Recollecting Fr Jerzy Popieluszko
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
As I have recollected many times when I was a chaplain of students I asked Fr Jerzy Popieluszko to give retreats in our students’ church in Czestochowa. Then we used to invite many priests who could give valuable contributions. For example, Rev. Msgr. Aleksander Zienkiewicz, Rev. Msgr. Kazimierz Zarnowiecki, Fr Jozef Majkowski, SJ, Fr Hubert Czuma, SJ, Fr Feliks Folejewski, SAC, Rev. Msgr. Julian Zołnierkiewicz and many others gave retreats at our students’ centre. Fr Jerzy agreed to give retreats but due to some external circumstances he could not come to our centre.
This young priest had a special charism: deep reflection, meditative look, spirituality that gave him inner assurance. One could see that he knew by whom and to what he was called. He worked in the university Church of St Anne, that was admirably shepherded by Fr Tadeusz Uszynski. Then St Anne’s was a very important students’ centre in Poland. It drew all students’ chaplains – our meetings and discussions were held there. They usually were held under the patronage of Bishop Jerzy Modzelewski, auxiliary bishop of Warsaw, who was the delegate of the Bishops’ Conference for students’ pastoral ministry, and then the patronage of Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz. We all knew what communism meant and knew the methods of the Security Service (SB). We shared the details concerning the interrogations of priests and students. We informed about the methods of exerting pressure used by the regime and no one doubted the sincerity of the activities of our colleagues. That’s why when I hear about the collaboration of some priests with the SB officers from the documents of the Institute of National Remembrance I know that the names of those men of God, who could be disgraced, were not on the list of collaborators. Our pastoral work was hardened in the fire of the Security Service. And so were our personalities and attitudes of young people, especially those who worked with priests very closely. They had to know what they wanted and had to be aware of the threats. They had to show their firm attitudes towards the SB activities. And unfortunately, they did not form a 100% reliable group; there were exceptions. Today we are learning from the files of the Institute of National Remembrance – sometimes to our great surprise – about those who were collaborators. (In this respect the SB files embrace as if diaries of the students’ Catholic centres although they were ‘written’ by people who had various degrees of intelligence and artistic capacity. But certainly, on the basis of those notes one can reconstruct many chapters of the students’ centres of those times.)
Fr Jerzy Popieluszko was actively involved in the pastoral ministry conducted in St Anne’s and then in St Stanislaw Kostka’s Church in Warsaw-Zoliborz. Today in the picture of the beatified martyr we can see a symbol of a priest of those years. The priests-colleagues of Fr Jerzy, who had to serve in the army like he did – some of them are bishops today – also spoke firm words to the communist regime: ‘No!’ Fr Jerzy is also a symbol of an ordinary priest who taught religious instruction although it was not taught in schools but somewhere, in some facilities next to the cold church; a symbol of a priest who despite unfavourable conditions, despite a militia patrol behind him, was always ready to follow Christ. Those priests, including Rev. Msgr. Jozef Wojcik, built the reality of the Church that gives testimony.
Therefore, this blessed Priest and Martyr is a great witness of that time, a witness of suffering Church, a witness of great struggle for Christian values of the Polish people: workers, those employed in shipyards, steel works, nurses, young Polish intelligentsia. He was God’s spark in our enslaved world, helping us to release all that was best and thus helping to break the chains of slavery and intimidation. The faith that made him realise that he was fulfilling his calling gave him courage and certainty that he was following the right path. His fulfilled priestly vocation and excellent discernment of the signs of the time were his fundamental driving powers. Although things were not simple and there were also tempting proposals, including the suggestion of the Primate to study in Rome, he felt first of all a shepherd. He was aware of the harm that was being done to the various professional groups and they came to him knowing that he would support them. He could not simply leave them and give them to the prey of the Security Service. He wanted to be a good shepherd, doing his best.
Today we want to thank God seeing glorious Fr Jerzy amongst the Blessed.