IT WAS A FAREWELL TO AN INMATE
Private cars were joining taxis one by one. At the dissecting-room, the funeral procession consisted of a several dozen cars. Just behind the hospital gate – a few hundred. When a hearse with the body of the Priest was leaving the boundaries of the city, the funeral procession was over 4 km long.
Taxis hidden in side streets of the green city, were appearing like leaves, creating a kind of a wreath given to the honour of Fr. Jerzy. Inhabitants of the capital of Podlasie, standing, on pavements and side streets, were saying loudly: Lord, give him eternal rest….’. Some were kneeling. They were making a sign of cross. They were lighting grave candles. They were crying. It was 2 November 1984. The son of the land in Podlasie, Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, murdered by communists, was being buried with such a farewell as if it had been a farewell of a marshal with a ceremonial mace. The cavalcade of cars with sounding horns were seeing off the body of the murdered witness of the truth to the borders of the diocese in Żółtki village situated in over 15 km from the borders of the city.
Solidarity changed Podlasie
Białystok of the 70s of the last century is a city of over 200 thousand inhabitants. It is inhabited by quite a big per cent of orthodox believers. There is a Medical Academy known in eastern Poland, as well as a polytechnics, a subsidiary of the Warsaw theater school educating actors of doll’s scene. There is also a subsidiary of the Warsaw University, a theatre, philharmonics and a few workplaces employing thousands of people.
But, beside this public, scientific-factory default life, the city used to have a half-public life, which was half-concealed. Here, as well as in Lubaczów of Drohiczyn, there was an apostolic administration. The archdiocese of Vilnius had also its headquarters here. Despite an aggressive propaganda, inhabitants of Białystok still remember fights of the National Army with the communist occupant.
But in Białystok, as some people say, ‘everything happened according to the Russian calendar’, that is, two weeks later than in central Poland. So, when in Pomerania there strikes were finishing in 1980, in Białostok they were starting. The Inter- Founding Committee of new labour unions was established on 12 September. However, the rest of things followed immediately – in the end of 1980, in nearly all workplaces, work committees of ‘Solidarity’ had already been functioning. Communists reacted to it nearly hysterically.
Just after the ‘Solidarity’ was constituted, in the region an association of taxi drivers was established, whom communists did not want to register thinking that as private entrepreneurs they could not establish labour unions. Despite that, among 700 ‘private taxi drivers’, nearly 80 per cent belonged to the association. Thanks to their independent means of transport, taxi drivers became excellent distributors.
Freedom and war
Mirosław Trzasko and Krzysztof Nowakowski used to travel by taxi since 1978. They were colleagues from behind the steering wheels, although Trzasko was 49 years old and Nowakowski was 26. Trzasko was a former political prisoner, sentenced the 50s of the XX century to a long-term imprisonment for his activity in the National Army. Whereas Nowakowski dreamed about a great football career, playing in the representation ‘Włókniarz Białystok’. However, he was enrolled to the army. Whereas, after his return he preferred to work in his own than his family’s building enterprise. He chose taxi. Both colleagues, the older and the younger one got to know each other better, acting in the ‘Solidarity’, especially the conspiracy one.
After introducing the martial law, the ‘Solidarity’ in Białystok was quickly dispersed. Similarly as the nationwide force of 10 million people burst like a soap ball under the hit. Only a few people were engaged in the fight for independence. Mirosław Trzasko and Krzysztof Nowakowski met each other in the beginning of the martial law. Both of them became engaged in organizing the distribution of the Białostok newsletter which was quickly reactivated, but in conspiracy. They were also engaged in distributing leaflets, transporting duplications, paint. They participated in nearly every anti-communist demonstration in the city. Both of them were also harassed by the militia and the Security Service. They underwent revisions, hearings. They also participated in the daily Holy Mass for Homeland in the church of St. Roch in Białystok and in the parish church, similarly as in their church of Fr. Popiełuszko in Warsaw, where a delegation of a few hundred people from Białystok used to go to with banners.
- We were impressed by his patriotic attitude – says Mirosław Trzasko.
- He had an unusual charisma and peace – says Krzysztof Nowakowski. – Today I cannot say what was in him but when I used to return from Warsaw, I was always filled in a kind of an inexplicable strength which gave mi patience for the next month of work.
A mystery of death
A day before kidnapping, Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko told bishop Zbigniew Kraszewski: ‘I know that they will kill me but I must proclaim the truth’.
In October 1984, after years of slanders, provocation and contempt towards Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, he was murdered. And his murderers were quickly arrested. They were sued to the court, which was similar to a farce at times. It is known that the priest was abducted on 19 October 1984. His body was allegedly found on 30 October. On the same day the body was transported to the Department of Forensic Medicine in Białystok. In the beginning the authorities of the Polish United Labour Party did not want to agree to bury the priest in Warsaw. They persuaded the family for a ‘pompous’ funeral in Suchowola. But communists’ hopes were quickly disrupted by the priest’s mother, who said: ‘I gave him to the Church and the Church will decide where he will be buried’.
We could not believe
- My wife worked at the hospital at that time. We found out that the priest’s body was in the dissecting-room in Białystok. Although she was not sure herself whether it was a rumour or the truth – says MirosławTrzasko. – Next day I drove my wife to hospital and here a doctor, prof. Bielecki confirmed it. We went to the bishop again in order to make sure. I did not doubt that we must do something with this news.
- Just after 6 a.m., on 2 October emotionally agitated Krysia Strubel popped into us and said that the body of Fr. Jerzy was in Białystok. And that it would be transported to Warsaw that day. She assured us that it was a certain information because she had got it from people in conspiracy ‘Solidarity’. Particularly from Anka Wojciechowska from the provincial hospital - says Krzysztof Nowakowski. – I went to taxi stops and I was catching people; mainly those whom I was giving out leaflets, newsletters. I was saying more or less discreetly: tell everybody, not only taxi drivers that there is the body of the late Fr. Jerzy in our city. Today it will be transported to Warsaw. It is not known at what time. Gather at the hospital. Colleagues started ‘spreading’ this news. After all, at that time there were not nearly any phone calls. It was known that we had to buy wreaths, grave candles and somehow say farewell to the priest with dignity. We met with a few colleagues with whom we had been acting in conspiracy and we decided that we had to take our banner of taxi drivers association and see off the priest with this banner. Whereas I was trying to get to the dissecting-room in order to find out when the priest’s body would be transported after the mortem examination. We made it.
Jerzy! Let Your spirit go with me!
At that time, there was a strong clash between the representatives of the cruel system and priests who were authorized by the primate Józef Glemp to arrive at the Medical Academy in Białostok. However, neither the delegation of priests or ,metallurgists were not allowed to enter the dissecting-room . And when they were allowed to – they were not allowed to make photos of the body of the murdered priest. The time was not given either, at which the body of Fr. Jerzy could be passed to his family.
A dozen hours earlier, before priests entered the dissecting-room in secret, but with permission of prof. Maria Byrda, the debris of the murdered priest’s organs were taken. As sister Tomira Wanda Brzezińska MSF reports, blood and sections of organs of the murdered priest had been taken. Later sister Laurencja took care of securing the body. After years she reminisced: .(….) I was waiting for many nights (…) for the moment of giving the relics – yes, relics because everyone knew that Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko is a saint. On 18 April 1986 dr. Jan Szrzedziński, in the presence of Fr. Jerzy Gisztarowicz, prof. Andrzej Kaliciński – a director of the Cardiology Clinic of the Medical Academy in Białystok and Fr. Wacław Lewkowicz – a notary of the Archbishop Curia in Białystok gave me the debris of the organs. We decided together that I would take the debris to the priest Teofil Bogucki – a parish priest of the parish church of St. Stanisław in Żoliborz. I took the holy relics for ourselves, hid them in a bag and got on a train with a rosary in my hand in order to go to Warsaw. I went to the parish priest Bogucki. I remember that he was in the company of the representatives of the solidarity in Gdańsk. After our talk, the priest Bogucki said: ‘Dear sister, I am very ill. My heart is getting weaker. I feel I will die soon. In this situation I cannot take the debris of Fr. Jerzy’s organs because I am afraid that I will not secure them enough, that communists will destroy them after death. Please, sister, take them back to Białystok’. I knew that I had to take them, but I did not know what to next. Before I left the parish in Żoliborz, I put the debris of the organs on the grave of the priest Jerzy Popiełuszko. I knelt and said to him: ‘Jerzy, here is a piece of your tortured body. I must take you back to my home land in Podlasie. Let Your spirit go with me…’. Kneeling, I said a prayer and went to the station and together with Fr. Jerzy. I know that he was with me physically! (…) Towards various roads closed up for hiding the organs, we decided together with Fr. Jerzy Gisztarowicz, Fr. T. Krahel, prof. Kaliciński and dr. Szrzedziński to embed the relics in the wall of the chapel of a religious house being built. (…)’
And it happened so. The relics had been in the wall of the monastery for over 24 years. They were extracted on 11 May 2010 from the walls of the current sanctuary of blessed Bolesława Lament. During the thanksgiving ceremonies for beatification of Fr. Jerzy they were embedded into the pillar of the church of Lord’s Resurrection in Białystok.
The funeral procession was formed nearly spontaneously
- I was just at the dissecting-room and I was trying to find out as many details as possible when the body of Fr. Jerzy would be taken out. From time to time Fr. Grzegorz Kalwarczyk or brother of Fr. Jerzy were coming out to inform us what the situation was. They did not know themselves when the body would be taken out – says Krzysztof Nowakowski. The caravan with the coffin arrived at about 12 o’clock. My colleagues were organizing a procession of taxi cars behind the gate in nearby streets and were getting prepared for a possible aggression from the militia of the Security Service.
- Indeed, there was organization of this funeral procession. We were trying to pay tribute with dignity as best as possible. So, there were wreaths and banners. But, in fact, this organizing the funeral procession came nearly spontaneously – says Mirosław Trzasko after years. – After all, he was our chaplain, like somebody from our family. So, how couldn’t we say farewell to him with dignity, as he had proclaimed the God’s word? It was a farewell of an inmate and seeing him off as it is in the village till today: from home to the cross. To the next station.
- We set off to the dissecting –room with lights on and continuous sounding horns. It made an incredible impression. We went through the city centre on purpose, although directly to Warsaw the road from the hospital was shorter – says Krzysztof Nowakowski. – We stopped in front of the parish church. From side streets other cars were coming. Both taxi cars and private cars. We did not stop at traffic lights. 3 rows of cars were going along the alley. Very slowly. maybe 20 km per hour. We got to the bridge at Narwa in the town of Żółtki, which was the border of the diocese. It is some 15 or maybe more kilometres from Białystok. We stopped on the road. Cars coming from Warsaw stopped too. We knelt spontaneously. There were a few thousand people with us, because our taxi cars had taken a few people. There were hundreds of people in other cars. Nobody said nothing to anybody. We said a prayer. The prayer was conducted probably by bishop Edward Kisiel, but I already remember them, maybe the chancellor of the Curia, Fr. Cezary Potocki . An engineer from Warsaw ironworks, Jacek Lipiński, thanked us for our assistance. We did not leave after the prayer straightaway but we were waiting till the procession column with Fr. Jerzy would disappear behind the horizon. And only then we started returning to the city.
For a few next days the Civilian Militia took revenge on taxi drivers with fines. Only after the intervention of bishop Edward Kisiel repression towards them was stopped.