Father Jerzy Popieluszko: Priest and Patriot
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By Antonio Gaspari
CZESTOCHOWA, Poland, MAY 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In Poland, true patriotism is united to the Catholic faith, as shown by Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was assassinated by Communist secret service agents and will be beatified June 6.
Father Mariusz Frukacz of the Archdiocese of Czestochowa, journalist and editor of the Catholic weekly Niedziela, emphasized this in an interview with ZENIT.
The 37-year-old priest was the chaplain of the Polish Solidarity movement, and was martyred in 1984 when Communist agents beat him and threw him into the icy waters of the Vistula River.
Some 400,000 people attended his funeral, and since that day, 17 million have visited his tomb. Every October 19, a 24-hour vigil is held to commemorate the day he was killed.
A national Polish hero, he has been recognized by the Catholic Church as a martyr and will be beatified in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square on June 6.
On the occasion of his beatification, "Niedziela" collaborated to produce a musical CD to honor Father Popieluszko.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Frukacz speaks more about the life and virtue of Father Popieluszko, and why he is an example not only for Poland but for all Europe.
ZENIT: Who was Father Jerzy Popieluszko? What were his heroic virtues and why is he being canonized?
Father Frukacz: Father Jerzy Popieluszko, killed in 1984, was vicar of the parish of St. Stanislao of Kostka in Warsaw. In the 80s of the 20th century, he was pastor of workers and chaplain of the Solidarity movement.
In his life, but also in his teaching, especially during Masses for the homeland, he represented total fidelity to the Gospel of Christ, to the teaching of the Church; in a special way he recalled in his homilies the thoughts and ideas of the Servant of God, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, "Primate of the Millennium," and teacher of John Paul II.
Father Popieluszko promoted respect for human rights, for the rights of workers and the dignity of persons, all in the light of the Gospel.
He practiced, for Poland and for the whole world, the virtues of courage, of fidelity to God, to the cross of Christ and the Gospel, love of God and of the homeland. He represented patriotism in the Christian sense, as a cultural and social virtue.
His beatification is an example for priests, in the light of his total fidelity to Christ. Moreover, he represents the symbol of the victims of Nazi ideology.
Nazism and Communism persecuted the Polish people and their faith. For this reason, in the present time we need witnesses of the faith like Father Popieluszko.
ZENIT: Father Popieluszko was chaplain of the Solidarity movement. How is his work as a priest distinguished from that of a political activist?
Father Frukacz: Father Popieluszko was a priest who always had with him the words taken from the prophet Isaiah and Luke's Gospel: "He has sent me to take the good news to the poor, to bind the wounds of broken hearts." This phrase is on the stamp of his priestly ordination.
As chaplain of Solidarity he was always with the workers during strikes; he helped the families of persecuted and imprisoned workers.
Father Popieluszko was not a political activist in the usual sense of the term, but he always reminded people that political action must serve the common good, must recognize the dignity of persons and respect human rights.
In this sense we can say that Father Popieluszko, wishing to fulfill his priestly vocation to serve humanity, participated intensely in social life. The aim of his actions was not of a reductive or particular political character.
ZENIT: How did Solidarity, Pope John Paul II and priests like Father Popieluszko succeed in defeating the powerful Soviet regime?
Father Frukacz: Solidarity was not just a labor union. It was formed from the beginning as a national movement of 10,000 persons.
It was the first movement in which the Catholic Church and the world of workers united.
We must remember that, for Communist ideology, the worker is a person who does not believe and in the name of materialist ideology must stay far from the faith and the Catholic Church. Already from its birth in 1980, Solidarity represented the opposite of Marxist and Communist philosophy.
The Catholic Church and workers were consistently and solidly together.
To understand better the reason for the defeat of the powerful Communist and Soviet regime we must look to the great and important role played by John Paul II.
It all began in John Paul II's first trip in 1979. It was the first trip of the Slav Pope to a country of Central and Eastern Europe. The invocations and prayers that John Paul II pronounced in Victory Square (today Pilsudski Square), were prophetic: "May the Holy Spirit descend on this land and make it change." A year later, the Solidarity movement was born.
We must also recall the 6th World Youth Day in August of 1991 in Jasna Gora and Czestochowa. It was the first youth day with the participation of young people of Eastern Europe.
The Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass on August 15 and three days later the Soviet regime fell.
Personally, I think that we must also look at the role of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, primate of Poland, imprisoned by the Communist regime during the years 1953-1956. It was Cardinal Wyszynski who organized the "Jasna Gora Vows" in 1965, the novena on the occasion of one thousand years of Christianity in Poland [celebrated in 1966].
They were very hard years, in which it seemed impossible to survive Soviet domination. And yet Cardinal Wyszynski succeeded in organizing and guaranteeing the religious and social activity of the faithful in Poland.
It was Cardinal Wyszynski himself who reinforced and defended the "Theology of the Nation" to reinforce the Catholic identity of Poles.
ZENIT: How much did the Catholic faith of the Polish people help in the defeat of Communism?
Father Frukacz: As I already explained, for the Polish people faith is also important in social life. It isn't a private thing. Faith has a social and national dimension.
For us Mary, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, is the Queen of Poland.
For us, the faith is united to true patriotism, that is, love of God and of the homeland. Often seen on Polish flags is the phrase "God, Honor, Homeland."
I think this identity and this religious practice fueled the spiritual force that defeated Communism. I would like to recall that the Marxist-Leninist regime placed itself against God (atheist) and against the nation (Communist Internationalism).
We must also remember that even Jesus loved his homeland and wept over the fate of Jerusalem.
ZENIT: There is a film in Italy that recounts the story of Father Popieluszko. Have you seen it?
Father Frukacz: John Paul II said that, thanks to the blood shed by Father Popieluszko, we Poles are in Europe. The film on Father Popieluszko not only recalls the life of the martyr priest but also the Christian and social values that we need not only in Poland but, above all, in Europe.
Father Popieluszko is a person who has been inscribed in the history of Poland and of Europe. I think this film represents the figure of Father Popieluszko as he was, in an attractive and true way.