EVERY FIFTH PRIEST WAS KILLED
FR. PAWEŁ RYTEL-ADRIANIK, THE SPOKESMAN OF THE POLISH EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE
Every fifth diocesan priest in Poland was murdered during the Second World War (about 2 thousand among 10 thousand). There were such dioceses, like diocese of Gniezno, Włocławek or Chełmno, from which every third or second priest was killed only because he was a Catholic priest. Moreover, over 600 monks and nuns were killed.
On 29 April we celebrate the Day of Polish Clergy Martyrdom, established by the Polish Episcopal Conference in 2002. The date is symbolic. Priests imprisoned in Dachau made a vow that if they survived the camp, they would make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of St. Joseph in Kalisz. On 29 April in the evening, the camp was to be razed to the ground, and prisoners murdered. However, the Americans preceded the Germans. Only a few hours before the planned liquidation of the camp, did they free 33 thousand prisoners, including 856 priests. After the war the priests kept their promise and for years they have been making pilgrimages to the sanctuary of St. Jospeh in Kalisz. The longest-living priest saved from Dachau was Fr. Leon Stępniak, who died in 2013.
The Day of Polish Clergy Martyrdom is also a day of remembrance about a few hundred priests who were victims of the soviet regime or communist authority. Among them there is Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko.
St. John Paul II emphasized the need of commemorating victims of totalitarianisms, saying: ‘I think that the particular obligation of our generation in the Church is collecting all testimonies of those who devoted their lives for Christ’. (Bydgoszcz, 7 June 1999). Clerics from the Seminary in Tarnów wrote 2947 surnames of priests in a Book of the Polish Clergy Martyrdom, which they deposited at Jasna Góra. Last year there was a pilgrimage of priests to Dachau. There are also other initiatives, but there is need for others, so that it would be possible to save martyrs of XX century from forgetting.