As we eagerly await the canonization of Pope John Paul II, let us also remember the many priests and lay people martyred by the Communists in the Pope’s native Poland. One of these was Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984).
An outspoken opponent of the Communist system, Father Jerzy celebrated Mass for some of the striking shipyard workers led by Lech Walensa of the Solidarity Movement, most of whom were Catholic. In addition, his sermons were broadcast to the nation on Radio Free Europe.
As such, he became an enemy of the state and, in their eyes, had to be eliminated. At first a fatal car accident was arranged in October 1984, but failed. Less than a week later he was kidnapped by agents of the state security service, beaten to death with clubs and his body thrown in the river. Those responsible for his death were later arrested and imprisoned.
The murder of Father Jerzy did not intimidate the Polish people, however, as his funeral drew hundreds of thousands. Momentum for change had begun after the visit of John Paul II in 1979, and Poland would never be the same.
The system would last another four years before Poland was finally free from Communism. It should serve as a warning to those of us in the west who think “it can’t happen here”.
For more about Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko and his museum in Warsaw click here.