Over 100,000 attend beatification of Polish priest and martyr

Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest and martyr who died in 1984, was beatified in Warsaw on June 6 in a ceremony attended by over 100,000 people.

The open air Mass and beatification ceremony was celebrated by 120 bishops and 1,600 priests in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square. Among them were Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow and Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit.

The Polish martyr’s 90-year old mother, Marianna Popieluszko, was also present for his beatification.

In December of 2009, Pope Benedict declared the late Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko a martyr. An advocate for freedom, the priest was known for his “Masses for the Homeland” during the early 1980s, when Poland was severely oppressed by the communist regime and under martial law. Fr. Jerzy was also the chaplain of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement, the first trade union to be acknowledged by the Soviets.

The 37-year-old priest was abducted by the Polish Secret Police in 1984, along with his driver. He was bound, gagged, beaten and stuffed in the trunk of a car. Though he tried to escape, he was beaten again before being shoved into a sack and thrown, alive, into the river. Fr. Jerzy's driver escaped to tell of his murder, yet his body was not found for almost two weeks.

His funeral was attended by hundreds of thousands of people who sought to demonstrate their defiance of the communist regime.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, read Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter on the beatification of Fr. Jerzy in Latin to the thousands gathered for the ceremony, followed Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw who then read the letter in Polish.

Cardinal Amato also gave the homily during the celebratory Mass, in which he spoke of Fr. Jerzy’s courage and his dedication to the truth. Noting the way the priest was treated at the hands of the police, it would seem that he was a dangerous criminal, the prelate said.

However, Fr. Jerzy was simply a faithful priest who defended the Gospel which declared that mankind’s inherent dignity and freedom were not in line with Marxist principles. That is why the forces of darkness unleashed great lies, violence, oppression and evil against him, the cardinal added.

Emphasizing that Fr. Jerzy’s faith had a great impact on those around him, Cardinal Amato called the blessed martyr a heroic witness and an exemplary figure for priests at the end of this Year for Priests.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict also paused a moment during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus. Before the Angelus, the Holy Father spoke in Polish, commemorating the Polish priest whose sacrificial ministry and martyrdom “are a special sign of the victory of good over evil.”

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