From Facebook: Venite Prandete – “Come and Eat”
Pope John Paul II said of him; “He died for us, like Christ.”
Popieluszko was the son of farmers in a simple village in Poland under the repressive totalitarian rule of the Soviet State. He served his army duty, (2 years compulsory service), segregated into a special force which was aimed to deter vocations to the priesthood; the Soviet methods were to humiliate the prospective priests and seminarians. Lawrence Reed, in his short biography of Father Popieluszko, stated that Popieluszko, “openly disdained the army’s coercive atheistic indoctrination. Obedient he was – but not to the authorities.
For refusing to relinquish the cross he wore around his neck, he was forced to stand all night at attention, barefoot in the snow. From such frequent cruelty, he emerged with his health permanently damaged, but his spirits higher than ever. The experience reinforced his life’s mission, to serve God by resisting evil, to comfort and encourage victims of oppression, and ultimately to free his country. He returned to the seminary and in May 1972, at the age of 24, he was ordained [by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.]
“Lawrence Reed, “Jerzy Popieluszko: Witness to Truth and Freedom” at https://fee.org/art…/conquering-the-bad-through-the-good/- from which I have taken the essence of Father Popieluszko’s biography below.
In the 1970’s, in the years immediately following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, with Eastern Europe under their total domination, the Soviet Union seemed to be winning its battle with the demoralised west. The US was reeling from the Vietnam War and the political scandals of Watergate. The American leadership “wilted as the Soviets boasted that communism represented the world’s future.”*
“Then, in 1978, the first non-Italian Pope ascended the Papacy”. Polish Cardinal Karol Josef Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.”The news merely surprised the world, but it electrified Poland.
“Before the end of his first year of his Pontificate, the Pope made a triumphant visit to his native Poland – a visit which the communist government had mistakenly allowed under the view that they could turn it to a propaganda advantage.
“Poles turned out in their millions to welcome John Paul. They heard him declare, ‘Be not afraid!’ and they knew what his message was.”
Father Popieluszko stepped up to the plate and declared from the pulpit one Sunday, ‘Justice and the right to know the truth require us from this pulpit to repeatedly demand a limit on the tyranny of censorship!'”
Communism had been imposed upon the Poles since World War II, a period following their martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, in which period they lost 6 million people, most of whom were civilian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. *
*The Polish Institute of National Remembrance (2.7 million Poles, 2.7-2.9 million Jews). There were 150,000 victims of Soviet repression (IPN)
…The visit [by the Pope] proved to be the galvanising moment when Poles by their millions began to lose their fear of the regime and contemplate the real possibility of freedom from their oppressors.”
In the following months, the Polish people “ventured into dangerous, open opposition. Workers increasingly went on strike with demands that pertained not to working conditions, but to political freedoms. The world believed that the Soviets would suppress the movement as they had Czechoslovakia, (only 10 years before), and as they had in Hungary in 1956, by invasion and slaughter.
Lawrence Reed writes:
“In 1980, Cardinal Wyszynski was the revered Primate of Poland, the highest ranking Catholic in the country, with a long history of antagonism against the communists. When striking steel workers begged him to send a priest into the huge Huta Warszawa steel mill, he chose 33 year old Father Popieluszko.”
“It was a daring move, the first time a priest had even entered a state-owned enterprise of such size, let alone one who so openly denounced the government. From that moment until his death, he was known as the favourite priest of both Solidarity and John Paul II in Rome. Perhaps he already knew it, but his life was on the line. In The Priest and the Policemen, biographers John Moody and Roger Boyes write,
“He was stalked like a game animal in the last years of his life, hunted by agents…who knew that the priest had to be silenced. Murder was not the only solution. It would have been enough to persuade the Church to transfer him to an obscure parish, or bring him to Rome.’It would have sufficed to put him on trial and sentence him to prison for his political preaching or to strain his delicate health… to the breaking point, so that his death could be passed off, in the words of one agent (of the secret police), as ‘a beautiful accident.’ The police tried all these methods but found it impossible to silence the priest, who declared modestly, ‘I am only saying aloud what people are thinking privately.
‘The world watched the rebellion by the Polish people with fear – hopeful for freedom for them but fearful of a Soviet backlash. Lawrence Reed observed:
“Then in a massive crackdown, martial law was imposed. Thousands of dissidents were rounded up and jailed. Solidarity and other pro-freedom groups …were officially banned. Poland descended into another long, dark, eight years of renewed persecution.”
Father Popieluszko repeatedly called for an end to the repression and human rights abuses in his sermons. During the period of martial law, imposed to silence resistance, it was only the Catholic Church that was able to speak out, with the regular celebration of Mass providing an opportunity for public gatherings in churches. Father Popieluszko’s sermons were broadcast by Radio Free Europe, and he became known for an uncompromising resistance to the regime, interweaving political messages with spiritual exhortations.He was seen by the regime as the most dangerous man in Poland.*
The Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa [the ‘SB’- secret police/intelligence service – basically, the Polish equivalent of the East German Stasi or the KGB] attempted to intimidate him into silence. When that didn’t work, they fabricated evidence against him; he was arrested in 1983, but released on intervention by the clergy and pardoned by an amnesty. Lawrence Reed stated:
“The secret police planted weapons in his apartment, then staged a raid for television to ‘prove on national television that he was a dangerous subversive reactionary. He was arrested several times, but pressure from the [Church was brought to bear] each time to secure his release. Without skipping a beat, he would then renew his pleas for freedom.“
St Stanislaus Kostka Church was routinely jammed as people travelled from all over the country to hear him speak every Sunday; they even packed into the nearby streets by the thousands to hear his words broadcast over loudspeakers.. ‘It is not enough for a Christian to condemn evil, cowardice, lies and use of force, hatred and oppression,’ he once declared. ‘He must at all times be a witness to and defender of, justice, goodness, truth, freedom and love. He must never tire of claiming these values as a right both for himself and others.’
A visiting western journalist asked Father Jerzy in 1984 how he could continue to speak so boldly without fear of retaliation. His reply was, ‘they will kill me. They will kill me.’ But, he went on, he could not remain silent when members of his own congregation remained jailed, tortured and were even killed for nothing more than wanting to be free. ‘We must conquer the bad through the good,’ he often implored.
A car accident, (or what was meant to look like an accident), was set up to kill him by the communist secret police on 13 October 1984, but he evaded it. He was kidnapped on 19 October 1984 and was beaten to death by three Security Police officers: Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, Leszek Pekala and Waldemar Chmielewski, who had pretended to have problems with their car and flagged Father Popileuszko down to help them. Father Popieluszko was beaten, tied up and placed in the boot of the car. Lawrence Reed stated that “he endured torture so fierce that one of the secret police agents [who murdered him] was later to remark, ‘I never knew a person could withstand such a beating.'”The officers bound a stone to his feet and dropped him into the Vistula River Reservoir from where his body was recovered on 30 October 1984.
His murder caused an uproar throughout Poland, his funeral attended by 250,000 people. He was buried in St Stanislaus Kostka Church Warsaw. In early 1989 the communist regime announced that ‘Poland had become ungovernable’…Even the government employees were joining the underground. “In June 1989, the first elections were held in Poland in all the decades of communist rule – every communist official lost their seat, fulfilling an observation made by Father Popieluszko, that ‘An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord.'” His killers were sentenced to jail. His grave is marked with a massive stone cross.