Imprisoned in Siberia, Lithuanian Cardinal Finds Strength in the Cross

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By Melissa Butz 

With his eyes full of tears, Cardinal Siguitas Tamkéavichus, recalled his time in a gulag in Siberia.

His crime was sharing with journalists of the western world the “Chronicles of the Church in Lithuania,” a written series documenting real cases of Christian persecution. He served a 10-year sentence for reporting on the Soviet Union’s practices in Lithuania.

“The hardest moment of my time in prison was the interrogation. It would last up to seven hours. It was terribly exhausting,” Cardinal Tamkéavichus said. 

“A beautiful thing that happened was when one of the inmates, after being interrogated, found the faith and asked me to baptize him. I baptized him in prison,” he explained. 

Cardinal Tamkéavichus never lost faith, even in the midst of the forced labor to which he was subjected. 

Instead, his experience was quite the opposite. He looked for ways to celebrate Mass while he was forced to work in a laundry room from sunrise to sunset. 

He even found a way to make a rosary with the little he had, finding in faith the strength he needed to survive the suffering.

“I prayed everyday. I made a rosary out of balls of bread and prayed all the mysteries with it everyday. When I could, I tried to say Mass,” he said.

In 2018, Pope Francis saw the soviet prisons for himself. As archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania at the time, Tamkéavichus accompanied him on this visit.

Just a year later, the Holy Father named him cardinal, a decision that for Cardinal Tamkéavichus is not only for him, but for all Lithuanians.

“With this appointment I think Pope Francis wanted to recognize the Way of the Cross walked by all Lithuanians,” he said.

Cardinal Tamkéavichus is living proof of resistance, through faith, to religious intolerance. 

As such, he assures his desire to be a witness for those who suffer persecution simply for being Christian.