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At St. Louis Catholic parish, Father Franas Racijunas told us of his time in Siberia at forced labor as a coal miner. He used to offer Mass secretly in an unworked gallery underground during his daily shift. Now he celebrates publicly next door to the KGB headquarters!

After Moscow, we proceeded to visit four republics: Lithuania, Latvia, Byelorussia and the Ukraine.

Lithuania. We flew to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, on a regularly scheduled flight of the Soviet airline, Aeroflot. Much to our surprise we were escorted off the plane ahead of the other passengers. On the tarmac, a group of bishops in cassocks and young girls in traditional costumes greeted us with flowers!

We met with Archbishop Julian Steponavicius and celebrated Mass “privately” at SS. Peter and Paul Church with an enthusiastic crowd of worshipers that overflowed into the square outside.

In the crypt of St. Theresa’s Church, families remember their loved ones. A woman asked us to pray over her father’s remains, just returned from Siberia, where he died after 37 years of exile.

The next day we drove to Kaunas for festive concelebrated Mass with the archbishop, Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevicius, and the entire Lithuanian hierarchy. Later we visited the seminary and then met with all the Lithuanian bishops together.

Latvia. Driving from Lithuania to Latvia, we detoured to visit the Hill of the Crosses. Thousands of crosses, large and small, studded the hillside – a testimony of faith, resistance and national sentiment.

In Latvia, the delegation met with the two active bishops there, the apostolic administrator of Riga and Liepaja, Bishop Janis Cakuls, and the auxiliary, Bishop Vilhelms Nukss.

In Riga, the seminary is being rebuilt by the students themselves under the direction of one of the priests who is also an architect. All during the years of persecution, except for Lithuania, this one small seminary in Latvia was the only place to prepare Catholic priests for the entire Soviet Union.

Byelorussia. In the Slavic republic of Byelorussia we were the guests of the newly consecrated bishop of Minsk, Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the only Catholic bishop in Byelorussia. At that time we met also with and were briefed by the new apostolic nuncio to the Soviet Union, Archbishop Francesco Colasuonno.

The day before we arrived in Grodno, Bishop Tadeusz had just opened a seminary. Two weeks before, the authorities had given him back an old convent, long used as a government clinic. Immediately, hundreds of volunteers had spruced up part of the old building. It was hard to believe that the 40 serious young men studying had just arrived.

Ukraine. Of the 10 Greek-Catholic bishops in the Ukraine, our delegation met in Lvov with the senior prelate in the republic, Metropolitan Volodymr Sterniuk, the administrator of Lvov, and Bishop Ivan Semedi of the diocese of Ivano Frankovsk.

We squeezed into the 9-foot by 15-foot room in an old apartment block that Archbishop Volodymr has used for home, chapel, and office for the past 30 years, since he was released from prison. His space was tiny, but his heart is great!

Visits were also made to churches, seminaries, and other institutions suggested by the bishops.

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Tags: CNEWA Catholic Orthodox Church Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Soviet Union