Embattled Catholics are forced to defend their church against false charges and extrapolations these days more acutely perhaps than when the scandal first erupted in the U.S. in 2001, and it requires a heroic effort to get and spread accurate information. At least that doesn’t pose the risk of death or imprisonment.
It did and still does for persecuted Catholics in different places around the world and their accounts are instructive and inspiring. My article on the Church in Lithuania is out in the current issue of Voices, and the timing gives the story new context.
The one thing oppressors cannot control is the human spirit. The Church has survived in times and places of persecution on the backs of those individuals, collectively and individually, who refused to give up either faith or hope. We’ll never know the names or numbers of heroic Christians who saved even the smallest remnant of the faith in countries around the world, but a few easily come to mind. Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed Titus Brandsma, both martyred in Nazi concentration camps; Cardinal Ignatius Kung, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, and Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who heroically upheld the Catholic faith against Communism…
The Soviets used propaganda to destroy religious belief — a more insidious extermination agenda than directly quashing public worship and forbidding any vestige of faith or religion to be seen. In his 1980 book The Catholic Church, Dissent and Nationality in Soviet Lithuania, V. Stanley Vardys explains:
“Thus, in atheistic activities, as in other fields of endeavor, the scientific-materialistic philosophy is not promoted by merely praising its superior advantages, but proceeds with the tearing down and the attacking of the opposing views…. [T]he list of subjects so aggressively handled begins with the existence of God and the creation of the world. It encompasses natural sciences … then it includes history, liturgy, religious practices, the Church’s social doctrine … and the Church’s and religion’s ability to modernize, that is, to adapt itself to industrialized modern society, especially under Soviet rule.”
To further fool the people, the Soviets even set up the Council for Religious Affairs, though Archbishop Tamkevicius says their mission was “to destroy religious belief”.
That’s happening now, though not because of a Communist regime. The attacks on the Church is a war on Christianity and moral authority, and reckless and ungrounded assaults aim at eroding the people’s faith and trust. How will the lay faithful fare through this sustained attack on their spiritual heritage?
Archbishop Tamkevicius recalls how it was in Communist controlled Lithuania:
“It seems to me that everything on which the Kronika reported and [that] was distributed all over the world is only one side, and the other side was no less important — all of us became a little braver, became more conscious, began to understand that the legs of the godless idol are made of clay, and what is the most important — we comprehended that we should not sit with our hands folded, but work and fight, for then God would help us”.
When I interviewed him, we couldn’t have known the story would come out in such an anti-Catholic climate as this. Then again, some things never change. Like “the mission to destroy religious belief.” And the ‘weapons’ of communications and media. At least those are squarely in the people’s hands now, too.