Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko

jerzy popiuluszko
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Thirty years ago today (October 19) the communist secret police murdered Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko. The priest stood sympathetic to Solidarity, in direct opposition against communism. The relationship between the Polish People’s Republic and the Catholic church was tenuous at best. Poland is primarily a Catholic country, especially following the demise and exodus of millions of Polish Jews during and after World War II.

In the summer of 1980 steelworkers in the Gdansk shipyard went on strike; it was the Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko who said mass for the workers. Thereafter he said mass weekly, and developed a close relationship with the steel workers. The strike was a significant protest against communism that led to the Solidarity movement under the future leadership of Lech Wałęsa. Popiełuszko set up lectures and classes as a sort of school to give the steelworkers some knowledge and education. In April 1981 the official flag of the trade-union Solidarity movement was consecrated.

The communist-led government instituted a violent solution to fight the rebellion. Martial law was imposed on December 13, 1981, and lasted until July 1983. Popiełuszko continued his activities in vocal opposition to communism. He began various charity activities, went to the trials of those accused, and held masses in support of Poland. Radio Free Europe regularly aired his sermons.

The secret police began to harass and threaten the Father. They filed false accusations against him. They interrogated him 13 times in the first six months of 1984. His apartment was broken into twice. Repeated attempts were made on his life. Still the Father insisted on ‘beating evil with good’ and continued to speak continued great personal risk. Finally, on October 19, 1984 three members of the secret police abducted him, beat him to death, bound him and put his body in a sack. They weighted it with rocks, then threw his body in the Vistula River. It was not discovered until October 30.

250,000 people attended the November 4, 1984 funeral. The event was one more step towards the eventual fall of communism.

When I met with one of my Polish translators two years ago we discussed Popiełuszko. She paused, got goose bumps and explained to me, “Katrina, the assassination of John F. Kennedy is to Americans what the murder of Popiełuszko is to Poles.”  Pope Benedict XVI beatified the Father on June 6, 2010. He is buried in Warsaw. Through 2010 over 18 million visitors and pilgrims have visited his grave. Pope John Paul II prayed at the grave in 1987. Many heads of state have also visited the site.

“In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence.”

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Tags: Notable Poles, Poland, Polish History

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