Poland commemorates anniversary of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko’s martyrdom
A Mass in honor of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 19. 2021. | Muzeum, Ośrodka Dokumentacji Życia i Kultu oraz Sanktuarium, Błogosławionego Ks. Jerzego Popiełuszki.
Catholics in Poland have commemorated the martyrdom of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, the priest killed for his defiance of the communist authorities.
The focal point of the nationwide observance on Oct. 19 was a Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the capital, Warsaw, where the blessed’s tomb is located.
Preaching at the Mass, the former Warsaw auxiliary Bishop Tadeusz Pikus said: “In his teaching, he was guided above all by the argument of faith. He was convinced that he did not have to give way either to the argument of dictatorial ideological violence or to the argument of brute force.”
The anniversary had an added significance this year because it fell shortly after the beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland who led the Church during the most challenging years under communism.
Wyszyński guided Popiełuszko’s formation as a priest and ordained him on May 28, 1972, when he was 24 years old.
The live-streamed Mass began with a solemn procession to the martyr’s tomb to the sound of the bell “Jerzy,” consecrated in 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
The ceremony was attended by representatives of the Popiełuszko family, senior government officials, workers’ groups, members of the uniformed services, and the late priest’s friends.
The observance was adopted by the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, in 2018 as a public holiday in honor of “heroes, steadfast defenders of faith and independent Poland.”
Lawmakers chose Oct. 19 for the annual event in honor of Popiełuszko, who was close to the Solidarity movement and was kidnapped and beaten to death by communist Security Service agents.
On the 37th anniversary of Popiełuszko’s death, a chapel was opened to the public containing relics including his cassock, shirt, and objects that he had with him at the time of his death.
On Oct. 18, an open-air exhibit called “The Decalogue of Fr. Jerzy” was opened on the church premises. The exhibit, previously displayed at Rome’s Pontifical Urban University, consists of 22 panels describing the most important values that guided the blessed’s life.
Popiełuszko was born in 1947 in Okopy, a village located more than 120 miles northeast of Warsaw. Inspired by Cardinal Wyszyński’s implacable opposition to communism, he was determined to serve as a priest in the Warsaw archdiocese.
He entered seminary in 1965 amid heightened tensions between the Church and the communist regime over celebrations of the millennium of Poland’s baptism.
Wyszyński became known as the “Primate of the Millennium” because he oversaw a nine-year program of preparation culminating in a nationwide celebration of the milestone in 1966.
The cardinal not only ordained Popiełuszko but also played an important role in his priestly life. In his electrifying sermons, which were broadcast by Radio Free Europe, Popiełuszko often cited Wyszyński as well as the Polish pope John Paul II, underlining that he was preaching the same message as them.
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His last journey, on Oct. 19, 1984, was to the Church of Polish Martyr Brothers in Bydgoszcz, northern Poland. Returning home, he was stopped by three agents, beaten, tied up, and placed in the trunk of a car. They later attached a stone to his feet and threw him into the Vistula Water Reservoir, near Włocławek, where his body was recovered on Oct. 30.
A crowd of almost a million people gathered for his funeral on Nov. 3, 1984. Since then, around 23 million people have visited his tomb in Warsaw’s Żoliborz district.
Popiełuszko was beatified on June 6, 2010. His canonization process was opened in September 2014 in the French diocese of Créteil, following the reported miraculous healing of a man with cancer due to the blessed’s intercession.
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