Vilnius, Lithuania, Dec 26, 2018 / 10:10 am
When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius was the only bishop to accompany him there. Now housing the Museum of the Occupation and Freedom Fighters, the site was once used for the detention and execution of thousands of Lithuanians. Tamkevicius had personal experience as a prisoner there.
The building, a former gymnasium, served as a headquarters for the Gestapo during World War II. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, the KGB moved in. More than 2,000 people were executed there, and 300 hundred priests were held prisoner - including Tamkevicius.
“In 8 months I was interrogated 60 times - every other day,” he said.
“The pope wanted to come and visit the roots of our pain,” the archbishop told CNA following the visit.
Born in 1938, Tamkevicius vividly remembers the Soviet occupation, and he told CNA about the campaign of religious repression Lithuanians faced under the communist regime.
“The Soviets wanted to destroy Lithuania and suppress religious freedom - that was non existent. They arrested more than 300 priests, who were not even allowed to teach. They wanted to minimize the Church. It was then that we started to think what we could do to resist the Soviets.”
Tamkevicius played an active part in resisting communist persecution of the Church in Lithuania. With four other priests, he founded in 1978 the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers’ Rights.