Overcome evil with good
Milena Kindziuk, Andrzej Tarwid
‘He was a persevering and tireless witness of Christ: he overcame evil with good and he shed his blood for that’ – people gathered in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw rejoiced hearing these words of Pope Benedict XVI.
Once they had his phone number and now they participated in the beatification of his friend, colleague and acquaintance. This was an exceptional situation. That’s why those who had known Fr Popieluszko personally were deeply moved that day. And when Archbishop Angelo Amato began recollecting his own visit to the Museum dedicated to Fr Jerzy and shared how much he was impressed by the photos of ‘the deformed face of this mild Priest, resembling the flogged and humiliated face of the crucified Christ, the face that lost its beauty and dignity’ many people began crying.
But the most moving picture was the figure of Marianna Popieluszko, a woman who was slightly bent, with a walking stick, standing in her Sunday best dark cherry costume close to the altar, staring at the portrait of Fr Jerzy, which was just in front of her. And then she walked slowly after the reliquary with the relics of her son. Humanly speaking, it was hard to experience. From the perspective of faith one can experience it with joy. And one can experience it like her, the saint’s mother. Since as Archbishop Amato said ‘the sacrifice of the young priest was not a defeat. The blood of martyrs is indeed the seed of Christians.’
In the history of the Church it must have been the first situation when a mother participated in her son’s beatification. And the first situation that she heard her being quoted in the beatification homily. It happened when Archbishop Amato said, ‘The testimony of the Mother of our Blessed is very moving. Marianna Popieluszko said, «My son, Fr Jerzy, was a strong believer all his life… When he served in the army he prayed the rosary despite his superior’s command. I never heard him complaining about God. He tried to accept every unpleasantness in the spirit of faith and love for Lord God.»’
Standing close to one another in the square
The sun was shining on the Sunday morning of 6 June in Warsaw. The Polish people who gathered in Pilsudski Square felt that they were a community. United in prayer, reflection and joy they came to pay tribute to the Martyr; pay the debt, express their gratitude and they came to honour him.
The first pilgrims arrived on Saturday. Some of them gathered at the grave of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko in Warsaw-Zoliborz and others gathered in Wilanow, at the Divine Providence Church, which is being contracted. But the majority gathered in Marshal Jozef Pilsudski Square. 31 years ago John Paul II celebrated Mass at this very place. A crucifix was put there to commemorate that event. And just next to the papal cross a white-red altar, crowned with the symbol of the Holy Spirit and the inscription ‘Overcome evil with good’ was constructed. Around this motto several dozen thousand people gathered in Masses celebrated by Fr Jerzy for the Homeland in the 1980s. About 150,000 people gathered around the altar with the motto, ‘Overcome evil with good’ on 6 June 2010.
‘I like this altar very much. White refers to chastity. The most important thing is that the words proclaimed by Fr Jerzy were quoted. If all people followed these words the world would be better’, Marianna Popieluszko told ‘Niedziela’ just before the beginning of the beatification ceremony.
Parishes from all over Poland organised special pilgrimages but there were numerous individual pilgrims, too. An old man with a walking stick came from Grodno and going around the altar he asked the passers-by whether they had an extra invitation for the beatification Mass. Some woman took such an invitation out of her handbag and gave it to him.
Among the crowds there was also a group of 11 people from the region of Silesia. They ran from the monument to the Killed Miners of the Wujek Coal Mine. They were members of the Catholic Action from Knurow, marathon runners, miners and charges of Caritas. Within two days they covered over 320 km to take part in the beatification ceremony.
Just before the Sunday Mass many people said that they recollected the 1980s. ‘Then we also felt we were one. First. When ‘Solidarity’ was founded and then after marshal law had been imposed we felt unity during the Masses celebrated by Fr Jerzy. That’s why we felt we must be here.’
Like in the 1980s there were artists and workers, the young and the old. They spoke about their encounters with Fr Jerzy; how they listened to the fragments of his sermons broadcasted on international radios. The phenomenon of those homilies continues to fascinate us today. Even those people, like the solicitor Maciej Bendarkiewicz, who participated in the Masses Fr Jerzy celebrated.
‘Fr Jerzy uttered beautiful short sentences. His thoughts were ordered. Participating in the first Masses he celebrated I was absolutely convinced that he read his sermons. My conviction was based on the fact that he visited my family and then he spoke differently.’ Fr Jerzy was cautious not to introduce any shadow of hatred during his Masses. Every Mass celebrated in the intention of our Homeland ended with an appeal to remain peaceful. It ended with prayers for the government. The participants left the church in the mood of reflection and need to do good in order to overcome evil.
‘People followed him from parish to parish since he had such a gift that they saw themselves better in his eyes’, said Maja Komorowska, an outstanding Polish actress.
In Pilsudski Square there was another person without whom the beatification would not have happened. It was Cardinal Jozef Glemp who made the decision to let Fr Popieluszko stay in Poland. He did not force him to go to Rome, to escape. If he had done so he would have saved his life. But then we would not have had a saint today…
The Primate spoke about his dilemma in public in the year 2000 when he apologised for not having saved the life of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko in spite of all attempts to do that. ‘May God forgive me but perhaps it was his holy will’, the cardinal said in his famous sermon at the Theatre Square in Warsaw.
It was Cardinal Glemp that took the decision and supported the process of beatification of Fr Jerzy, about which Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz mentioned thanking the Senior Primate.
The Mass held in Pilsudski Square was co-celebrated in Latin by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Polish Bishops’ Conference and foreign hierarchs, including Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The following cardinals were present: Stanislaw Dziwisz, Jozef Glemp, Henryk Gulbinowicz, Franciszek Macharski as well as Adam Maida from Detroit (USA) and Kazimierz Swiatek from Belarus. There were also people from the sphere of politics, including Prime Minister Donald Tusk, former president Lech Walesa, MPs and senators and the presidential candidates: Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Bronislaw Komorowski.
During the beatification of Fr Jerzy the prayers also embraced the perpetrators of his death. The celebrants asked God ‘to show his mercy for the dead and a grace of conversion to the living.’
The beatification ceremony of Fr Jerzy resembled the joyful days of the papal pilgrimages to Poland. When Archbishop Nycz, presenting the life of the Candidate for the altars, said that in 1987 the Servant of God John Paul II prayed at Fr Jerzy’s grave and the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, prayed there in 2005, silence fell over the square. The gathered felt that history was happening before their eyes. Their reactions were similar when they heard the words of Archbishop Amato who also reminded them that the Polish Pope John Paul II prayed at the Martyr’s grave in 1987.
The words of the homily about the motto of Fr Jerzy’s life were also meaningful, ‘He realised that the evil of the dictatorship had its source in Satan and that’s why he encouraged people to overcome evil with good and God’s grace.’ Archbishop Amato mentioned the Marxist ideology as evil and a system based on lies, rejecting the evangelistic values that Fr Jerzy defended. ‘Religion, the Gospel, dignity of human person and freedom were not consistent with the Marxist ideology. That’s why the destructive wrath of the big liar, God’s enemy and torturer of mankind, the one that hates the truth and spreads lies, broke out against him. In those years, as it happened in history, in the big area of Europe, the light of reason was overcome by darkness and good was replaced by evil’, he said.
Archbishop Amato paid attention to the universalism of the Blessed’s message, ‘Facing another wave of persecutions against the Gospel and the Church the timeless message, which must rule in our hearts today, is the one expressed by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, presenting a synthesis of the martyr’s testimony of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko. The Pope says that he new Blessed was a priest and martyr, an enduring and tireless witness of Christ; he overcame evil with good and shed his blood for that.’
The beatification ceremony ended with a procession during which the reliquary of the Blessed Martyr was carried to the Divine Providence Sanctuary in the district of Wilanow in Warsaw.