Pope John Paul II Denounces Communist Regimes
for Persecuting Catholics
THE SITUATION IN LITHUANIA
Lithuania is one nation where a greater part of the population, in spite of bitter persecution, is still Catholic. There are 2,542,000 Catholics in that country, where the total population is only 3,178,000. The persecution of the Church by Russian Communism has caused the Church of Jesus Christ to pay dearly. There were more Catholics in Lithuania before the Communist Regime took over than there are now. There were approximately 2,875,000 people in Lithuania in 1940 who were Catholic. By 1956 the Communists in power had exiled, 875 priests, another 230 more priests had been forced to leave Lithuania. In 1956 already, seven hundred priests and seven hundred monks and nuns had been forcibly sent to suffer severely in Siberia since the beginning of the Communist occupation of Lithuania.
Lithuania today still experiences severe religious oppression. Convents and seminaries have been shut down by the Communists. The Catholic press and religious education programs are forbidden. The Catholic Church is founded by Jesus Christ and its members have the inalienable God-given right to practice, to profess and openly teach the Catholic faith. Yet Satan, through his human agents, the Communists, is persecuting our Catholic brothers and sisters in Lithuania and in other Eastern European countries under Communist control.
POPE JOHN PAUL II
IN EARLY 1984
| Photo of Byzantine Icon in the Church of Saint Saviour in Leningrad. The Soviet authorities changed this church and many others into museums, after closing down, between 1917 and 1980, all but 7,000 of the original 54,147 churches that were open in Russia 1914, in their attempt to spiritually starve the enslaved people of Russia in 1914 and Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe.
The pope has made public statements on the Church in Lithuania, Albania and Russia. On a February 26 visit to Bari, a seaport in southeastern Italy, the pope decried conditions of the Church in Albania and in the Soviet Union.
At Bari, while remarking that the Catholic Faith still exists in Russia despite persecution, the pope said that, “my thought extends even to our brothers and sisters of Albania who cannot openly express their faith, a fundamental right of the human person.”
Pope John Paul II prayed for Lithuania March 3-4 during Vatican celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Casimir, patron saint of Lithuania and Poland.
In his talk, the pope urged the people of Lithuanian descent to pray for the people in Lithuania and to “preserve with care” their religious and cultural traditions.
St. Casimir’s life “of purity and prayer beckons you to practice your Faith with courage and zeal and to reject the deceptive attractions of modern permissive society, and to live your convictions with fearless confidence and joy,” the pope said March 3 to 1,000 people of Lithuania.
The religious situation in Lithuania may be reaching a critical stage. Recently, a petition bearing the signatures of over 130,000 Catholics was presented to Soviet authorities demanding the release of two Lithuanian priests recently sentenced to prison.
Vatican radio reported that the petition signers were fined and the Soviet minister of justice appeared on television, threatening to arrest and prosecute those who collected the signatures.
The priests were sentenced for “slandering the Soviet Republic”. They claimed that they were merely speaking out against abuses by Soviet authorities against the rights of believers, abuses in violation of the Soviet constitution and the Helsinki accords that guarantee freedom of religion.
The pope recalled the plight of Catholics in Lithuania who have known religious persecution since their country was annexed to the Soviet Union during World War II.
“Be firm in preaching the gift of the Christian Faith which you have received, remembering how your ancestors preserved and defended it even to the shedding of their blood. And come to the aid of those living in Lithuania by making fervent petitions to God and commending them to the care of St. Casimir.”