There would be no freedom without them
Milena Kindziuk talks to Mateusz Wyrwich, a specialist in political relationships and the author of the book 'Kapelani Solidarnosci' [Chaplains of Solidarity Movement]
The role of priests in the fight for independent Poland cannot be overestimated. And the history of those days without considering the role of priests is not only incomplete but also actually untrue. The symbol of the chaplain of Solidarity Movement was Fr Jerzy Popieluszko. He was on the first line of the war waged by the Polish nation with the communists and he paid the price. The similar case was that of Fr Ignacy Skorupka who roused the young people to attack in 1920 in the battle of Ossowo.
Milena Kindziuk: - What role did the Catholic priests play in the history of Solidarity Movement?
Mateusz Wyrwich: - They played the same role as the priests who stood on the barricades, literally or symbolically, during our fight for independence. And they paid the price. It occurred in the years of the partitions, during the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920 and later, during the German or Soviet occupations. Priests were among the activists of the Workers' Union Solidarnosc, just after the movement was born. They blessed the banners, monuments and paid homage to the victims of communism. Like it was during the partitions the parish buildings became centres to teach forbidden knowledge. Thanks to parish libraries, lectures delivered by laymen, more and more people got to know non-distorted history of the own country.
- Priests also celebrated Holy Masses in the intention of the Homeland...
- Yes, they did. Thanks to those Masses and priests' prayers Poles were not broken by the marshal law. I sometimes think that if there had been no help of priests our attempts to regain independence would have failed. Or the efforts would not have been bloodless. There are many examples of priests lessening the radical moods of people connected with Solidarity Movement who wanted to take up arms at the beginning of the marshal law. It is worth mentioning the excellent homily of the Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp who urged to save life and warned against bloodshed.
- There were many priests involved in helping the Solidarity people. Your book presents only selected figures, doesn't it?
- Yes, it does. During my research in libraries I came across about 200 cases of priests who were actively involved in the fight for Poland's independence. Undoubtedly, there were more cases. But the first volume of my book included symbolic sketches of thirteen priests - chaplains of Solidarity, and the second volume speaks about seventeen. Although I must admit that I found stories of several dozen priests.
- Why were all of them not included in your book?
- For various reasons. For example, some were eager to talk about their ways to help Solidarity but they did not think that their stories were to be related. In my opinion it is extreme humility but I respect their right to privacy. Although I say it is a pity since there is some gap in the history. I will still try to convince some of them. Today I know about over two hundred priests who were very active helping people, apart from stricte spiritual help, helping the laymen in the pro-independence efforts. During my meetings with readers, listeners or TV viewers I learn about many other priests and I verify the information. And what is interesting, those lay activists of the underground are usually right. Since it is them that know best who supported them during the dramatic moments of their lives.
- Why do you call these priests chaplains and not, which is most commonly accepted 'priests of workers'?
- Because they were priests who like chaplains in the war accompanied all activities of the Solidarity opposition. Commencing with the Holy Mass before a manifestation to printing leaflets. In particular regions various priests were nominated to minister workers by local bishops. However, only some could fulfil that role during the marshal law and who served people with such dedication. So the underground activists did not regard all priests as chaplains of regional Solidarity units. Since the chaplains identified themselves with the ideals of independence that the Union fought for. Naturally, the symbol of Solidarity chaplain was Fr Jerzy Popieluszko. The priest who, let me use a pathetic term, was on the first line of the war waged by the Polish nation with the communists and he paid the price. The similar case was that of Fr Ignacy Skorupka who roused the young people to attack in 1920 in the battle of Ossowo. But any 'Solidarity chaplain' could have found himself in the situation of Fr Jerzy. The communists tortured priests till the last moment. The sacrifice of Fr Niedzielak, Fr Suchowolec or Fr Zych, murdered by the Security Services, clearly testify to that.
- The authorities of the Polish People's Republic accused those priests of political activities...
- Exactly, forgetting about the social teaching of the Church, which always stressed that any authorities must guard the fundamental freedom of man, must respect human dignity. But everything that was not in accordance with the 'line of the party' was 'political' in the PRL. Communists have always been insincere. When they managed to incline some priests to join the movement, which was informally called 'priests patriots', that supported the communist party (PZPR) in the 1950s, those priests obviously were not involved in any politics. Like the communists said they 'fought for peace'. It was clear they fought for the Russian version of peace. But when all other priests were against that movement they were 'against Poland' and ... 'involved in politics'. Unfortunately, even today in the environment of the clergy one can hear opinions that 'the priests who fought during the times of Solidarity were involved in politics.' And this is undoubtedly the victory of the communist propaganda, perversely blurring the difference between politics and the duties of citizens and patriotism.
- Where did you get the idea to write a book about the chaplains of Solidarity?
- The idea is not mine. A year and half before the 25th anniversary of Solidarity, in the living room of the 17th century St Catherine's presbytery in Warszawa-Sluzewiec I talked to the parish priest Fr Jozef Maj about that anniversary, including the achievements of the Solidarity people, our relatives and acquaintances from the underground whom we collaborated with. We talked about priests, too. We mentioned publications concerning the 25th anniversary. I do not usurp the right to have all knowledge about publications on 'Solidarnosc' that appeared in Poland but I try not to miss any book. It turned out that there was no book bout the contribution of priests to the Solidarity movement. The role of priests in the fight for independent Poland cannot be overestimated. And the history of those days without considering the role of priests is not only incomplete but also actually untrue. This is what believers think. If we acknowledge the action of the Holy Spirit as the true cause of those events it is hard to imagine that his breath omitted the clergy and touched only the laymen. During that conversation Fr Maj asked, 'Wouldn't you like to write a book about those priests?' I answered that I could not because I was gathering material for another book. And then we said good-bye. But God's plans were different. After I had said good-bye to the priest I knew immediately that I would write that book. Thus I began working on the first volume. The second volume is ready. Now I am working on volume three.