Soviets Allow Lithuanian Bishop To Resume Duties
VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Soviet government will allow Lithuanian Bishop Juliajonas Steponavicius to resume his official duties after nearly 28 years of internal exile, Vatican Radio said Friday.
Steponavicius, appointed by the Vatican in 1957 as apostolic administrator for the Lithuanian republic’s capital of Vilnius, was exiled to northern Lithuania in 1961 for refusing to collaborate with Soviet authorities.
The bishop has rejected Soviet invitations to return to Vilnius because the offers did not permit him to resume his official duties as head of the city’s archdiocese, according to an official of Vatican Radio’s Lithuania-language section.
This latest offer is without restrictions, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The radio aired a broadcast in Lithuanian on Thursday night about the Soviet decision.
The offer to Steponavicius comes just two months after the Soviets decided to return the Vilnius Cathedral, which was converted into a state art gallery in 1950, to the Roman Catholic Church.
To celebrate the cathedral’s return, the first Mass at the cathedral in 30 years was held for 20,000 worshipers in October.
A Lithuanian in Rome with close contacts in Vilnius said the permission for Steponavicius reflects both the Soviet government’s need for popular support as it pursues its reform policies as well as ″pressure″ from popular ethnic movements that have been testing the Kremlin’s tolerance.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policies of openness has allowed Lithuanians and their Baltic neighbors to air their frustrations about limits on religious practices under Soviet rule.
About 3 million of the 4 million Roman Catholics in Soviet Union live in Lithuania, which has a population of 3.5 million.