21.9 Religious Persecution

No 21 : 11 September 1971

[1] Lithuania

PRIENAI. On 26 August Juozas Zdebskis, vicar of the Roman-Catholic church in Prienai, was arrested by officers of the Lithuanian Procuracy. J. Zdebskis is a popular figure among believers, and is well-known and respected by the Lithuanian intelligentsia [see CCE 18.10, item 18]. He had been teaching the catechism to children aged eight to nine who were preparing for their first communion. He had more than 200 pupils.

The arrest of Zdebskis was preceded by the following incidents.

On 16 July children accompanied by their parents assembled in the church to have their religious knowledge tested before their first communion. They were followed into the church by a group of ten persons (the chairman of the town Party committee, three teachers – to identify the children – and officials of State Security). They began to photograph the children and ask them their names. The children were frightened, one little girl losing consciousness. The State Security officials, seeing that Zdebskis had a notebook, demanded that he give it to them, but he refused.

On 18 July 89 parishioners submitted a protest at the “outrages against believers” to the Control Commission at the Party Central Committee. On 23 July a search of Juozas Zdebskis’ home was carried out – they were looking for the notebook containing lists of children preparing for communion, and a catechism, but they did not find them.

After the arrest of J. Zdebskis a group of believers from the Prienai parish assembled at the town Party committee building in order to protest, but they were not received. They then addressed a complaint about the illegal arrest of the priest to the Procuracy of the USSR. The protest was signed by 450 believers. Another protest from Prienai parishioners, with 350 signatures, was sent to the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Party and to the Lithuanian Procurator-General. [18]

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SIMNAS. The funeral of Mrs. Babarekaite, a parishioner of the Catholic church in the town of Simnas [in Alitus district], was held at the church in August.

Among those who came to take their leave of the deceased were many schoolchildren, who wished to lay flowers on the coffin. But at the doors of the church the children were stopped by Guseviciene, the head-mistress of the school. Later she demanded that the teachers at the school should write a collective complaint against the priest who had conducted the funeral. Believers of the parish addressed a protest to the Lithuanian Central Committee. They wrote that this was not the first time Guseviciene had violated the right to freedom of conscience—she had forced religious pupils to join the Komsomol against their will. The protest was signed by 692 persons.

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[2] Ukraine

KIEV. Olga Filippovna Skrebets, born 1938, a graduate of the Kiev Medical Institute, worked at the Institute for Tuberculosis.

In December 1970 the preliminary defence of her dissertation took place. In 1971 she announced that she was leaving the Communist Party on religious grounds and because of the events in Czechoslovakia. She was ordered to enter the Pavlov Hospital for psychiatric examination, where her condition was diagnosed as the initial stage of schizophrenia. O. F. Skrebets was dismissed from her job. At present she is working for the ambulance service.

[18. A further protest, signed by 2,000 parishioners and dated 19 September, is summarized in a New York Times dispatch of 26 September.]