28 October 2010

A post-Vatican II martyr-priest

 Father Jerzy (the Polish form of 'George') Popieluszko was beatified on 6 June in Warsaw in the presence of his 100-year-old mother Marianne. While editing the forthcoming issue of Misyon I found myself doing some research on this inspiring priest. I remember clearly when he was murdered on 19 October 1984 and how shocked I was at the brutality of it. I was also inspired by his courageous faith as I had been by that of Archbishop Oscar Romero four and a half years before. The Archbishop was celebrating Mass when he was shot while Father Popieluszko had just finished.

In his final homily the young Polish priest said, ‘In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence. It is the person who has failed to win on the strength of his heart and his reason who tries to win by force . . . Let us pray that we may be free from fear and intimidation, but above all from lust for revenge and violence.’ 

Grave of Father Jerzy  (thanks to Fr Denton)

The future martyr entered the seminary in 1965 around the time the last session of Vatican II was beginning. I had entered four years before that. I came across an article by a classmate of Blessed Jerzy, Fr Jan Kolodynski, parish priest of St Jerome's, Brampton, Ontario. How do I remember him? I remember him as being an amiable, sociable, kind and  naturally good person. He was seen as ordinary, frail, and 'not spectacular.'  We were both ordained with 29 other deacons by the Servant of God, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski on May 28, 1972.

I have known a number of Columbans who have been murdered and others who have been unjustly imprisoned. Father Jan's description of his classmate could be applied, with variations, to them. What I see is the power of God's grace working through ordinary men and women who are sinners but who desire to do his will and give everything for the sake of the Gospel.

Father Jerzy, like Archbishop Romero, knew that his life was in danger. He said, If I must die suddenly, it is surely better to meet death defending a worthwhile cause than sitting back and letting injustice win. He knew that his vocation as a priest was to serve the wider community in its struggle as Church and as a nation for freedom: At this time, when we need so much strength to regain and uphold our freedom, let us pray to God to fill us with the power of His Spirit, to reawaken the spirit of true solidarity in our hearts.


I also came across the video above by RomeReports.com in which director Rafal Wieczynski speaks about his movie Popieluszko: Freedom is within us. The video also contains some clips from the film.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko shows the true face of the priest of Jesus Christ, as does Archbishop Oscar Romero. The people of Poland recognized Father Jerzy's holiness long before the Church gave it's official 'stamp' through his beatification. The people of El Salvador and far beyond have also seen the holiness of Archbishop Romero the cause of whose beatification began in 1993 but which stalled in 2008 due to a question as to whether he was assassinated out of hatred for the faith or for political reasons. I don't think that that question was raised in the case of Father Jerzy, though the two situations were very similar. I can't think of a much greater expression of contempt and hatred for the faith than to murder a bishop while he is celebrating Mass in a hospital as was the case with Archbishop Romero.

In the context of the great shame that some bishops and priests have brought on the Church and the enormous damage they have done to its very capacity to carry out its mission, we need to formally recognize the heroic faith of priests like Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko and Archbishop Oscar Romero and to thank God every day for them.


Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Fabulous post Fr Sean..

kurtzion said...

i just watched a docu on the life of JPII and the priest was briefly featured.... inspiring!