My father was deeply moved by his brief visit to Ciornaya Padina in 2002. I think the account of his feelings upon seeing his birthplace again is one of the most moving passages in the book, Odyssey of Hope.
I was astonished when I saw Ciornaya Padina. Everything there was so different from our family’s life in America. It was such a small village, with simple, folkloric wooden houses, one long deeply rutted, dusty road, some old rusty tractors, a small cemetery with its ancient, worn monuments obscured by thick weeds. A large grey statue of Lenin stood in front of the community center. But the whole town of about 200, turned out to welcome us with applause and songs, and a wonderful festive lunch. We even met a handful of people named Kazickas, including a few who still spoke some Lithuanian.
My father and mother presented the villagers with a cornucopia of gifts – delicacies like sausage and cheese from Lithuania, books, a computer for the school. There were many toasts, filled with much sentiment and laughter, then some traditional folk songs. At the end of the afternoon, when we had to head back to Lithuania, I know my father hated to say good-bye.
As we were leaving, one of the villagers, Albina, asked my father to build a small chapel so people could have “a place to find a few moments of spiritual peace.” A year later, though it was not a simple task, he arranged for a lovely red brick chapel to be built. He named it St. Katerina in memory of his mother. That gift to the villagers of Ciornaya Padina gave him one of the happiest moments of his life.
Over the following years, my father always made sure that funds were sent to Ciornaya Padina for the upkeep of the chapel.
My father knew he would probably never see Ciornaya Padina again. “Perhaps my children will go back one day,” he wrote at the conclusion of his book, “and say a prayer in the little chapel for me and for all those who were not so fortunate to make it back to their beloved homeland, Lithuania…”
Joseph Kazickas died in 2014.
In July, 2016 , I travelled again to Ciornaya Padina with my daughter, Kristina, and a small group of family and friends. I was bringing some of my father’s ashes to inter in the little chapel that he had created.
The village looked very much the same as it had 14 years earlier. The same dusty rutted road and small wooden houses. The statue of Lenin was still there. A young boy was riding by on an old motorcycle and a small group of teen-agers stood around, laughing and flirting in the sultry summer heat.
This time, though, there was no huge crowd of people excited to see some visitors. But happily, Albina was there to greet us. She welcomed us with warm hugs, and hastened to tell us that many villagers were waiting for us with a celebratory luncheon.
But first, we went to the chapel. I had seen pictures of it of course, but actually walking through the door filled me with deep emotion. The room was lovely – filled with light and an aura of spiritual peace. It was still unbelievable to me that my father had made his dream of this shrine come true.
A priest had come from Saratov to say a special Mass for the solemn ceremony of interring my father’s ashes. I placed the small wooden box brought from Vilnius, wrapped in a Lithuanian flag, into the ground which contained a small urn with dirt from Lithuania and covered it with a marble plaque. A small group of people had gathered in the back of the chapel but I was alone with my thoughts.
How strange and mystical to think I was back in this far away corner of Russia where my dear father was born and spent his earliest years. I could almost feel the spiritual connection to my ancestors who lived off this land, survived, thrived, and created a community that exists to this day. But most of all, I remembered my dear departed father and mother and all the happy years I spent with them far, far away in America.
Before we left, a villager asked for a Russian language edition of Vilties Kelias in Russian. I kept my promise and in November, 2018, more than 200 copies were sent to Ciornaya Padina.
More importantly, I made a commitment to the community that the Kazickas family would always help to take care of them, especially to further the education of the children.
How wondrous and mysterious life is with all the many paths one travels on this universal journey. My father’s odyssey took him from this tiny corner in Russia, home to his beloved Lithuania, then to distant America, and finally to return – in spirit – where it all began … Ciornaya Padina.
As he wished, I said a prayer in the chapel for him and those long gone, buried in the earth. But I also prayed for all the families still living there, working the land, bringing new lives into this world, and dreaming of a bright future. As my father always did.
— Jurate Kazickas, December, 2018