Fr Jerzy Popieluszko – important chapter in Polish history
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
It is with joy that we received the news that the beatification process of the Servant of God Fr Jerzy Popieluszko is about to be completed. Fr Jerzy, a national hero, martyr and priest. I was lucky to have known him personally. He was involved in the students’ ministry at St Anne’s Church in Warsaw. We had the chance to meet him among the priests who worked with young people. He was calm. He carried out his priestly ministry with zeal, but then nobody thought that the life of this priest would be a martyr’s fate. Some time later we learned about the Masses in the intention of our Homeland, which he regularly celebrated, and the first pilgrimage of workers to Jasna Gora, which he organised, took place in Czestochowa. Many a time we heard about the pastoral-patriotic activities of Fr Jerzy. The Holy Father John Paul learned about them, too. Priests used to say that the Pope asked them to pass his greetings to Fr Popieluszko. Fr Jerzy wanted to meet the Holy Father very much. When the Pope’s pilgrimage was approaching in 1983, Fr Jerzy came to our editorial board, asking to help him get an entrance pass to the meeting with John Paul II. At that time the security services watched over him. He told the editorial board about the conversations between the Security Service (SB) following him to Czestochowa, which he had heard. These recollections accompany us after many years. He also gave ‘Niedziela’ the photos of the funeral of Grzegorz Przemyk. We are looking at Fr Jerzy, awaiting his forthcoming beautification. It is so good that the film entitled ‘Popieluszko. Wolnosc jest w nas’ [Popieluszko. Freedom is in us] is about to be shown. We observed the attempts of the film director and the artists to create this movie. The film is needed very much so that young generations of Poles know their contemporary history, including the struggles with the cruel communist regime. These were difficult times of fighting for Poland, people and the Church. And today we are astonished having heard the words of the Parliament Speaker that during the times of the Polish People’s Republic it was forbidden to speak critically about the Church. Actually, the whole administration of this system aimed at fighting against the Church! Today the communists say about their favourable disposition towards the Church. The acts of the Institute of National Remembrance testify about the reality of those days, about the severe repression that the Church faced. Only now do we learn about the scale of wickedness towards the people of the Church, towards the clergy. If some priest showed a more decisive resistance to the authority the SB together with the organs of the Polish United Workers’ Party raised a rumpus around him and did their best to destroy him and even annihilate him. We have many examples of priests who were treated in that way but the society was told that some unknown perpetrators committed those crimes. There were many ‘unknown’ perpetrators. The murderers of Fr Jerzy belonged to them. But somehow they were found and revealed, but there are still many like them that are living in Poland. Their hands were stained with blood of the killed fellow countrymen, including priests. Therefore, when we watch the film about the life and martyrdom of Fr Jerzy we must know that this is our history. The national education has provided very wrong programmes and the knowledge of the society about martyrdom during the communist period is insufficient. And we have so many outstanding Poles that opposed the system. Naturally, there were also weak people who yielded to the security apparatus. Nevertheless, we have numerous heroes. Invigilation, intruding under any pretext, summons, wire-tapping – the methods on which the system was based. The society, fed with different contents, was very often unaware of these practices. The communist ideology managed to poison even the consciousness of our intelligentsia. In the institutions of higher education there were SB officers that won collaborators. The channels of the communist intelligence service went through universities. Fr Jerzy was one of those people who called the system regime. His sermons were filled with notes of real patriotism but also with ordinary thoughts concerning human honesty, declaring for the truth, good, for what should be obvious in life. That’s why people listened to him so eagerly. Workers and intelligentsia adhered to him because they knew that he was a righteous man who loved them, who loved God and his Homeland. His pastoral ministry was deepened with the feeling of obligation, which ordered him to be with people, to serve them and not to betray them. He was invited to come to various pastoral centres and he recognised it to be his sacred obligation to meet the needs of the afflicted brothers. Certainly, the beautification of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko will be an occasion for those responsible for the Polish pastoral ministry to reflect deeply on the role of patriotism, which plays an important role in it. ‘My Homeland, you have been bathed in blood so many times...’ are the words of the song that was so often sung in the so-called underground during the communist regime. Today, one should also pose questions about Polish patriotism, what Homeland means to us, what Poland we want. The history of our nations has been created to a large extent by our neighbouring countries, the partitions and invaders that made us a poor nation; consequently, our lives are difficult, many Poles cannot cope with their living and so many problems fall on Polish families. Fr Jerzy comes as a patron in this hard period. With his example and word he left he will surely defend Poland, Polishness and Poles; he will call us to be righteous and sincere in our hearts. He is an example for young generations to follow the way of righteousness, to be honest and courageous. And he is also an example for priests who should think deeply about their priesthood; who must know that priests should offer themselves to God at the altar of their pastoral obligations towards their faithful; that they should not pass indifferently by people who wait for someone to help them bear their poverty, misfortunate and toil. Fr Jerzy was an ordinary priest and shepherd of souls, and this was sufficient to win him the crown of martyrdom. Naturally, he did not think of awards but of great obligation towards those who sought hope in God and the Church. And he never became faithless. He endured to the end. Every priest should show such faithfulness. You cannot let yourself seek your own pleasures or fulfil your egoistic whims. ‘The way of the Church is man’. This is the identification with the voice of the Holy Father, with the social teaching of the Church, and what is most important, with the Gospel and its message. All these things were in Fr Jerzy’s heart. If they had not been, his life would have been different. He might have studied abroad; he could have become a university professor... But that was not the case. Fr Jerzy knew that his ordination, Holy Mass, the sacraments he administered and his sermons were very needed by people and the Homeland. He clearly understood his mission as the most important and beautiful thing. We are looking forward to seeing the film about this magnificent figure of the Polish priest; the film that will make us recollect his fervent, full of love, pastoral ministry. His love was backed by his character formed at home, at the major seminary, in the army and through his struggles for righteousness, honesty, reliability, courage. Today Fr Jerzy shares his abundance with his nation, Polish youth, the world of workers, with nurses among who he worked, and with priests whom he calls to remember that priesthood is a gift, which surpasses doctor’s degrees and all other distinctions, and which should be the basis of holy life. He wanted to be a priest and he remained a priest, a shepherd – for the Church, Homeland and brothers.