On this feast of Venerable Stefan Wyszyński, mentor of JPII, we can marvel at the courage with which he had to live his faith.
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima was especially abhorrent to the Communist regime in Poland. This was so much the case that in 1978, the government in Communist Poland “arrested” the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which had been brought to the country.
Why did the Communists dislike Fatima so much?
Poles associate devotion to Our Lady of Fatima first and foremost with Pope John Paul II, especially after his miraculous survival of the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.
But the message of Fatima was known in Poland much earlier.
Words about the 1917 Marian apparitions in Portugal reached Poland in the period between the World Wars.
Right after World War II, in October 1945, Polish bishops responded to the call of Pope Pius XII and decided to dedicate Poland to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, something Mary had asked for during the apparitions. Efforts were made in this respect primarily by Primate of Poland, Servant of God Cardinal August Hlond.
The dedication took place in three stages: first in Poland’s parishes on July 7, 1946, then at a diocesan level on August 15, and finally on September 8, the entire country was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Heart.
These events were attended by a new member of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Stefan Wyszyński, ordained to the episcopate on May 12, 1946. While his life and ministry was primarily tied to Our Lady of Jasna Góra, the message of Fatima was by no means alien to him. The Millennium Primate, as Wyszyński was called, spread devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and the related First Saturdays Devotion.
Fatima frowned upon
The Communist regime in Poland was particularly opposed to Our Lady of Fatima because during her apparitions, the Blessed Virgin Mary called for prayers for the conversion of Russia, directly called Communism a “godless propaganda,” and referred to Bolshevik crimes.
Not surprisingly, all forms of devotion connected with Fatima were looked upon very unfavourably by the authorities, who significantly restricted and sometimes even prohibited them. For example, all publications on the subject were heavily censored and the printing of some was banned.
Violation of such a prohibition during the Stalinist period earned Brother Innocent Wójcik, a Franciscan from Niepokalanów, a two-year prison sentence.
A persona non grata from Fatima
The Communist regime did not even allow statues of the “Beautiful Lady” of Fatima to enter the country.
There were only a few who managed to sneak in. In 1961, Primate Wyszyński donated to the Pallottines of Zakopane a statue received as a gift from the custodian of Fatima. It stands to this day in the famous shrine in Krzeptówki in the Polish Tatra Mountains.
The second statue which arrived in Poland was one of the 45 statues consecrated in 1967 at Fatima by Pope Paul VI. They were intended to go to different countries, including Poland. However, another two years had to pass before one Fr. Ciurej managed to smuggle the statue into Poland, only because he was using his US passport.
Cardinal Wyszyński had the statue of Our Lady of Fatima transferred to Niepokalanów. However, for fear of confiscation, it was not displayed for public devotion in the church but kept in the cloister of the Franciscan monastery.
The Blessed Virgin Mary “arrested”
The most interesting story, however, is connected with the third image, which arrived in Poland by air in early May 1978. It was the statue of Our Lady making the “World Pilgrimage of Peace,” which started in Fatima.
The members of the so-called “Blue Army” who brought the statue of Our Lady were allowed to leave the plane. However, by order of the Communist regime, the statue itself was detained on board, locked in the cockpit.
For almost a week, the plane with the “arrested” Lady of Fatima stood on a closed runway, guarded by armed guards. It then flew away, the statue still on board.
Mother never leaves
Seeing no prospects for recovering the statue and continuing their pilgrimage across Poland, the organisers of the “World Pilgrimage of Peace” asked the Franciscans from Niepokalanów to make a wire outline of the statue from their monastery. This painted wire outline was placed on a base with the inscription “Mother never leaves” and began its pilgrimage through Communist Poland.
This was how Our Lady of Fatima visited Warsaw, Katowice, Krakow, and Jasna Góra, where it was welcomed by the Primate and 75,000 faithful.
Patroness of building permits
More and more people learned about the “detention” of Our Lady. Then, most probably, the information about this unpleasant incident crossed the borders of the country, causing quite a stir and raising criticism of the restriction of Poles’ religious freedoms.
To curb conflict and improve its image in the eyes of public opinion, the Communist regime asked the Primate to once more bring the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to Poland and to resume the “World Pilgrimage of Peace” on Polish soil.
Embracing this unique opportunity, and seeing that the regime started to “care” for the visit of Our Lady, the Cardinal Primate made it conditional on one thing: the Communists had to immediately consent to the construction of as many as 28 new Catholic churches throughout Poland.
One can only imagine how reluctant the authorities were to give this consent, yet they did so without delay. In the meantime, the Archbishop of Krakow had become Pope and the following summer, no longer hindered, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima consecrated by John Paul II arrived in Poland to begin its long pilgrimage through the country’s dioceses and parishes.