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25th Anniversary of the Death of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko
Who was the man who died at the age of 37 and his funeral
was attended by over half a million people? Who was the priest
at whose grave 18 million pilgrims and tourists, including cardinals
and bishops, kings, presidents and prime ministers from numerous
corners of the world have bowed their heads during the past
25 years? Who was the young priest at whose grave John Paul II
and cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, have knelt?
Reverend Jerzy Popiełuszko - a modest priest who in words that were simple but inspired by the Holy Spirit spoke about freedom and truth, about the beauty of the Christian vocation and the dignity of the worker's toil. By his ordinary but brave life Rev. Popiełuszko bore witness to the power of God, the truth of the Gospel and the strength of love. He bore this testimony in a communist state, whose aim was to enslave a human being - their conscience, thoughts and feelings, the choices men make in their lives and dreams.
Father Jerzy was born in 1947. He joined the seminary in Warsaw in 1965. In 1966-1968, he did mandatory military service in a unit created for the clergy in Bartoszyce. On 28 May 1972, he was ordained to priest by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. He was a vicar at the parishes of: the Holy Trinity (in Ząbki), Mother of God the Queen of Poland (in Anin), the Infant Jesus and St. Anne's University Church in Warsaw. Since 20 May 1980, Father Jerzy was a resident of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in the Warsaw district of Żoliborz. Since August 1980, he was engaged in the creation of the Chaplaincy to the working men and women.
He was an authority and spiritual guide to many people. His exceptional charisma helped to build unity among people. A growing community of workers, doctors and nurses, students, intellectuals, artists and many others centred around him.
Following the imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981, Father Popiełuszko organised charity actions and aided people persecuted by the communist regime. Since 28 February 1982, on the last Sunday of a month he said the 'Mass for the Fatherland' and preached religious and patriotic sermons in which he depicted the moral dimension of the painful human condition under communism from the perspective of the Gospel and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He especially referred to the teachings of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. He bravely preached that good will conquer all evil. His sermons were a source of spiritual strength and consolation, a lesson of valour and forgiveness.
The way he conducted his pastoral duties made him a target of brutal attacks by the communist authorities. These days we know - based on documents and analyses by historians - that Father Jerzy was deemed an extremely dangerous opponent as his teachings gave many people the inner strength to challenge evil.
On 19 October 1984, Reverend Jerzy Popiełuszko was abducted by the security service officers and brutally murdered. The funeral of Father Popiełuszko, which took place on 3 November, became a huge religious and patriotic demonstration; his body was laid in the grave next to the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church at the district of Żoliborz.
From 1997 to 2001, the cause for beatification of Father Popiełuszko as a martyr for faith proceeded at the level of the diocese. Since 2002, the work has proceeded in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which is to verify the authenticity of Father Popiełuszko's martyrdom in the definition of the canon law; it is currently reaching the decisive phase. Testimonies of persons claiming that they have received the graces of God and experienced miracles, which they ascribe to the intercession of Father Jerzy, have been reported for 25 years.
In the pastoral life of Father Jerzy, ordinariness came hand in hand with uniqueness. He lived the Gospel and, as a person free at heart, became an indomitable defender of God's laws and human rights. A heroic priest, who - with his ministry and the death of a martyr - gave testimony that the world can only be transformed with Good and Truth.
Today, the social realities have changed. However, the teachings of Father Jerzy continue to touch with the depth of reflection about the beautiful bearing of a Christian engaged in the matters of the Church and Fatherland.
Rev. Zygmunt Malacki