Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko's meek but fearless counsel to Solidarity offers lessons we'd be well to heed.
The life and martyrdom of Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko—just 30 years ago—is probably little known outside the Polish and Polish-American communities. They should be. How he counseled and spiritually led the then growing opposition to the Communist regime in Poland is a model that we could do well to emulate today wherever human rights are being systematically violated.
On 6 June 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Father Popieluszko was abducted and murdered by the Communist secret police in October 1984, at the age of thirty-seven.
Blessed Jerzy was a chaplain and influential advocate of the Solidarity movement. His gentle words of encouragement, his dedication to the Gospel message in the midst of immense pressure and threats from the government and law enforcement were like living flames from the Holy Spirit—warning, warming and lighting the way for thousands of Polish people who knew firsthand the denial of basic human rights, and in particular the denial of religious freedom. The predominantly Catholic Poles hungered for freedom.
Father Jerzy took their hearts into his own heart and made their hunger his hunger, their struggle his struggle, their pain, his pain. Father reminded the many who attended his Masses about God’s love, His strength, His truth. He used the words of Jesus to maintain peace while encouraging their perseverance. Though the government reacted with violence, Father was able to keep the crowds focused on Jesus’ way—the way of prayerfully, peacefully, trustingly moving forward regardless of what retaliation the government promised. Such retaliation did come and it was often brutal. Still, Blessed Jerzy would not back down. The people would not back down in spite of arrests, violence, and at times, bloodshed. The faithful stood firm in the face of powerful opposition.
Father Popieluszko gave witness to how every Christian must respond to pressure, threats and physical and or psychological attacks. The Gospel, the crucifix, as well as patience and adherence to the truth were their shields; prayer was their weapon; unity and perseverance marked the mindset of Solidarity. Father led his people to Christ and led them with Christ against a godless government.
Blessed Jerzy paid for this with his life. The Polish people paid with their hearts, for when Father was taken from them, they had to carry on without his gentle encouragement, his loving and understanding presence. What Father Popieluszko planted in their hearts and souls, however, even the Communist government of Poland could not destroy with all its cold and deadly force. It could not even weaken their resolve. On the contrary, government retaliation only served to strengthen the Polish people.
The blood of Father Popieluszko watered the seeds of faith and the Gospel message in the lives of the people. The witness of Blessed Jerzy, his sacrifice on their behalf and on behalf of all of Poland, had already secured a victory. No one can kill God, even in His witnesses. The power of charity and the power of sacrifice, in imitation of Jesus’ love and sacrifice on the Cross, marked a new beginning in the struggle.
We, too, must make Blessed Popieluszko’s example our own. May his witness keep us strong in the Spirit, urging us on to be witnesses to the truth, to the Gospel, and to the love and gentleness of Christ. May Father Popieluszko help to strengthen our wills to do what is good and true; and with the power of Christ and His Cross, may this martyr of Poland help us to persevere in our struggle for freedom, and for truth.
Sr. M. Michele Jascenia, S.C.M.C.is a religious with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church and resides at their Holy Family Motherhouse in Baltic, Ct. She teaches elementary school and is a freelance writer.