for freedom by a Special Correspondent
A PACKED public meeting at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Thursday night stood for two minutes in silent thought and prayer for those persecuted for their beliefs in Communist countries.
The meeting. organised to draw attention to the plight of people suffering under Communist regimes, was chaired by Bishop Mahon, President of the Justice and Peace Commission.
Speakers included Mr Patrick Cormack, MP; Mrs Doreen Gainsford, of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry; the Rev Michael Bourdeaux, and Bishop Hornyak, Apostolic Exarch of the Ukraine.
Mr Cormack, a former chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Committee campaigning on behalf of Jews in the USSR. set the tone of the meeting by listing the various forms of oppression in Russia and her satellite countries: the harassment of those who want to leave. the prison-camp system. the relentless persecution of Christian groups, and the abuse of medical knowledge in the psychiatric "hospitals".
"We here in Britain are free — free to worship as we wish and to do so without fear," he said. "We have to face the fact that one of the greatest super-powers in the world depends entirely on tyranny. Communism is the new absolutism. Every man or woman who lives behind the Iron Curtain and tries to practise his religion is a prisoner of conscience."
He drew applause when he said: "We must ask, and keep on asking, whether the concept of &tent has any value when all the concessions seem to be on our side, and none at all on theirs."
Mrs Gainsford introduced to the 'sleeting two teenagers who had been allowed to emigrate to Israel but who each had one parent still held in Russia. In halting English, a teenage boy told the hushed room: "I saw my father last when I was 12. Now I am 15. I do so want to see him again. Please help me if you can."
The Rev Michael Bourdeaux. Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism at Keston, Kent, and author of several books on persecuted Christians, gave a moving account of the trial in Lithuania of five young men accused of running the underground "Chronicle of the Catholic Church in I ithuania".
He said: "The Soviet laws on religion are still those passed by Stalin in 1929. Under Krushchev, the man who has the name of being the great liberator of the regime, the situation for Christians became catastrophically worse than it was before. He was responsible for renewing and enforcing the laws, and he closed hundreds of thousands of churches across the land."
In attempting to crush the Catholic underground newspaper in Lithuania the KGB insisted on the registration of every typewriter in the country, and of all supplies of typing paper.
"The courage of the young men who ran this paper is all the more remarkable when you remember that the Red Army marched off all the political, academic and religious leaders of the country a quarter of a century ago," he said.
"Lithuania has been a de
capitated country — a nation bereft of all its leaders. And yet Christianity still survives and brings forward new young people of courage and faith."
Bishop Hornyak, summing up the meeting, spoke of events in the Ukrainian Church. Christians in the Ukraine, he said, had been forced into "the catacombs of the 20th century."
The philosophy of Communism, he said, was crude and could hest he summed up in the phrase "Dog eat dog". The persecution of Christians had been systematic and relentless — the churches which were shown to tourists gave a totally inaccurate picture of the true facts.
At the end of the meeting Bishop Mahon asked the audience — Christians, Jews, and non-believers — to stand for two minutes in silence.
He said: "Let us each pray, or send our thoughts in whatever way we wish, for those far away tonight who are denied their freedom, as we prepare to leave and go home in a free country."
Telegrams were sent from the meeting to the United Nations and to the World Council of Churches asking that they urge all countries to comply with the agreement on human freedoms signed at the Helsinki conference.
A letter also went to the Prime Minister, signed by both -Labour and Conservative MPs and members of the House of Lords, asking the Government to draw the attention of the terms of the agreement to all governments which deprive people of their right to believe. Another letter went to the Soviet Ambassador reminding him of the terms of the Helsinki Agreement.