AN ITALIAN JOURNALIST REMINISCES TRAGEDIES OF ‘HIS’ POLAND
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Luigi Geninazzi
In the 70s of the last century the Italian market of weeklies was dominated by two magazines: ‘L’Espresso’ and ‘Panorama’ which did not represent the Catholic part of the Italian society. For this reason a group of dynamic journalists belonging to a movement ‘Communion and Liberation’, established by Fr. Luigi Giussani, decided to establish a magazine which would be inspired with the Catholic vision of the world in such issues as politics, society, culture, religion. And, so, in 1977 a weekly ‘IlSabato’ (‘Saturday’) was established, and its first issue came out on 27 May 1978, a few months before the election of Karol Wojtyła for the bishop of Rome. What was common for John Paul II and the movement ‘Communion and Liberation’ were particular relations mainly because the Pope from Poland hoped for laymen, particularly the youth, in his mission of Church renewal. The members of the ‘Communion and Liberation’ movement actively supported its theological, cultural and social battles, and were also conducting various campaigns for the sake of respecting human rights in the world. They published, among the others, magazines of soviet dissidents, such as Sołżenicyn and Sacharow, but, first of all, they supported Polish labour union Solidarity. The young journalist Luigi Geninazzi was dealing mainly with Polish issues. His adventure with Poland began with reports on strikes in the Shipyard in Gdańsk in 1980 and lasted for over 30 years – Geninazzi has made over 107 journeys to Poland and reported on the most important events in our country. When ‘Il Sabato’ was closed down in 1993, he began to write to other newspapers, beginning with the journal ‘Avvenire’. His competent and brilliant journalist work was appreciated not only in Italy, but also in Poland – Geninazzi received the Officers’ Cross of Merits for the Republic of Poland, the supreme Polish distinction which a foreigner can receive.
I met with Luigi Geninazzi on the occasion of the anniversary of kidnapping and martyr’s death of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, whom the Italian journalist had met personally. Our talk about the dramatic 80s in Poland concentrated on the person of this martyr priest, beatified by the Church in 2010 and its shows how the tragedy of Poland of that time was perceived by foreign media. W.R.
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - What were you doing in 1978 when cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected the Pope?
LUIGI GENINAZZI: - When cardinal Wojtyła was elected the Pope, I was not a journalist but I had already been working for the magazine ‘Il Sabato’. In summer 1980, when in the Shipyard in Gdańsk a strike broke out, I was studying German language in Vienna. Because in the editorial office of the ‘Il Sabato’ there was nobody who would go to Poland (everybody was on their holiday), I was asked to go to Gdańsk. In the beginning I did not want to, as I had never worked as a reporter, but the editors were insisting on my going there, so I did. And thanks to Poland I became a journalist – for many years I was a correspondent from Warsaw for the ‘Il Sabato’ and later for the journal ‘Avvenire’ till the 90s. (later I was asked to go to Moscow). Poland changed my life, and work in this country was a very important professional and human experience for me.
Did you often travel to Poland?
I often travelled to Poland – those were short journeys, but sometimes they were long, lasting for weeks. For this reason the country of John Paul II became my second homeland. I am also proud that I got the supreme distinction from president Lech Wałęsa, which can be received by a foreigner: the Officers’ Cross of Merits for the Republic of Poland.
In order to write about Poland which you had not known before, you had to have suitable contacts. Who was Your ‘point of reference’ in understanding the Polish issues?
I had a lot of contacts which were indicated to me in Vatican. The first and the most important one was bishop Bronisław Dąbrowski, a secretary of the Episcopate, who had the fates of Solidarity in his heart. That hierarch was a very valuable source of information for me. Beside that I was in contacts with people from the Solidarity union, especially advisors of Wałęsa.
How did it happen that you met the leaders of the ‘Solidarity’ movement and gained their trustfulness?
When I went to Gdańsk for the first time, I was a bit frightened of the tensed situation. Therefore, instead of going to a hotel, I stayed with the Pallottines and due to a pure coincidence advisors of Wałęsa were living in the same house, with whom I ate breakfast and supper every day. Those were, among the others, Mazowiecki, Cywiński, Wielowieyski and Gieremek. All foreign journalists were looking for contacts with them, while I was with them in the same house. They were an unusual source of news for me, which nobody else had. What is more, I became their friend, and this friendship has been till now.
When was the first time you had heard about priest Jerzy Popiełuszko?
The first time I had heard about priest Popiełuszko was at the end of the year 1982 – a lot people were speaking about this priest as he had begun celebrating Holy Masses for Homeland in the parish of St. Stanisław Kostka. For foreign journalists those were unusual and interesting events. When I was on the last Sunday in the month in Poland, I used to go to Żoliborz. In the beginning only parishioners participated in the Holy Masses, but after some time there were thousands, tens of thousands of people from whole Poland. I was impressed by this young priest. His beautiful and teaching Holy Masses were very long – they were real ‘epics’ with songs and poems. People did not want to leave the church. I remember one of my colleagues –journalists who never went to church, but when he was ‘forced’ to go to the Holy Mass for Homeland celebrated by Fr. Jerzy in Poland – he told me that in his life he had never participated in so many Holy Masses as in Poland.
How did you meet Fr. Jerzy personally?
In summer 1984 I asked him for an interview – it was a few months before his death. One day I went to church of St. Stanisław Kostka and I was waiting for him after the Holy Mass. I thought then that I could tell him we were at the same age – I was also born in 1947. But he was withdrawn and spoke very little. Then I realized that he had already been under a lot of pressure, he had been heard by militia and had had a difficult talk with Primate Glemp (I found out about it later). When I explained that I wanted to find out what his opinion on the Church and Poland was, he answered that he was only a priest, and everything he wanted to say, spoke in his homilies. And he added: ‘Come to my Holy Mass, please’. When I answered that I attended his Holy Masses regularly, he replied: ‘That’s good, keep coming’ and he said goodbye to me. Briefly speaking I did not manage to make an interview with him but Fr. Popiełuszko remained in my heart, especially after his martyr’s death.
Did you expect that the communist regime in the fight with the Church would go further like the murder of the priest?
No I did not expect that, so I was shocked by this murder, especially with the brutality with which Fr. Jerzy was killed. We, foreign journalists, used to treat the communist regime in Poland as very hard, which was proved by the martial law, but not so bloody, as similar communist regimes, which allowed for crimes on hundreds of thousand people. Jaruzelski was a communist dictator, but he was aware that the nation was against him, so he said how to ‘apply’ violence not to provoke any reaction of people.
Don’t you think that it was him who employed some people to murder Fr. Popiełuszko?
In my opinion he didn’t. Certainly, the command of the murder did not come from Piotrowski or a colonel Pietruszka, but the decision was made by somebody on a higher post, somebody who wanted a conflict with the Church and in this way he put Jaruzelski in a very difficult situation.
So, do you think that the murder of Fr. Jerzy was the result of a conflict at the summit of the regime?
I would like to say something. When in 1985 in Toruń the trial of the murderers of Fr. Jerzy began, I managed to make an interview with the minister for Cults Adam Łopatka. In this interview Łopatka accidentally said: ‘Oh, Popiełuszko was a bit ‘hot head’. We made a big mistake. We should have sent him to prison, and he would not have been murdered’. At that time I wrote an article, using this phrase as its title – it was quoted in all worldly newspapers. For that interview Łopatka was very criticized by Jaruzelski, but the fact is that he did say it.
‘Il Sabato’ was the first Italian newspaper which published a photo of the massacred body of Fr. Popiełuszko, murdered in such a barbaric way. How did you manage to get those photos?
Somebody from Poland brought me them from Żoliborz, but I do not remember who it was. We were talking in the editorial office whether to publish them or not, as they were really terrifying photos. Finally, we published them. Seeing those photos, I recalled the trial in Toruń and testimonies by Piotrowski who, as a murderer, was cynically speaking about the macabre details of the tortures done on Fr. Popiełuszko.
How did media in Italy react to another crime of communism (we cannot forget that in Italian media, similarly as in intellectual groups, there are a lot of communists)?
The murder of Fr. Popiełuszko was presented by Italian media as an action against Jaruzelski. Indeed, I wrote that Jaruzelski might not have employed anybody to commit that crime, but I explained that first of all, it was a crime aimed against the Polish Church, as well as against the ‘Solidarity’ movement and the Polish nation. And media did not speak about it.
It is not a secret that journalists of the ‘Il Sabato’ had contacts with John Paul II. Did you have an occasion to talk with the Pope?
That is true that we had contacts with the Pope, but more often we talked with his secretary, don Stanislao – Fr. Dziwisz was called so. Personally I had an occasion to talk with the pope three times – I had a particularly long talk with him after his second journey to Homeland in 1983.
Do you visit the grave of Fr. Popiełuszko?
Yes, I do. I visited his grave I 1984 and I visit it whenever I am in Warsaw. At my age memories are very important. And every time I visit the grave to pray, I am moved, as I recall when I was standing next to the priest when he was leaving the church. At that time I did not think that he would be murdered and beatified. I saw a mysterious coincidence between the tragedy at Smoleńsk and the beatification of Fr. Popiełuszko, which took place two months later. When president Kaczyński died as well as other Polish persons, the society was shocked and divided, and the beatification of Fr. Jerzy became an occasion for the nation reconciliation. Today I am sad to see that Poland is divided again, and this division goes beyond confrontation and political dialectics. I am very sad as I am aware that the divisions also concern people coming from the ‘Solidarity’ movement. So, I hope that the canonization of Fr. Popiełuszko may contribute to the reconciliation of the Polish nation as Jerzy is not a martyr of only one of the parties. Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, a saint, can be a patron of reconciled Poland.