The fearless Jerzy

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It was Wednesday, April 3, feast day of the Bishop and Doctor of the Church, St. Isidore, and the Dominican missionary and logician, Saint Vincent Ferrer.

On that day Divine Providence headed me to visit his parish that is dedicated to St. Stanislaus Kostka, another Polish saint who was a novice of the Society of Jesus. At this Church, dedicated to this seventeen-year-old saint, who is situated at the Żolisborz district, in Warsaw, precisely at Hozjusz Street 2, near Plac Wilsona, is also famous as being the well-known Sanctuary of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was the chaplain of Solidarność movement. Fr. Jerzy, or as he was commonly known as “Jurek”, was killed by the Communists in 1984.

Jerzy Popiełuszko was born on September 14 1947 on a farm in the small village of Okopy located in North Eastern Poland. His native parents, Wladyslaw and Mariana, both were devout Catholics. He was baptized as Alphons Popieluszko two days after his birth, on September 16 1047. Although fragile in nature Jerzy soon proved to be of enormous strength of character.

The times he lived in were tough for his beloved country Poland. Following the aftermath of the Nazi tyranny the Church had to face an ongoing persecution by the Communists, especially since his country’s occupation by the Russians in the Second World War. Fortunately for Alphons, Okopy, which at that time was the geographical centre or “heart” of Poland, was still a rural village. Its educational system was spared from the communist regime sociology. Having said that Alphons had to suffer for his faith during his schooling. Before going to school he would walk some three miles to serve the Mass and, after the school classes were over, he would return to Church in the evening to pray the Rosary. The fact that he was a believer exposed him to much ridicule and persecution. One of his teachers even accused him of praying excessively.

In order to avoid the hassle of having his exam results changed Alphons hid his intention of joining the seminary. When he graduated from high school, in 1965, he soon took a train to the Warsaw seminary. This seminary was close to the convent of Saint Maximillian Kolbe, a saint much loved by him. After spending his two year military service in Bartoszyce, purposely designed for clerics, in which every attempt was made to ruin their vocation and indoctrinate them with the communist ideal, Alphons returned to the seminary, completed his studies and was ordained a priest on May 28, 1972. Cardinal Wyszynski changed his name from Alphonse to Jerzy.

The suffering he endured at Bartoszyce military unity, where he was cruelly beaten and placed in solitary confinement for a month for having refused to crush his rosary and made to crawl around the camp on his hands and knees for praying the rosary, made Jerzy a strong priest. Following his posts in several small parishes and chaplain for the medical university of St. Ann, in Warsaw, in 1980 Fr. Jerzy was posted at St. Stanislaus Kotska parish in Warsaw.

As the Solidarity Movement met in the Lenin shipyard in summer 1980, Cardinal Wysynski sent Blessed Jerzy as a chaplain to the striking steel workers. The Solidarity Movement success inspired him so much that every month he would offer a Mass for the Homeland and delivered a sermon to inspire people to follow the maxims of the Gospel, principally by abandoning violence altogether. In a congregation of 15,000 to 20,000 people Fr. Jerzy would emphasise that change was to be brought about peacefully. The sign of peace was one of the major significant gestures in each Mass for the Country. Here are some excerpts from his undying homilies:

The position of the Church will always be the same as the position of the people…and when the people are persecuted then the Church shares in their suffering… Solidarity is a constant concern for our country, upholding its internal freedom even in conditions of enslavement. It means that we must overcome fear, upholding our dignity as children of God and courageously bearing witness to what we believe, what we hold in our hearts.

Faced with a charismatic priest who attracted huge following the Communist regime had to crush him at all costs. He was too dangerous to be left going on. His organisation of relief efforts to help the families suffering from the loss of their jobs and livelihood because they lived and defended their Faith and his powerful homilies, led his adversaries to shut up his mouth forever. After the putting of a bomb on December 13, 1982, his imprisonment in 1983, 13 interrogations between January and June of 1984, the October 13 murder attempt of a staged car, his abrupt end occurred on October 19. In this evening he was grabbed and brutally beaten with fists and club, thrown into the trunk of the car to be then beaten so savagely later in the forest. His face and hands were unrecognisable. Then he was thrown into the Vistula River reservoir.

His last public words spoken during the meditation on the Rosary October 19, 1984, summarise his life and can serve as our life guide too.

In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence. It is the person who has failed to win on the strength of his heart and his reason, who tries to win by force…Let us pray that we be free from fear and intimidation, but above all from the lusts for revenge and violence.

Pray for us Blessed Jerzy to overcome evil with good! Oh Blessed fearless Jerzy!

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