BIOGRAPHY

Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, priest, martyr

BIOGRAPHY

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  Biography of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko  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. Two days later, he was baptized in his family  parish church in Suchowola. His mother, still in a blessed state, offered him up as a servant God. In 1954, he started elementary school and then continued his education in the local high school. After  graduation, he entered the seminary in Warsaw. After a year of study, he was drafted into the army and  inducted into a special unit created to destroy priestly vocations among young people. Two years in the army  had adversely affected his health. Later it even interfered with his priestly ministry. He was ordained at the hands of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski on May 28, 1972.  During the years 1972-1980 he was a vicar in the following parishes: Holy Trinity  in Zabkach, Our Lady of the Rosary in Anin and Child Jesus in Warsaw. Due to  his failing health and inability to continue the duties of a vicar, he was assigned to  work with students in St. Anne’s Church in Warsaw. In 1979, he began his priestly  ministry as a chaplain to medical workers in the archdiocese of Warsaw.

On May 20, 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.

On August 31, 1980, at  the request of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski he celebrated Mass for striking workers. This was the beginning of  his ministry among workers.  All along, Fr. Jerzy was involved in assisting the needy – especially families with many children, poor, and  close to those in prison camps. 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 started  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  enjoying from people all over Poland. More and more often things happened that were meant to scare  Fr. Jerzy and force him to resign from ministry. Twice his home was broken into, he was constantly being  followed, harassed, stopped by police. His home was bombed and his car was doused with paint. At the  same time 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, simultaneously 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, he was tied  up in a way that any movement caused the noose to tighten around his neck, and then he was locked in the  trunk of a car. A boulder weighing about 24 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. On November 2 after an  autopsy was performed, a ceremonial farewell was conducted for Fr. Jerzy in Bialystok, and his remains were  transferred to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw. 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,  6 bishops and more than a 1,000 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, a Servant of God, John Paul II prayed there. A  spontaneous yet live worship of the Martyr which began immediately after his death continues to this day.  The St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish continuously receives affirmations that graces are being obtained through  the intercession of Fr. Jerzy.

He 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 event.


Life of Father Jerzy described in a movie: “Popieluszko: Freedom Is Within Us," by film director Rafal Wieczynski, released in Poland.

The Polish-language film, tells the story of a man who worked against the Communist regime with the weapons of the Gospel until he was martyred for the faith.
Jerzy Popieluszko was born Sept. 14, 1947, in Okopy in the province of Bialystok, Poland. He was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski on May 28, 1972, in Warsaw. Aside from parish work in the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Warsaw, he brought his ministry to the workers, organizing conferences and prayer meetings for them. He tended to the sick, the poor and the persecuted.
The film depicts how, because of his courage, his defense of human rights, his requests for freedom and justice, and his ability to love even his persecutors, the priest immediately became a threat to the Communist regime.
Father Popieluszko helped the workers, gave them courage, educated them in fraternal love, invited them not to respond in kind when they were struck, heard their confessions, and aided their families.
The priest taught people to respond with prayers and religious and patriotic hymns to threats and attacks. He worked as a chaplain for the Solidarity movement and supported it in its battles for better social conditions, for freedom, justice and progress.
The Communist authorities tried in various ways to threaten and frighten him. They killed the children and the relatives of those closest to him. One of his collaborators gave in to the threats and became a spy for the secret services. Yet Father Popieluszko never gave in to the provocations, and the film shows how he never ceded to hatred.
It portrays how, in a very difficult moment, when he discovered that he had been betrayed and was on the verge of fear, when his friends could no longer take the oppression and the terror, he said: "I fight sin, not its victims."
The priest’s heroic ability to love everyone in a Christian way made him free and almost invincible. The regime did not know what to do. The authorities tried to discredit the priest and accuse him of political conspiracy, but Father Popieluszko was known for never talking about politics.
When the situation showed signs of getting worse, Church leaders tried to convince Father Popieluszko to go to Rome for safety, but the priest, convinced about his mission, stayed in Poland, confident that this was the way to be obedient and faithful to Christ.
On Oct. 19, 1984, having returned from pastoral work in Bydgoszcz, near Torun, he was seized, savagely beaten and tortured by three agents of the Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
After being tied up and put into the trunk of a car, the priest tried to escape, but the agents caught him, beat him again even more violently, disfiguring him, and bound his legs and mouth together in such a way that he could not move without suffocating. They tied a large stone to his feet and threw him, alive, into a river. He was 37.
The Communist regime thought that it had silenced the most courageous of its opponents, and instead, the death of Father Popieluszko was the beginning of the end for the governing forces. Shortly after the priest’s martyrdom, not only was Poland liberated, but the whole "Iron Curtain" collapsed.
Despite threats and violence from the authorities, more than a half million people attended the Nov. 3, 1984, funeral of Father Popieluszko.
Father Popieluszko’s tomb, which stands next to the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Warsaw, is the destination of a continuous stream of pilgrims from Poland and the rest of the world. Some 18 million people have visited the tomb, including Pope John Paul II, who prayed there on June 14, 1987.
Father Popieluszko is exceptional because he is a contemporary hero, who has testified to how one can defeat evil with good. He was above all a witness to Christ, a priest who lived and worked for people. He is for us a spiritual example; despite his fragile health, he remained great in his capacity to accept the grace of God.

 

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The Tablet, weekly of the diocese of Brooklyn,  in the November 12, 2011 issue, published a very nice article about Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko written by our parishioner Veronica Szczygiel. For those who has no The Tablet magazine we have a pdf copy of the article and you may read it here



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