In memoriam: the Great Primate
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
The Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski died at 4 a.m. on 28 May 1981. John Paul II and the Primate of the Millennium are two great figures of our contemporary lives... I remember that day. I was going to Warsaw to ‘Ruch’ [Press Distribution Agency] to settle the formalities related to the first edition of ‘Niedziela’ after a 28-year break. It was the time of the communist regime and you had to give all details to the state authorities. One could see sadness and seriousness in the faces of the workers of this communist institution. I learnt about that sad fact there. That event was meaningful for ‘Niedziela’ that prepared its first issue on 7 June. The Primate sent us his wishes for the beginning of our editorial activities. We were to place the text of the Primate on the cover next to the appropriate texts of the Holy See. The death of Cardinal Wyszynski changed our plans. If some reader has the first issue of ‘Niedziela’ dated 7 June 1981 he can see a photo of the Primate on the cover and a commemorative text written by Stefan Kisielewski. All the articles that welcomed ‘Niedziela’ after 28 years of silence had to be placed on the back page. The text that I ordered from Stefan Kisielewski, with whom we collaborated then, was excellent. Some people said that it was one of the best articles about the Primate. The term ‘the Primate of the Millennium’ was used later. One of the people who began calling Cardinal Wyszynski ‘the Primate of the Millennium’ was the Holy Father John Paul II. The Polish Church was in a difficult situation; a man of the moment, a spiritual chaplain of the nation died and the Solidarity, the big trade union with ten million people, was in a sense unpredictable and was being dismantled from inside. Another tragic fact was the assassination attempt at John Paul II. We were moved by the last phone calls between the two great people of the Church: the Bishop of Rome and of the whole world who was at the Gemelli clinic and the suffering Bishop of Warsaw and the Primate of Poland...The Polish communists also found themselves in a difficult situation since some of them used to ask the great Primate for advice many a time. The day of the funeral of the Primate of the Millennium approached. An interesting detail: there is no photo of Cardinal Wyszynski on his deathbed. He did not want his dead body to be shown. And his will was fulfilled: no photos were taken. Cardinal Wyszynski was very sick. Those who accompanied him in his last phase of his life said about his unique passing away. A picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa that he had loved so much was brought to him and he prayed before it. It is worth knowing because we are not always aware of the strong relationship between the Primate and Jasna Gora with the miraculous picture of the Mother of God. We bid farewell to the great Primate. Tadeusz Szyma, describing the funeral in ‘Niedziela’, noticed that the whole of Poland had followed the coffin. And that was true. We followed the coffin, realising that someone great, a charismatic man of the moment; a spiritual leader of the nation was passing away. And although we still had communism we all knew that the greatest citizen was passing away, the one who had Poland in his heart and he wholeheartedly loved the Church.
Today we are looking at these facts from a perspective of over 20 years. Those times abounded in important religious and national events: the death of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, the pilgrimages of John Paul II to his homeland, the great spring of the nation when the communists gave up their power, the first almost completely free elections in 1989 and the struggle of the nation with the regained independence, which will be studied by historians for years...
We can only stress that it was Primate Wyszynski that led Poland through the hardships and he himself experienced many crosses: he was imprisoned, persecuted, attacked in the press as well as on the radio and television. How much hatred did Wladyslaw Gomulka nurse against him and the Church! Cardinal Wyszynski managed to face the hatred although his experiences were painful; he firmly managed the Church. His meaningful words ‘Non possumus’ are an example for us that there are limits beyond which we cannot make any compromises. Today, after many years, it seems that those difficult matters he had to face might, paradoxically, have created an easier situation than his successor Cardinal Jozef Glemp had. Since then life in Poland was white and black and it was easier to differentiate what served good and what served evil. Nevertheless, one needed much consistency to follow the way God had chosen for him and the Most Holy Mother of God was the main advisor on his way. That way did not betray him. He dedicated everything to the Mother of God and he dedicated the Polish Church to her, and the second great Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla helped him in his efforts and supported him. The more they worked for the good of the Church the better the much younger Cardinal Wojtyla understood Cardinal Wyszynski and when he himself sat on the papal throne he knew which ways the universal Church should be led. Today, looking at the Servant of God Cardinal Wyszynski we must remember that he was a great man of God, a man of great trust in the Most Holy Mother of God and a man of great dedication. The Polish nation, which he directed, offered itself into Mary’s slavery; fulfilling the Vows of Jasna Gora people began changing their lives. And if we are to talk about victory, and undoubtedly it was a victory of the Polish Church and the universal Church over the godless system that enslaved the spirit of the nation, we owe it to the Primate who totally counted on Mary.