LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 39, No.2 - Summer 1993
Editor of this issue: Robertas Vitas, Lithuanian Research & Studies Center
Copyright © 1993 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
A CHRONICLE ABOUT IRELAND, LITHUANIA, AND A MARIAN STATUE
William L. Wolkovich-Valkavičius
"A vast field for the apostolate has opened up on the national and international levels where most of all the laity are called upon to be stewards of Christian wisdom." "... they [laity] should make the weight of their opinion felt, so that civil authority may act with justice ..."1 This chronicle illustrates the action of a Lithuanian-loving Irish native "on the national and international levels" in response to the invitation of the Second Vatican Council for lay initiative.
Teachers in twentieth century Ireland would sometimes direct school children to write a paper, comparing their country with another predominantly Catholic nation. These mentors were accustomed to specify Lithuania or Poland as examples. Though there has been no major political or economic link between Ireland and Lithuania in the 1900s, nevertheless several key commonalities gave rise to a fascinating episode of 1976 which culminated in 1983. It all began with the Helsinki Agreement of August 1,1975.
More than thirty nations, including Ireland, the United States, and the Soviet Union signed this document embracing three broad categories of issues: security and human rights; economic, academic, and technological cooperation; and cultural exchange in various fields of human endeavor. This Helsinki accord took root in the heart of at least one man in Ireland, Dublin attorney T.C. [Thomas Christopher] Gerard O'Mahony. This solicitor was born on April 7,1918 in Dundalk County, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He attended the local Christian Brothers' school at Dundalk and then University College in Dublin. In his youth, O'Mahony was influenced by the spirit of the Legion of Mary, a lay apostolate, quite strong in parts of Ireland. He passed the bar in 1943, and shortly moved to Dublin where he built up a busy practice together with his wife, Maire, also a lawyer. Among his achievements, he pioneered a cooperative homebuilding program that enabled hundreds of blue-collar workers to construct their own homes at minimal cost. He also engaged in ecumenical activities and public rosary recitation.
By 1975, a seasoned solicitior and man of faith, O'Mahony thoughtfully pondered the Helsinki Agreement. He concluded that forging bonds of a religious nature between nations would be quite in keeping with the meaning of the text. Accordingly, he decided to focus attention especially on Lithuania because its size, population, predominant Catholicism, and history of persecution strikingly matched the fate of Ireland. The following year of 1976 furnished further impetus for O'Mahony and his small band of activists called the "Christian Community Centre."
The Anglican and Church of England Synod urged that August Fifteenth be accepted as a distinct feastday to honor the Holy Virgin Mary. Already a holyday of Mary's Assumption among Roman Catholics, the welcome ecumenical pronouncement moved O'Mahony to arrange a novena of Saturday devotions, starting June 19 and ending in mid-August. The service, consisting of rosary, bible readings, and hymns, was conducted on O'Connell Street, the main thoroughfare of Dublin, in front of the G.P.O, i.e. General Post Office. [A wide median strip in the middle of O'Connell Street allows for such gatherings.]
The Irish lawyer also proposed "twinning" Lithuanian parishes and dioceses with suitable counterparts in both the north and south of Ireland. O'Mahony was convinced that this plan would succeed because the Soviet ambassador, Antoli Kaplin, had earlier given assurance to the crusader on March 14 that Lithuanian Catholics "enjoy full religious freedom." To add a further spiritual touch to his efforts, O'Mahony and his cohorts scheduled a rosary service in front of the Soviet Embassy gates at 75 Ailesbury Road in the Ballsbridge section of Dublin for Sunday, June 27. 2
Several months later, it happened that an elderly Dublin couple was moving from spacious quarters into a more modest home. They would no longer have adequate room to continue displaying a three-foot statue of the Madonna in their possession, so they chose to donate it to O'Mahony in the hope that he would find some appropriate use. Simple painted plaster image though it was, this gift sparked an idea in the lawyer's imagination. Why not send the statue to Soviet-occupied Lithuania as an expression of spiritual solidarity? And who would be the most suitable messenger to deliver it? Anatoli Kaplin, the Soviet representative in Ireland, of course! So O'Mahony arranged in 1976 another public novena, beginning on November 30 and ending on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. He invited the mayor of Dublin and the Irish Foreign Minister to participate in the statue send-off ceremony. To the Soviet ambassador, the forthright lawyer unabashedly wrote: "Your Excellency, I have the honor to inform you ..." The length and detailed letter continued with engaging innocence:
We respectfully request your cooperation in our approach to our fellow-believers in Lithuania so that they can join us in our prayerful quest for Christian Peace. This cooperation will contribute to the cultural exchange sought by you between Irish people and their counterparts in the U.S.S.R. ... This statue is offered as a symbol of the prayerful union between Irish people and Lithuanian Christians ....
Furthermore, O'Mahony offered information about the ceremony, noting the exact intended recipient, i.e. Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, Apostolic Administrator of the Vilnius archdiocese a shrewd O'Mahony designation indeed. At the time, the bishop had been a Soviet exile to Žagarė, Northern Lithuania, since 1961, unable to perform his administrative duties. As to the precise timetable for the statue delivery, O'Mahony explained:
We respectfully ask, that you use your good offices and those of your Embassy to ensure that the statue from Dublin will reach Bishop Steponavičius by the following Tuesday (30 November). Thus the No-vena of Prayer in Lithuania can synchronise with the Novena in Ireland and elsewhere.3
No doubt the Soviet official flinched a bit more when he read that "these ceremonies will coincide with similar ceremonies in Dublin, Belfast, London, and the Capital Cities of many other countries." O'Mahony further informed the ambassador on the passage of the statue from Dublin to London where there would be a welcoming reception at Heathrow Airport Chapel the same Sunday. The next day the sacred image was to travel from London to Moscow, arriving at 5 P.M. There, too, a Marian service would be held at the church of St. Louis to which diplomatic representatives were being invited. O'Mahony's dream continued with the hope that the Marian figure would reach Bishop Steponavičius in Vilnius for a tour throughout Lithuania beginning on November 30. Then on Sunday, December 5, the prelate would join his brother bishop, Juozapas Matulaitis-Labukas, to concelebrate Mass at the famed shrine of Our Lady of Šiluva. "This will coincide with a similar ceremony at Knock, Ireland's National Marian Shrine," O'Mahony cheerfully informed the Soviet official. The entire nine-day interval of prayer would dose in Vilnius at the Gate of Dawn [Aušros Vartai] Marian shrine with another concelebrated Eucharist on December 8.4
If all that wasn't enough for the ambassador to digest, O'Mahony presumptuously described his intention, "as an exchange in Cultural Relations," to provide Ireland's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, with recordings of the various prayer observances in Dublin so that he might bring them to Russia on December 14 to give to Bishop Stephonavičius. "Now it's up to Dr. FitzGerald," challenged the Irish Catholic of December 2, 1976, in its story about the statue aftermath. The editor's headline was one of the few public declarations of support for O'Mahony and his backers. Understandably perhaps, the Irish Foreign Minister had no interest in packing the recordings in his luggage en route to the Soviet Union while on official business.
Coming to the end of O'Mahony's 1,000-word communication, Kaplin must have wondered at the daring of the sender. "If we shall have presumed too much in your expressed desire for Cultural Relations between our respective Countries at this period of time," O'Mahony noted, "we would ask in the alternative that you attend the presentation ... and make the statue available to a few married women who have volunteered to vary a lecture tour in some of the European Capitals ..." The informant stressed the goal "to make the statue available to Bishop Steponavičius and the Lithuanian People by 30 November." At least the Soviet ambassador should be kind enough "to issue the necessary visas in good time, and any other travel papers."5
One wonders how often Ambassador Kaplin received such challenging mail. In any case, he felt compelled to take the letter seriously and to reply, however briefly, through his secretary, A. Trofimov. Because of Soviet church-state separation, Kaplin could not "undertake actions relating to the competence of the Church." Instructing his enthusiastic petitioner, the ambassador admonished that "if you wish to establish contact with the Church of [the] Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, the right way for you would be to do it directly [emphasis in original]." To assuage O'Mahony, the official insisted that "the Lithuanian Church has full freedom to consider proposals contained in your letter." 6
Meanwhile, O'Mahony had petitioned his own Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honorable Garret Fitzgerald, to arrange through the Irish ambassador to the Soviet Union for a Mass in Moscow when the statue was to arrive on November 29. Likewise, the Minister was asked to bring with him to Moscow some recordings of the novena in Dublin. The answer was negative. "As I think you will appreciate," replied Fitzgerald, "the particular matters which you have raised are private ones which do not fall within the normal range of activities appropriate to the Irish diplomatic representatives abroad or to a Foreign Minister paying an official visit to another State." 7
Idealist O'Mahony was not satisfied with the response. The statue, after all, was "an expression of a peace-loving sentiment held on a national scale in Ireland and shared by communities abroad." Culture cannot be separated from religion, "a potent force for peace everywhere," O'Mahony reminded the Minister. The activist rejected the notion that taking part in a peace endeavor was somehow "alien to the normal activities of an Irish Diplomat." Rather, "it is much more than a private matter." Accordingly, O'Mahony repeated his original request for cooperation, along with an invitation to be present for the statue presentation. Finally, would not the Minister intervene with the pro-communist Irish-Russian Society "which purports to develop cultural relations between Russia and Ireland?" As it happened, Fitzgerald was out of the country attending the European Council meeting at The Hague at the time of the statue ceremony. In any case, his later reply indicated that he had "nothing to add" to his original explanation.8
The farewell rites for the statue did take place on schedule, despite the predictable absence of the Soviet ambassador. "Soviets ignore statue offer," ran the bold headline of the next day (29 Nov.) in Cork Examiner. Patrick Turner, a spokesman for O'Mahony's Christian Community Movement, described the Soviet rebuff as "a studied insult." The disappointing failure of Mr. James Mitchell, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the Foreign Minister's office to participate notwithstanding, a Lithuanian nativeFr. Valentine Kamaitis of the Lithuanian mission in Manchester, Englandacted as principal concelebrant of Mass in English at 3 p.m. in the centrally-located church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Dublin's Sean McDermott Street. A throng of one thousand people participated. After the blessing of the Madonna, a group of women processed along O'Connell Street to the General Post Office, as they prayed the rosary and sang hymns. Surrounding an elaborate stand equipped with a loudspeaker system, a crowd of sympathizers witnessed the final farewell rite. Among the guests were several members of the Dublin Corporation, the powerful conglomerate engaged in renewing city buildings on a long-range basis.
Following the ceremonies, Father Kamaitis took the sacred image and flew it to London. At Heathrow Airport, Fr. John Sakevičius, M.I.C. solemnly welcomed the statue whose arrival created a mild sensation in that country. Reporters from The [Manchester] Guardian, and the British Broadcasting Corporation were on hand to record the event. "Russians Stop Our Lady," the Guardian headline informed readers in its issue of December 3, 1976. "A plaster statue of Our Lady," the story began: "blessed and hallowed to the cause of world peace, has been the subject of five tense days of diplomatic dispute between East-West countries. It is today resting in the quiet vestibule of an East London [Lithuanian] church, after becoming stranded between Ireland and the Soviet Union."
In a last-ditch effort, O'Mahony "turned to the Polish Ambassador in London for help." The Embassy secretary assured the Irishman of "cooperation in flying the statue later today as freight to Warsaw for further transit to Lithuania." Nevertheless, this plan was not implemented, noted the Guardian. London Lithuanians, it seems, preferred to find a direct route to Lithuania or to wait for a future opportunity. Meanwhile, O'Mahony's address was published so Lithuanians in England could offer personal thanks. 9
If any people of Lithuanian origin missed reading about the episode, the Lithuanian publication, Šaltinis, offered a summary in its next issue (Nr. 6,1976), including a radio interview by reporter Bobby Miles questioning Solicitor O'Mahony and Father Sakevičius. The Irishman testified that when his efforts failed in Dublin, he had hoped the Soviet ambassador in London would provide safe passage for the statue.
For weeks thereafter, the statue traveled from one church to another, including Westminster Cathedral, as the object of attention during various Marian devotions. The modest sculpture included a stay at the Gate of Dawn (Aušros Vartai) chapel, the Lithuanian mission in Nottingham, directed by the Marian Fathers, and then returned to London to the Hackney section of the city.
News of the gift statue, despite its undelivered condition, enormously lifted the morale of the intended recipients. The samidzat Lithuanian Catholic Church Chronicle expressed its thanks in a 1976 Christmas message. The secret publication smuggled out to the West declared:
On November 29 the Vatican radio aired an unexpected and most welcome message that you, the Catholics of Ireland, have prepared a beautiful gift of usa statue of the most holy mother of God, and were preparing to bring it to Vilnius. The Soviet government obstructed only the delivery of the gift, but the government was impotent in blocking the message of your love and solidarity with us who suffer. These gifts are the most precious of all for the persecuted Catholics of Lithuania. Therefore, Irish brethren, accept the sincerest thanks of us Catholics of Lithuania, for the gift, for your love, and for your defense of our rights. May God reward you, you who yourselves have withstood so many trials, and yet remain so sensitive to the fate of your distant brethren!10
In the months of winter in 1977, O'Mahony's CCC members continued to give life to their slogan"Christian Peace in Ireland, Lithuania, and elsewhere in the hearts of all Rulers." A memorandum of February 3 expressed the scope of concern. The announcement included the need of prayer for goals such as the impending election in Ireland and its spiritually "apathetic state" as perceived by CCC, and notice of the forthcoming review of the Helsinki Agreement in Belgrade on June 15. CCC also envisioned a cultural and concert tour appealing to people of good will in Holland, Belgium, West Germany, and perhaps even Poland. Another CCC memorandum, dated February 15, urged an "avalanche of prayer," especially the intercession of the Holy Virgin Mary, in the face of "the troubles in Northern Ireland [that] have not abated, and a solution appears to defy human ingenuity. Hence the aid of prayer is most essential."
Meanwhile, Vitas Szinarvičius, a barrister-counsellor at the Soviet Embassy in Ireland, decided that it might appease O'Mahony and his partisans to suggest that he visit Lithuania. The Guardian of March 20,1977, expressed what proved to be an ill-founded hope with the amusing headline, "Pilgrims making progress." There was even talk of an opportunity to "demonstrate some of our cultureto include Gaelic Football, Hurling, Handball, Irish Step Dance, etc." A visit to the physical culture department of Kaunas University would also be desirable. O'Mahony and his followers were ready to recruit a busload of some fifty pilgrims that summer at their own considerable expense of between seven and ten thousand pounds. Accordingly, CCC representatives met at the Soviet Embassy with Szinarvičius on April 6,1977. To their dismay, the inquirers learned that they needed an invitation from a Lithuanian resident and clearance of Soviet officials before they could attempt a pilgrimage. During the encounter, O'Mahony found out that Szinarvičius would be in Lithuania in August. So the Irish activist asked the Counsellor to intervene while there, and to receive the delayed Marian statue. His successful mediation for a visit would "satisfy the Irish people (through CCC members) on the generous extent of religious freedom and the exercise of human rights in Lithuania." Needless to say, no such visit took place.11
The tireless O'Mahony did not rest. A few months later he organized a two-day pilgrimage to London for participation in "Christian Peace Ceremonies," to introduce "the Irish/ Lithuanian gift statue of B.V. Maryto symbolise the special role of Women Leaders of all Denominations and Nationalities (in partnership with their menfolk) for CHRISTIAN PEACE." At the Polish church of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Islington section of London, several Polish, Lithuanian, Czech, and Irish clergy concelebrated Mass at 3 p.m., on June 18,1977. The worshipers next processed through Leicester Square to Trafalgar Square. The scene then shifted to the church of Notre Dame de France at Leicester Place for further devotions at 4:45 p.m., including rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The day of prayer concluded at 6 p.m. in a "United Memorial Service" with a display of the statue in the Anglican shrine St. Martin-in-the Fields at Trafalgar Square, arranged by the Baltic Council of Great Britain. All of this took place on Saturday, June 18, 1977.12
Activities of the next day focused on the Aylesford Priory at Kent. An exhibition including a bookstall and information center was available to visitors at 11 a.m. A half hour later a concelebrated Mass was offered for the Persecuted, led by Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, founder of "Aid to the Church in Need." At 4:30 p.m. the day closed with the rosary, singing of national anthems, and Benediction.13
The case of Nijolė Sadūnaitė also gave CCC members another cause for which to campaign. She was the Lithuanian heroine who had been sentenced on June 17, 1975, to three years of hard labor in Siberia and an additional three years of exile from her Lithuanian homeland. The "crime" was her role in the preparation of the religious samidzat publication, The Chronicle. As Sadūnaitė's plight became known to the western world, O'Mahony and his activists took up her cause. On Sunday, April 16, 1978, CCC set out to present the Soviet ambassador with a collection of petitions for her release, when a group of sympathizers would gather at the Embassy gates. "We had built up a considerable number of admirers of her here," recalled O'Mahony a dozen years later.14
Nor was this incident a one-time event. CCC revisited the Embassy on Sunday, May 28, with more petitions (some signatures were collected right at the Soviet Embassy gates) not just for Sadūnaitė, but also on behalf of a Soviet dissident. As O'Mahony and his supporters told the press:
C.C. Centre has been inundated with aggrieved and indignant calls, communications, etc., seeking initiative for some effective action against U.S.S.R. officialdom for the gross and blatant violation of the most sacred terms of the Helsinki Agreement in the unjust imprisonment of Dr. Yuri Orlov.15
The cause of Sadūnaitė was included in the prayers and hymns of that day. Subsequently, CCC printed and distributed a flyer with Sadūnaitė's photo and a description of her life. In her behalf, a third petition rally took place on Sunday, June 11, 1978, with more signatures passed on to the Soviet representative at his home. Still more prayers and hymns were voiced at the Embassy entrance on November 25 in an appeal to the Soviet Ambassador "for the immediate release of Nijolė Sadūnaitė from the rigours of her Siberian imprisonment." 16 From the outset of his prayer crusade, O'Mahony looked in all directions for information about Lithuania and Lithuanian activists, turning to London, New York, and Rome. Periodically, the solicitor corresponded with Fr. Casimir Pugevičius of Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid in Brooklyn, New York. In early 1979, he corresponded with Juozas Vilčinskas of the Lithuanian Association in Great Britain, and with Bishop Antanas Deksnys in Rome. That year the Irishman arranged in Dublin for a Holy Week concert by the Organum Choir of Krakow, climaxed by a televised Easter Mass. O'Mahony even sponsored a Pugevičius trip to Dublin for further consultation in person, and some speaking engagements during that Holy Week. O'Mahony had invited Bishop Deksnys to concelebrate, except that other commitments prevented him from doing so. Though Pugevičius did journey to Dublin at O'Mahony's expense, the very sensitive political climate in Soviet Lithuania suggested that the priest not make public statements on the suffering Church in that country. 17 O'Mahony's contact in Rome was Sean McCarthy of the Vatican Radio, whose broadcasts kept listeners informed about the plight of Lithuania. News of the Irish prayer campaign in early 1980 reached Australia, New Zealand, and Africa, as well as Canada, England, Ireland, and the United States.18
Meanwhile, the undelivered statue was ever on O'Mahony's mind. On the first anniversary (1977) of the Soviet rejection of the statue, he arranged a Mass for Lithuania at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dublin. Afterwards, a procession of worshipers bore a six-foot cross to the middle of O'Connell Street, placing it behind a four-foot statue of Mary. A large notice was posted, inviting prayers for Lithuania. That same year saw the first of many aborted efforts for an Irish pilgrimage to Lithuania. Instead, as many as five unofficial trips to Poland, intended as a stepping-stone for a future pilgrimage to Lithuania, did take place.
The imaginative O'Mahony continued steadfastly. The second anniversary of 1978 served as another rallying date. CCC arranged a two-day prayer gathering for Saturday and Sunday, November 25-26, starting in O'Connell Street. With unbridled optimism, O'Mahony announced that "priests from behind the Iron Curtain" would concelebrate the Mass. Unschooled in the harsh reality of the political winds churning in Soviet and Irish diplomatic circles, the Irishman innocently believed that all invited parties would happily cooperate. O'Mahony's press release stirred up Ambassador Kaplin, at a loss as to how clergy from Lithuania could come to Dublin. In vain, he phoned O'Mahony several times, demanding the names of the priests. In any case, Lithuanians from England in national folk costumes participated. From this public site at Dublin's center, a motorcade traveled the short distance to the Soviet Embassy, again to provide petitions for the passage of the gift statue to its intended destination in Lithuania. The next day, more devotions took place in the presence of the original image brought back from England to the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in City Quay, Dublin.19
On the third anniversary of the statue refusal, the persistent O'Mahony organized still another commemoration for November 28, 1979a concelebrated Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the heart of Dublin. He reminded the public about the statue that "unfortunately due to lack of cooperation from Governmental agencies still rests in the Lithuanian Church in London." The help of Justas Rugienis, Soviet Head of the Lithuanian Council for Religious Affairs, would be solicited. On the occasion, O'Mahony again sent a plea to the Soviet ambassador indicating that:
a fresh effort will be made to gain your co-operation to have the statue of B.V. Mary a gift of the Irish to the Lithuanian people on 28 Nov. 1976brought to Bishop Steponavičius in Vilnius, as a means of stimulating prayer for "Christian Peace in Ireland, Lithuania, elsewhere in the hearts of rulers." It would be most opportune if visas and facilities were granted to a Pilgrimage group visiting Poland next Easter-time and enable it [to] include Lithuania.
The pilgrims could visit shrines and cultural centers in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Šiluva, undoubtedly fostering the " 'exchange of cultural relations' which you and your Government have been widely advocating." Meanwhile, The Guardian refreshed its English readers' memories about the saga of the plaster image in a story titled: "Sacred statue is a victim of temporal tangle."20
Besides the disappointments the determined Irishman endured, he had to pay a perhaps unexpected price. During 1985 and 1986, O'Mahony himself became embroiled in controversy in Dublin. His lunchtime prayer rallies for peace on O'Connell Street and the display of another Marian statue aroused the wrath of some people who took a dim view of the CCC spiritual crusade. Skirmishes with officialdom of Dublin created a tangled legal web of free speech issues. Meanwhile, the statue was surreptitiously removed, causing still further wrangling. Then the Irish Independent of August 21,1985, ran a story, called "City admits it took statue." At that time several O'Mahony-related cases remained on the docket of the Supreme Court of Ireland, postponed indefinitely for the time being.21
O'Mahony's skirmishes with his own legal system did not impede his prayer campaign for Lithuania. For instance, he immediately followed his aforementioned endeavors of autumn 1979 with a "Novena of Saturdays" from Saturday before Christmas extending to mid-February for the anniversary of Lithuanian Independence. Not even an Irish postal strike deterred the crusader. To act as a courier, he recruited Joseph Powers, religious correspondent of the Irish Independent, on his way to Rome. O'Mahony gave Powers a bundle of letters to mail from Italy to the following roster: Cardinal W. Rubin and Fr. Sean McCarthy at the Vatican Radio, both in Rome; Fr. Casimir Pugevičius in Brooklyn, New York; Fr. Steponas Matulis, M.I.C., Nottinghman; Fr. Petras Celiešius, Bad Worishofen, West Germany; Mr. Stan Kasparas, London; and Mr. Olgierd Stepan, Kent, England.22
During its vigorous lifetime, the O'Mahony prayer crusade was largely ignored by the Irish hierarchy and clergy. The majority regarded the solicitor as an eccentric maverick. A spiritual campaign of prayer in public streets and at the Soviet Embassy gates did not jibe with the Irish inclination to private or at least less ostentatious spirituality. Imagine, for instance, amplifying the rosary for a quarter mile radius from in front of the locked Soviet Embassy gates? "Neither the archdiocese nor the Church supported Mr. O'Mahony, but he was not opposed either," though admittedly "he has gathered a small group of devout followers," according to the Irish Catholic 23 Even so, throughout his endeavors, buoyed by a lifetime priest-friend, O'Mahony always remained respectful of church authorities, however disappointed he may have been privately.
Lithuanians, it goes without saying, would view O'Mahony in a different light. Was there ever a non-Lithuanian in history who so publicized the plight of Lithuania in the arena of public opinion in Europe and beyond? The promise of the Marian image and its eventual arrival incalculably boosted morale in their country. A priest's highly significant letter of 1990 to this writer gives a Lithuanian perspective. "I am deeply convinced," observed Juozas Žemaitis, now a bishop in his native Lithuania, "that they [the Irish] did this, urged by the noblest motives and inspired by the most holy Virgin Mary herself." The autumn of 1976 was an especially arduous time for the Church in Lithuania under Soviet restrictions. "The gift of the Irish Catholics," the eventual statue-bearers remembered vividly, "was like a ray of dawn in the night of oppression." The Lithuanian people learned immediately about the intended gift over Vatican Radio on November 26, 1976. Then Monsignor Žemaitis reflected further: "I sat by my radio receiver and mused: how sincere and brotherly to us are those Catholics of Ireland and how good it would be some day to see that statue and pray in its presence. This dream of mine was fulfilled only a few years hence."24
Toward the end of 1982, the Soviet Deputy Director of Religious Affairs, a certain Juozėnas, invited Žemaitis to travel to England as part of an ecumenical clergy delegation. His sole reason to consider the trip would be the retrieval of the statue. Nevertheless, unsure about the request, Žemaitis consulted with his superior, Bishop Liudvikas Povilonis of Kaunas, who gave his approval. Consequently, Monsignor Žemaitis made a preliminary visit to Moscow to become acquainted with the other members of the tour, i.e. the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, Filaret; a Professor Sorokin of the Leningrad Orthodox Academy; with the Protestant archbishopsJanis Matulis of Riga and Charkas of Tallin; Pastor Alexei Bychkov, General Secretary of the Baptist Union; Bishop Nerses Bozabalian of the Armenian Apostolic Church; and Archbishop Constantine of Georgia. Excursion interpreters were to be Nina Bobrova and Mstislav Voskresenskij.25
Just before departure, the clergy group had an audience with a certain Ficev, an official of the Soviet Religious Affairs Council. In the hearing of the entire assembly, Žemaitis asked Ficev what to do if the statue was offered to the Lithuanian prelate. 'Take it and bring it with you," he replied simply. When asked for written authorization, the official said it was unnecessary, and that he would meet the returning Lithuanian prelate at customs.26
In London the group dispersed to various destinations. The Kiev metropolitan and Monsignor Žemaitis landed in Dublin on January 13, 1983. There they were besieged by reporters, one of whom shouted: "Do you know about the Irish gift to Lithuania?" Not only all the clergy, but most of the informed laity knew about it, the visitor answered. "Do you intend to attempt to bring it to Lithuania?" someone queried. By the end of the day, the Irish newspapers echoed Msgr. Žemaitis' "Yes!" He publicly declared that Lithuanian Catholics were >aware of the gift "and rejoiced to know it was at last being allowed in." "Soviets end six-year ban on statue," announced the Irish Independent of January 14, 1983. By this time, the Marian image had "become known to Catholic Russian exiles in many parts of Britain who have regularly visited the church on special feast-days."27
During the prelate's courtesy call at the Soviet Embassy in Dublin, the ambassador "was overjoyed that at last the statue would be removed, since his staff had experienced so much unpleasantness over it." In a few weeks, the Monsignor received the celebrated gift at his hotel from Mr. Stasys Kasparas, president of the St. Casimir parish committee in London. On January 21,1983, Monsignor Žemaitis embarked, the carefully packaged statue in hand, from Heathrow Airport in London at 10:45 a.m. on a Soviet Aeroflot jet. Father Sakevičius, M.I.C., pastor of St. Casimir Parish in London, surrounded by a crowd of 100 onlookers bid the statue farewell. On return to Moscow, however, the aircraft was three hours behind schedule. Consequently, there was no welcoming Soviet official to receive the statue. Sans written certification, the returning Lithuanian fell victim to rigid customs personnel who would hear nothing of the Monsignor's protestations. Accordingly, the customs attendants seized the Marian figure. Only Latvian Archbishop Janis Matulis stayed behind to console the distraught Monsignor who returned to his parish empty-handed. 28
Undaunted, the clergyman asked his parishioners at Šakiai to pray for the recovery of the gift. He then crafted a letter which he hand-delivered in Vilnius to P. Anilionis, Deputy of Religious Affairs. But the official rebuked the prelate for becoming entangled in the statue affair. Several more visits and phone calls followed. In the midst of these discussions, Monsignor Žemaitis shrewdly pointed out that continued Soviet refusal of the Marian statue would again "cause a rumpus in the Western world."
Happily, the disappointment proved to be short-lived. Ultimately, Deputy Juozėnas directed Monsignor Žemaitis and Monsignor Vaclovas Grauslys of Šiluva to appear in Moscow on February 15. With the needed certification, the duo left by train for the Soviet capital. At the customs office they were met by a certain Dunajev, representing the Religious Affairs Department. When the gift was unpacked for inspection, a small crowd of curious customs clerks huddled around to catch a glimpse of the statue. On return to Lithuania, the clergy bearers installed the wandering Virgin in the parish church at Šiluva. Soon afterwards, priests and laity began making regular pilgrimages on the thirteenth of each month. The numbers of pilgrims grew, including Juozas Žemaitis, now a bishop, and Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius.29
In the aftermath, Archbishop Liudvikas Povilionis joyfully sent off a thank-you letter to the Primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich of Armagh. The expression of gratitude was tinged with unintended irony. As a Lithuanian in London observed, the Irish Cardinal-Primate "had not lifted a finger regarding the journey of the Marian statue, whereas the Christian Concern organization received not a word of thanks, despite its five years of publicizing the name of Lithuania and its oppression under occupation."30 In any case, the Blessed Mother at last was in her intended home.
Meanwhile, in the wake of increasingly favorable changes in Lithuania in the late 1980s, O'Mahony's CCC adherents continued to broadcast the Rosary, the Angelus, and talks about Lithuania on a daily basis to the Greater Dublin area. Illness alone forced O'Mahony to retire from his law practice and public life in 1989. The thousands who now visit Šiluva, such as the former Siberian Nijolė Sadūnaitė, cannot help but be touched by the modest statue of the Virgin Mary in that celebrated place of pilgrimage. After a torturous prolonged journey, the gift has radiated an expression of solidarity in faith between the Irish and the Lithuanians. In another way, it also stands as a tribute to the perseverance of one relentless Irishman of uncommon vision and daring.
1. Walter M. Abbot, S.J., ed., The Documents of Vatican II (New York, 1966), p. 505.
2. O'Mahony news release to [Irish] National & Provincial Newspaper, 22 June 1976.
3. O'Mahony to Kaplin, 10 Nov. 1976.
6. Kaplin to O'Mahony, 23 Nov. 1976.
7. Fitzgerald to O'Mahony, 2 Nov. 1976.
8. O'Mahony to Fitzgerald, 26 Nov. 1976; Minister's Secretary to O'Mahony, 26 Nov. 1976; Fitzgerald to O'Mahony, 2 Dec. 1976.
9. The Guardian, 3 Dec. 1976.
10. Lietuvių katalikų bažnyčios Kronika, Vol. 4, p. 118 (Chicago, 1978).
11. O'Mahony to Szinarvičus, 4 April 1977; undated O'Mahony memo.
12. Flyer announcing the service.
13. Undated promotional leaflet, c. May 1977.
14. Ford, Marks, Dunne, McAuliffe & O'Mahony, letter-to-the-editor, National & Provincial Press, 10 April 1978; O'Mahony to this writer, 9 July 1990.
15. O'Mahony, letter-to-the-editor, National & Provincial Press, 24 May 1978.
16. O'Mahony et al. to Kaplin 23 Nov. 1978.
17. O'Mahony to Pugevičus, 25 June 1976; 15 April 1985; Pugevičius to O'Mahony, 2 Feb., 24 Oct. 1979; 25 March 1981; 7 Dec. 1982; O'Mahony to Deksnys, 9 Feb. 1979; 10 Jan. 1980; Deksnys to O'Mahony, 19 Feb. 1979; Pugevičius to this writer, 8 Jan. 1991.
18. O'Mahony to McCarthy, 10 Jan. 1980. The text of McCarthy's broadcast about Lithuania that February ran as follows:
"Today in Lithuania is a festive day the commemoration of the gaining of its national Independence on February 16th, 1918, which it enjoyed until 1940 when it became one of the Soviet Republics. Joining in the festivities at a distance are some Irish Catholics. For the past nine weeks, a group of Catholics in Ireland have been praying for Christian peace in Ireland, Lithuania, and elsewhere in the hearts of rulers. For the persecuted Church and for the forgotten heroes of Christ, especially in Lithuania, these Irish Catholics have been offering Rosaries. In recent weeks, they have been joined by the girls in Saint Anne's Academy Secondary School run by the Sisters of Charity in Dublin, a school of 800 girls. In reviews and magazines, the girls read about young people in Lithuania, and of their strong Christian faith. The Dublin girls were particularly attracted by a Lithuanian custom: 15 people form a Rosary circle, each one chooses a Mystery of the Rosary, and during Lent recites that Mystery. So the girls have formed Rosary circles for Lent. And as they did three years ago in a crusade for prayers for peace in Ireland and the world, the Irish students are now working on a campaign for a chain of Rosaries in Dublin, Ireland, and throughout the world." (McCarthy to O'Mahony, 25 Feb. 1980.)
19. Undated CCC news release, c. Nov. 1978; Irish Independent, 21 Nov. 1978.
20.O'Mahony to Kaplin, 19, 23 Nov. 1979; The Guardian, 27 Nov. 1979.
21. Joseph Power, Mystery of Dublin statue moved or stolen? 20-page booklet, Christian Community Action, Feb. 1986. 22.O'Mahony to Deksnys, 10 Jan. 1980; similar letter to others mentioned in Note 17.
23. Editor to this writer, 17 July 1990.
24.Žemaitis to this writer, 31 Oct. 1990.
27.1rish Independent, 14 Jan. 1983; Irish Times, 14 Jan. 1983.
28. Žemaitis to this writer, 31 Oct. 1990.
30.Stasys Kasparas to this writer, undated letter, c. Feb., 1991; Darbininkas, 10 June 1983.
N.B. Much of the cited correspondence and many news clippings were obtained from Mr. O'Mahony during an interview in Dublin in July 1990.