about this so that he would be worried. A few days later I would travel again to Leipalingis and bring back the corrected text to Simnas. After making the operation on the typewriter - replacing the alphabet - I would retype the issue in a few days. Kazimieras made all the corrections by hand and thus the risk was very great. The KGB could have confiscated the texts on my trips or during the retyping and easily identified who had assisted me. I think that Kazimieras also understood this, but he worked and did not show any fear. I only saw the great desire to help. Of course, this could not last long, especially after the KGB started making searches on a mass scale and started case no. 345.
The work with the Kronika became much easier when Sister Elena Šuliauskaite began to help. For several long years the major portion of the work was loaded on her shoulders. I knew what dangers threatened her. She was also aware of them, but we trusted in God and continued working.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on October 18, 2018, 11:47:12 PM
Friends of Lithuania
  The editing of an issue of the Kronika was only half the work. Everyone with whom I discussed the matter agreed that the Kronika would only fulfill its role when the information it contained was distributed not only in Lithuania but also the free world. At that time we did not have the capabilities to make and disseminate many copies of the underground publication because only typewriters were available and other more efficient methods of copying were strictly controlled. After a lot of hard work, Vytautas Vaičiūnas managed to assemble an ERA copying machine which enabled us, always risking arrest, to make several hundred copies and to distribute them in Lithuania.
The most difficult task arose: "How to send the Kronika to the West?" At the time we started publishing the Kronika only a very small number of tourists from the West visited our country and they could not deviate from the established route, let alone travel from Vilnius to rural areas. Moreover, any passed on issues could always be discovered during searches at the customs department.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on November 05, 2018, 11:46:01 PM
 Our attention again turned to Moscow. We restored our ties with Sergei Kovalev and received his permission to bring him the latest issue of the Kronika. And from there friends of Lithuania in Moscow helped to send the issue to the West. Sometimes we waited for a very long period until 'Radio Liberty' or 'Vatican Radio' announced that a new issue of the Kronika had reached the West. We were very happy to hear this news. We realized later that we should bring two copies of the issue to Moscow and not one - one copy was necessary for the editors of The Chronicle of Current Events who would translate suitable material into Russian and place it in their publication while the other copy could be handed over immediately to Western correspondents.
With great gratitude and honor I mention Lithuania's friends in Moscow: the calm Sergei Kovalev, the always smiling Aleksandr Lavut, the very practical Tatyana Velikanova, the seething with energy priest Gleb Yakunin, etc. All of us, people of very different nationalities, religions, and social groups, were united by the joint task to inform the world how human rights were being violated in the Soviet Union. We were convinced that this information was the most important weapon fighting against the slavery being implemented by the totalitarian system.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on November 10, 2018, 11:58:05 PM
 Trips to Moscow were very dangerous - one could attract the attention of the KGB anywhere and be detained. Thus, after they introduced passport check at airports, it was no longer sensible to use air planes. To obtain a seat for the Moscow train in Vilnius or Kaunas was also a risky enterprise because railway stations were one of the most watched places. There was an alternative - to get a seat in the Moscow train at a station not in Lithuania.
The trips to Moscow were usually very romantic. Some friend, for instance Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas, would drive me to some place in Byelorussia from where I would hitch-hike to Minsk. I would buy a ticket there, and by taking the train around 20:00 would arrive in Moscow early in the morning. This route seemed to be quite safe. When I lived in Kybartai, I would travel to Chernyakhovsk to buy tickets.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on February 23, 2019, 11:59:34 PM
 Often I traveled to Moscow alone, although sometimes I had a companion who would protect me by carrying the dangerous material. May the Lord reward those (the nuns Nijole Sadūnaite, Brone Vazgelevčiūtė, and others) who risked their freedom so that the Kronika would be safe.
After arriving in Moscow it was very risky to go to the apartment of any dissident and we therefore always agreed in advance where we would meet the next time. The Moscow residents would give a specific address, and we would agree on the date and time of the meeting. I was amazed by their punctuality and sense of responsibility - for a long period there was not a single instance when they did not arrive at the agreed time (except several times when they were a little late for serious reasons). They would take the Kronika from us, and later also Aušra and in return give us The Chronicle of Current Events and very often something from the current samizdat publications, such as The Gulag Archipelago. After exchanging the publications and discussing the latest events, we separated - they returned to their working places, while I would wait for the train to Vilnius.
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 02, 2019, 10:48:11 PM
The Fr. Tamkevecius of these chronicles was made a cardinal by Pope Francis yesterday.
:) :) :) 
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on December 31, 2019, 04:47:48 AM
To Whom to Send?
At the beginning it was not even clear to whom to send the Kronika in the West. I knew that there was a Catholic daily newspaper Draugas ('Friend'). So, after finding the address of its editorial staff, I wrote this address on the cover sheet of our publication and sent it. We were convinced that it did not matter to whom our publication was sent as long as it did not get into the hands of the communists. Later I became acquainted with Rožė Šomkaite from the U.S.A., who told me about Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, Inc., about its director Rev. KazimierasPugevičius, and about their efforts to help Lithuania. Afterwards I would write to this address. Today I think that the Lord sent needed people when they were needed the most. Such people were Šomkaite, Pugevičius, later the nuns from Putnam (Connecticut, U.S.A.), and other people.
The KGB undoubtedly understood in what ways the samizdat was reaching the West and tried to block them. The most active dissidents were detained one after the other: Kovalev, Velikanova, Lavut, Yakunin, and others. With time, the road of the Kronika through Moscow became more difficult. However, at that time tourists from the U.S.A. began to arrive more and more frequently. It would have been very easy way to give the issue of the Kronika to some tourist from the West asking him to sent it to the indicated address, but the issue could not only be confiscated at the customs but also make many difficulties for to the tourist. What should be done?
Title: Re: The Cronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
Post by: poche on September 06, 2020, 11:03:14 PM
While I was serving in the Soviet army, I took a large number of photographs and thus decided to make microfilms and hide them in a souvenir, which would be given to a tourist from a western country. This method served successfully for a long period of time. I would photograph the just completed issue of the Kronika. The full issue would fit in a very small package that could be easily hidden. Then, I had to only pray and wait for a guest from the West who would have the desire and sufficient courage to take a little risk. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but from numerous cases only one guest refused to take the microfilm and to stop me from crying gave me a pack of cigarettes ... I now understand that one can not demand from anyone more than he is able to give. I am amazed how very much the tourists loved Lithuania if after a brief explanation they would immediately say: "Good. I will take it."
When I was a guest in the U.S.A., I visited Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid and examined the Kronika issues and microfilms, which had arrived from Lithuania. I did not find everything that was sent; some issues disappeared in Moscow during searches and others some where on their way to the West. However, I was very happy to find more than one issue of the Kronika which SOMEONE had sent to the West. Thank God, that at that difficult time there were many who cared for the affairs of the Church and their Homeland. (