It was announced recently that Fr Jerzy Popieluszko is to be beatified in Warsaw on June 6th.
On October 19, 1984, officers of the Polish Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs pulled over the car of a thirty-seven year old priest. They bundled him into their unmarked car and drove near Wloclawek. They then savagely beat the priest until he was unconscious and drowned him in the river.
The murdered priest was Jerzy Popiełuszko. He had been born into a farming family in the harsh conditions of post-war Poland. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1972 and began to work with children and youth.
Fr. Popiełuszko started to support the strikers of the independent Polish trade union Solidarity. He said Masses at the picket lines, heard confessions and organised 'workers schools' for the strikers. When martial law was declared in 1981, Popiełuszko helped those persecuted by the regime, providing food and sanctuary when he could.
During this period the Church openly challenged the state. Fr. Popiełuszko became one of its greatest weapons. From 1982 he began to preach homilies that interwove the spiritual with political messages, criticizing the Communist system and motivating people to protest. Popieluszko’s preaching was a thorn in the government’s flesh. He pointed out social injustice and became the “conscience of the people” and tried to “conquer the bad through the good.”
The communists tried to intimidate this priest: break-ins, shadowing, damage of private goods, bombs, a false trial, numerous arrests, and finally car accidents but he refused to be silenced because he believed that he had a duty as a Christian and as a priest to proclaim the truth. The only way they could silence him was to take his life.
His funeral attracted thousands of mourners who were convinced that they were “witnesses of the sacrifice of a priest who gave his life for the truth.” Communism would cling on in Poland for another five years but the witness and example of Jerzy Popiełuszko would inspire many to rise up against the regime.