Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was the chaplain for the Solidarity movement and a symbol of the resistance in the difficult times. The communist government accused him of illegal political activity, and tried to intimidate and silence him. That, however, made his message even more widespread.
Father Popiełuszko was born in 1947 and raised up in a poor, but very devoted Catholic family. After having entered the seminary, he had to serve his army duties, as all the other seminarians, in a special force aimed at discouraging young men from becoming a priest. Popiełuszko, however, strongly rooted in his faith, continued his priestly vocation with great enthusiasm.
He drew public attention when he accepted the role of the chaplain for the Solidarity movement from its very inception. This work began when he celebrated Mass at the Gdańsk shipyard strike of August 1980, and he then continued with weekly Masses “for Motherland” in Warsaw. In his sermons, Popiełuszko spoke about the real meaning of patriotism, responsibility for the others, and the importance of truth.
“The Church always stands on the side of people who are victimized. Today, the Church stands on the side of those who have lost their freedom, whose conscience is being broken. Dedication to freedom is tightly knit with human nature and with mature national awareness” – he said once.
The communists perceived these and similar words as an attack on them and a real threat to their power. They were afraid that Popiełuszko’s sermons, often transmitted through the illegal radio station “Free Europe”, would move the masses and provoke unstoppable protests.
However, it was not Popiełuszko’s aim to engage in politics – he simply wanted to follow his Christian duty to defend the persecuted. He kept repeating his motto to “overcome evil with good” and put it into practice. In the winter, he regularly brought hot tea for the agents of the Security Service waiting at the front of his house, whose job it was to spy on him and report his every step to the government. Always ready to visit the workers who were in need and organize help for the families of those arrested, he was deeply loved by thousands of people.
His popularity, in the eyes of the communist government, made him an important enemy who needed to be silenced by any means. He experienced two burglaries at his apartment, his car was vandalized, and the explosives were thrown into his flat. On a daily basis, he received pieces of paper with offensive messages and descriptions of tortures he would face if he didn’t stop his activity. At a critical point, his friends were afraid to leave their priest alone, but he asked them to do so because he didn’t want to compromise their safety.
October 19, 1984 his last public words at the sermon were: “Let us pray that we would be free from fear, intimidation, but above all from the lust for revenge and violence ”. After that he entered a car for what has become his last journey. He was kidnapped, beastly beaten and thrown into the river with a bag of stones tied to his feet. For 10 days, crowds gathered together to pray for him in hope of finding him alive. His body surfaced on October 30, 1984.
Between 500 000 and 1 million of people attended his funeral, despite the organized efforts to prevent it, which included arresting those who were willing to come and banning buses from entrance. ” You can kill him – a new one will be born” – was written on one transparent and: “He bent his knees only to God” – on another.
Years after his death, Father Popiełuszko in Poland is still a symbol of courage and martyrdom. Poles also remember his mother Marianna Popiełuszko and her words which move the toughest heart.
“I forgave my son’s murderers everything. May God forgive them, too” – she said.