Priest and politics

Czeslaw Ryszka

The 20th anniversary of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko's murder directed our attention - as if by chance - to the relationship between the Gospel and politics. Many articles in mass media included the questions: 'How would Fr Jerzy have reacted today? What would he have preached about? Which party would he have sympathized with...? Such digressions make one think of the ombudsman's lies spoken 20 years ago and senselessly repeated by the country bumpkins, 'If this Popieluszko had not talked politics he would have lived up till now'. Using this crude way of speaking the communists tried to persuade the society that preaching from the pulpit about social matters was contrary to the Gospel.
And what was 'the politics' of Father Jerzy? I will quote a fragment from his sermon delivered during Mass on 27 May 1984, 'The fundamental condition of man's liberation to discover the truth and live the truth is to acquire the virtue of fortitude. The sign of Christian fortitude is fight for the truth... May we be aware every day that when we demand the truth from others we ourselves must live the truth. Demanding justice we must ourselves be just. Demanding courage, fortitude, we must be brave and courageous every day'. Is politics in these words? When you analyse Fr Jerzy's sermons you can see that the label of their political character cannot be justified. His sermons were not political but theological, filled with quotations from the Bible, from the teaching of Cardinal Wyszynski and of John Paul II. There were no names, no stigmatizing and no attacking although the sermons often openly referred to contemporary events. For example, in the Mass of May 1982, which he offered for the intention of his homeland, Fr Jerzy spoke about those who were beaten and arrested by the militia [name of the police force functioning in the People's Republic of Poland] and ZOMO [Polish riot police] because they had participated in the so-called anti-May marches and Masses. At some moment his sermon took the form of a litany, 'Mother of those who are deceived, pray for us; Mother of those who are betrayed, pray for us; Mother of those who are arrested, pray for us; Mother of those who were subjected to interrogations, pray for us; Mother of those who have been frightened, pray for us; Mother of orphans, pray for us; Mother of those who have been molested because they wore your image, pray for us!'
The communist propaganda called this sermon a show of hatred. But Father Jerzy always said that you should conquer hatred and evil with good. You can win only in this way. After each Mass he asked those who were leaving the church not to get involved in riots and provocations, especially that the militia cordons surrounded the square around the Church of St Stanislaus Kostka. Were those commands, directed to the believers without slogans and calls for revolt and riots, of political character? The only battle cry Fr Jerzy constantly promoted was: 'Resist evil and conquer it with good' (Romans 12:21). This motto is certainly irritating to every governing authority but has it something to do with politics? It was a hundredfold more inconvenient for the authorities that Fr Jerzy proclaimed the truth in a charismatic way. And his preaching was without any compromise, which was to him more important than to live in peace and security. That's why Father Jerzy is a priest who thanks to his pastoral attitude, life of truth, and proclaiming the truth, has gone down in the history of the Church in Poland and all over Europe, which John Paul II stressed in his homily delivered on 7 June 1991 in Wloclawek, 'He is the patron of our presence in Europe for the price of his life, like Christ. And like Christ he has the right of citizenship in the world, the right of citizenship in Europe because he gave up his life for all of us. He has the right of citizenship among us and among all nations of this continent and the whole world, through his cross... One should not treat him - God forbid, I do not think that anyone can see or try this - one should not treat him only to such extent as he served a certain cause in the political order, although it was a fully ethical cause, one should see and read him in the whole truth of his life'.
I wonder what priests - both in the past and today - are accused of 'being politized' by the authorities? They are mainly those who refer to the national history, who arouse patriotic feelings, who arouse conscience, proclaim and live the truth. Totalitarian systems cannot stand the truth. They murder those who teach how to live the truth. Therefore, if Fr Jerzy had been alive today he would have reacted fiercely to the fact that some oligarchic groups have taken over the state, that political life has been terribly hypocritical, that immoral bills have been passed and one can see an almost pathological hatred for the truth.
Fr Jerzy would have known how to minister to people today, how to influence human conscience, how to teach to live in the truth. He would not certainly have been silent facing so much wickedness and he would not have pretended that nothing wrong was happening. Having been involved in politics he would not have tried to win power for his favourite party, he would not have helped anyone to get some political post but he would have just cried for people of conscience in politics. He would have been one of those priests, we have had in our history, who were present everywhere, also in uprisings, Soviet forced-labour camps, prisons and at universities and in mass media, i.e. in all places where there was struggle for Poland and for the Polish spirit in human hearts.
And today people expect this from priests: to follow the example of Father Jerzy and be people who worry about Poland, who show politicians the moral foundation in every action and word, who are simply present where there is the danger of careerism, the cult of power, corruption or egoism. Who but priests should teach politicians that governing should be based on the spirit of service and that all activities should be open and fair.

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: