On October 13, 1984, Popiełuszko managed to avoid a traffic accident set up to kill him. The back-up plan, capture and torture, was carried out by Communist authorities on Oct. 19. They lured the priest to them by pretending that their car had broken down on a road along which the priest was travelling.
The captors reportedly beat the priest with a rock until he died, and then tied his mangled body to rocks and bags of sand and dumped it in a reservoir along the Vistula River.
His body was recovered on Oct. 30, 1984.
His death grieved and enraged Catholics and members of the Solidarity movement, who had hoped to accomplish social change without violence.
“When the news was announced at his parish church, his congregation was silent for a moment and then began shrieking and weeping with grief,” the BBC wrote of the priest’s death.
“The worst has happened. Someone wanted to kill and he killed not only a man, not a Pole, not only a priest. Someone wanted to kill the hope that it is possible to avoid violence in Polish political life,” Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, a friend of Popiełuszko, said at the time.
He also urged mourners to remain calm and peaceful during the priest’s funeral, which drew more than a quarter of a million people.
Again facing pressure from the Church and the Polish people, Poland's president Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was forced to answer for the priest’s death, and arrested Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, Leszek Pękala, Waldemar Chmielewski and Colonel Adam Pietruszka as responsible for the murder.
“Our intelligence sources in Poland do not believe it,” the Washington Post reported in 1990, when the case was being revisited.
“Jaruzelski had presided over a far-reaching anti-church campaign. At least two other priests died mysteriously. And Jaruzelski created the climate that allowed the SB (Communist secret service) to persecute and kill Father Jerzy.”
In 2009, Popiełuszko was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, the highest civilian or military decoration in Poland. That same year, he was declared a martyr of the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI, and on June 6, 2010 he was beatified. A miracle in France through the intercession of Popiełuszko is being investigated in France as the final step in his cause for canonization.
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Popiełuszko is one of more than 3,000 priests martyred in Poland under the Nazi and Communist regimes which dominated the country from 1939-1989.
On Friday, Archbishop Stanisław Budzik of Poland and the Polish bishops’ conference released a statement honoring the memory of Father Popiełuszko and all the 20th century priest martyrs of Poland.
“Today, remembering Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, we remember the unswerving priests who preached the Gospel, served God and people in the most terrible times and had the courage not only to suffer for the faith but to give what is most dear to men: their lives.”