Reprinted from Magnificat (www.magnificat.com)
Credible Witness: Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko
By Heather King
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people…capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life.” Porta Fidei 15
Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko (1947-1984), Polish priest and staunch anti-Communist, associated with Solidarity trade unions, dared openly to celebrate Mass under the country’s totalitarian regime. He was martyred—beaten to death by three state-sponsored thugs—under Communism.
Popiełuszko was born in the village of Okopy, in the Białystok area. His parents were farmers and devout Catholics. As a seminarian in Warsaw, he was conscripted into the army. As a result of repeated punishments for resisting atheistic propaganda, he suffered ill health for the rest of his life.
After being ordained, he served at local parishes. His sermons, famous for exhorting members of the faithful to resist Communism, were broadcast on Radio Free Europe.
From December 13, 1981, to July 22, 1983, the Polish People’s Republic imposed martial law in an effort to crush political opposition. During that period, Father Popiełuszko continued to celebrate Mass in public places.
“An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord,” he observed. And elsewhere, “it is not enough for a Christian to condemn evil, cowardice, lies, and the use of force, hatred, and oppression. 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.”
In 1983, he was arrested on trumped-up charges, but members of the clergy intervened and he was soon released and granted amnesty.
He then emerged unscathed form a car “accident” on October 13, 1984, that had been staged by the state for the purpose of killing him.
But on October 19, 1984, he was murdered by three agents of the Służba Bezpieczeństwa (Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). The thugs lured him by faking the breakdown of their vehicle and flagging him down for help. They savagely beat him, tied him up, and shoved him in the trunk of their car. They then bound a stone to his feet and dumped him into a nearby reservoir. His body was recovered on October 30.
An uproar went up across Poland. His funeral was attended by 250,000. His martyrdom became a flash point for the anti-Communist resistance movement.
His assassins were subsequently tried and convicted of murder, as was the colonel who gave the order.
Father Popiełuszko’s courage and integrity were astounding. But it is worth noting that what got him killed was a simple act of charity: stopping for a stranded motorist. “Truth, like justice,” he once observed, “is connected to love, and love has a price.”
He was buried in Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church, Warsaw, and in 2009 was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian and military honor.
But his truest crown is of another kind. The rock used to kill him is now housed as a relic in San Bartolomeo all’Isola—the Shrine to the New Martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries—in Rome.
He was beatified on June 6, 2010, by Archbishop Angelo Amato on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI.