The Rev. Jaroslav J. Vajda, editor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod monthly “This Day,” wrote this report in Vienna, Austria, after his visit to a Slovak cultural conference on a scholarship from Comenius University in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, had been cut short by last month’s Soviet invasion:

The day after I completed investigation of the far-reaching effects of Czechoslovakia’s liberalization on its 510,000-member Lutheran Church, the scene was totally and abruptly revised with the sudden occupation by Warsaw Pact forces.

There was no immediate assurance of a return to the pre-occupation freedoms enjoyed during seven brief months under Communist Party Secretary Alexander Dubcek. In my week in the capital of Slovakia, I heard exciting signs of this atmosphere in announcements to congregations.

For the first time since 1948, parents would register their children for religious instruction with local church authorities; the previous practice of registering with public-school officials frightened and frustrated most parents from doing so. There would be no persecution of registrants as in the past, and the church could extend training to an earlier age.

Parishioners of the 10,000-member Bratislava Lutheran Church were asked to sign petitions to restore broadcasting of worship from the large 200-year-old mother church in the capital, where the pulpit microphone had not been used since 1951. More than half the 300 worshipers lined up to sign; a marked contrast to the quick scattering of churchgoers from a service I attended there in 1965.

The church biweekly, “Lutheran Messenger from the Tatra Foothills,” handed to members after services, was bigger than usual and carried a strong pro-Dubcek editorial appealing for dialogue ...

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