“In that place Pope Francis visited,” he said, “thousands have been killed, while thousands more were sent to into exile in the Soviet Union.” The archbishop was among them.
In 1983, Tamkevicius was arrested and held by the KGB. He was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor and exile. He served some of his sentence in Siberia.
Tamkevicius told CNA that Francis’ visit was an emotional moment for him.
“I dreamed for 35 years that the pope would one day visit the place where I and others were imprisoned, and so I thanked the pope for showing solidarity with our people.”
The pope’s speech was less important to the archbishop than the fact that he was there. He told CNA that Francis “said nothing in particular, he showed solidarity.” He added that entering the museum building brought back memories, “good and bad.”
Among the good things, he said, was his recollection of “the prayers, never more intense - the Rosary, the reading of the Bible.” These devotions sustained him during a period in which he was held and questioned by the Soviets.
Tamkevicius was eventually released as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestrojka program. He returned home and was appointed spiritual director of the seminary in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, in 1989, becoming the rector of the seminary the following year.
In 1991, he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Kaunas, becoming the city’s archbishop in 1996.
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 24, 2018.