Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko: Priest and Martyr
Image: Father Jerzy Popiełuszko
Today is the feast of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko (1947 – 1984), a young Polish priest who celebrated a regular “Mass for the Homeland” in which he spoke openly and honestly about the evils of Communism—the mistreatment of workers, the random arrests, the savagery of the police, and the hunger and hardship so many families experienced on a daily basis. Fr. Jerzy spoke primarily of the deceit connected with the Communist party. He spoke of the lies that the politicians, the Party officials, and the Communist rulers told about Poland’s history, her current dilemma, and her enduring Christian faith. Consequently, he was kidnapped and murdered by a team of secret police, in extremely brutal circumstances.
Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was born on September 14, 1947 in Poland on the feast of Holy Cross Day. He was the fourth child born to Marianna and Wladyslaw Popiełuszko. Following his high school graduation, he entered the seminary in Warsaw. After a year of study, he was drafted into the army and inducted into a special unit designed to destroy priestly vocations among young people. Two years in the army had adversely affected his health and later interfered with his priestly ministry. He was ordained on May 28, 1972. During the years 1972-1980 he served as a vicar in three different parishes. However, due to poor health, he was re-assigned to work with students in Warsaw. Then, in 1979, he began his priestly duties as a chaplain to medical workers in the archdiocese of Warsaw.
In 1980, he was transferred to the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Warsaw. There he continued his ministry and assisted in the parish as a resident.
At the request of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, he celebrated Mass for striking workers. This was the beginning of his ministry among workers. Fr. Jerzy was involved in assisting the poor and the needy, specifically needy families and prisoners. He collected food and medicine for them. He attended hearings of those arrested for interfering with martial law. He supported political prisoners.
In February of 1982, he began celebrating Mass on the last Sunday of every month for freedom of Poland. As months passed, more and more people came from near and far to participate in the Mass. The communist leaders at that time were not pleased with the actions of Fr. Jerzy and the respect he was shown from people all over Poland. Events occurred that were meant to scare Fr. Jerzy and force him to resign from his work. Twice his home was broken into; he was constantly being followed, harassed, and stopped by the police. His home was bombed and his car was doused with paint. Simultaneously, letters were arriving at the Bishop’s office complaining that his sermons were consistently taking aim at the People’s Republic of Poland”. In September 1983, a case was brought against him accusing him of “excessive use of his rights as a priest in an effort to cause harm to the People’s Republic of Poland.”
In December 1983, he was arrested. Upon the intervention of the Church, he was released. He was facing a possible 10 years in prison. From January to June 1984, he was interrogated 13 times. His prison sentence was later dropped as a result of the amnesty program of 1984. However, concurrently a slander campaign was being conducted by Jerzy Urban, the then spokesman for the government newspaper.
On October 13, 1984, near the town of Ostróda an attempt was made on the life of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, who was returning from Gdansk to Warsaw.
On October 19, along with the driver Waldemar Chrostowski, he travelled to Bydgoszcz. At 6:00pm on that day, he celebrated Rosary Devotions and Holy Mass in Polish Saints Martyred Brothers Church.
On their return trip at about 10:00pm he was abducted in a place called Przysiek near Torun by three members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was brutally beaten, tied up in a way that any movement caused the noose to tighten around his neck, and then locked in the trunk of a car. A boulder weighing about twenty-four pounds was tied to his legs, and he was thrown into a tributary of the Wistula River near Wloclawek.
His body was finally found on October 30. An all-night prayer vigil was organized for the murdered priest. His body was buried on the grounds of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Warsaw. Hundreds of thousands of faithful people from all over Poland participated in the funeral.
At the funeral Mass, six bishops and more than one-thousand priests concelebrated. Since then, the burial place of Fr. Jerzy has been a site of special prayer. Since interment, the grave of the Martyr has been visited by more than 18 million people from all over the world. On June 14, 1987, Pope St. John Paul II prayed there.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko was beatified on June 6, 2010 in Warsaw’s Piłsudski Square. His mother, Marianna Popiełuszko, who had reached 100 years of age a few days earlier, was present at the beatification ceremony.
Prayer for the Intercession of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko
God, source of all good, I thank you that in your
love you have endowed Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko
with the dignity of the priesthood.
You sent him to ardently proclaim Your word,
dispense the holy sacraments, courageously act
in Your name and be close to every human being,
calling for forgiveness, unity and peace.
You endowed him with the grace of martyrdom
through which he came to resemble Christ along the way of the cross.
We adore and thank you, Lord,
for this great gift to the Church,
especially because you have made him
an intermediary in the dispensing of grace.
In Your infinite mercy, deign to include him
in the communion of saints and through his intercession
grant me the grace of ………………, mention your intentions
for which I trusting implore You. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.