George Weigel

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Tyrants Like Putin Can’t Tolerate Truth

A friend once posed an intriguing hypothetical to Pope John Paul II. Suppose the entire Bible were destroyed. What one sentence or phrase would you want preserved for humanity’s future? He didn’t hesitate: “. . . the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

The same conviction about the liberating power of seeing things as they are—and describing them honestly—inspired Václav Havel and other human-rights activists to promote “living in the truth” as a powerful antidote to the communist culture of lies during the Cold War. It also animated the myriad samizdat publications produced at great risk in the old Soviet Union. One of the most extraordinary of those underground publishing efforts was the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, whose first issue was published 50 years ago, on March 19, 1972.

The Soviet Union’s absorption of Lithuania in 1944 was followed by the usual Soviet program of repressing a subjugated people’s national identity. In Lithuania, this included severe strictures against the Catholic Church. Parishes and monasteries were closed. Bishops, priests and religious sisters were shipped to the gulag or executed. A brief but short-lived “thaw” after Stalin’s death in 1953 was followed in the early 1960s by draconian anti-Catholic measures. Priests could not catechize children, bring the sacraments to the sick, or do pastoral work outside the local churchyard. Pilgrimage sites were destroyed, and atheistic propaganda was a staple of the state school curriculum.

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