Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest at the St. Stanislaw Kostka church in Warsaw, was abducted by the Polish security forces on October 19 on a road outside the city of Torun and killed. He sent this statement abroad last year.
The state of the Church will always be the same as the state of the people. The Church is not just the Church hierarchy: it is all the people of God, a nation of millions, who constitute the Church in the greater sense, and when they suffer, when they are persecuted, the Church suffers.
The Church’s mission is to be with its people day in and day out, partaking in their joys, pains, and sorrows. The primate and the bishops of course have in their care the well-being of all, and diplomacy is therefore at times necessary in the Church’s higher ranks, to protect people from suffering and mistreatment whenever it is possible to do so. There are those who sometimes misunderstand and criticize this, for they want the Church to take a more decisive stand against the authorities. But such is not the Church’s task.
The Church has repeatedly insisted and continues to insist that the authorities respect human dignity—which is not being respected; that they free the imprisoned. Through the efforts of the Church and of its affiliated Prisoners’ Relief Committee, aid has reached those most severely persecuted. There is no better proof than this that the Church has indeed carried out its mission during martial law.
Has the lifting of martial law changed anything?
I’ve spoken out several times about this from the pulpit—unequivocally. As recently as the end of July, quoting official Church pronouncements in my argument, I concluded that in lifting martial law, something the bishops had called for so often, the authorities failed to take advantage of yet another opportunity for reconciliation with the nation. The amnesty was a subterfuge, calculated for one sided gain—whereas the country had every right to expect that the amnesty would right the wrongs, especially the moral wrongs, committed during martial law. To this day our democratically elected brothers, behind whom stand millions of their countrymen, languish in prisons. And even those who have benefited from the amnesty must feel at times like hostages, for this is a conditional amnesty. They must sign statements that go against their own conscience.
The Holy Father has spoken on this subject of the freedom of conscience: conscience is something so holy that even God himself does not put limits on it. To do so through such forced statements is to offend against divine law. The lifting of martial law, a move buttressed by so many new regulations, must give each Pole the distinct impression that the shackles, partially loosened from around the hands, are tightening around the soul and conscience. There are many more restrictions now than before; freedom is curtailed even further. And that’s why there is bitterness: here was one more chance to join hands, one more chance to try to get out of a difficult situation. This chance, unfortunately, was not seized.
How do I see the future?
I said this at the beginning. The Church’s future will be the same as society’s future. The Church’s mission is to be with the people here through thick and thin, and this mission I believe the Church will never renounce. What is crucial is that people raise their national, religious, and social awareness. We need courses of public education, lectures in ethics, something along the lines of the interwar workers’ universities. It is a fundamental matter, and the Church should participate in it. Its end? So that the next time there is a similar popular rising, a push for freedom, time will not be wasted on the unessential; people must learn to distinguish what is important, on what issues there can be no compromise, and on which, for the time being, there can be.
What is the mood of the country?
It is very difficult to define. One thing is certain: it is not against strong opposition; most people find themselves taking part in it.
It has always been this way: there were leaders who sacrificed themselves for a cause and paid dearly; and then, at the crucial moment, those millions who didn’t seem to be on any side supported the just one.
What am I doing?
On August 30, 1980, a Sunday, Cardinal Wyszynski sent a message through a priest asking me to go to the Warsaw Steel Mill, where a strike was in progress in solidarity with the striking shipyard workers. I said mass. I lived through the disorders with the steel workers. I heard confessions from people who, exhausted beyond the limits of endurance, kneeled on the pavement. These people understood that they were strong in unity with God, with the Church.
I suddenly felt the need to remain with them. Whenever I’m about to undertake something, I either decide not to do so at all, or I take it very seriously, and put my heart into it. I stayed with these people. I was with them at the time of triumph, and for this they are grateful to me. I was with them during the black December night. During the trials, I went with their families to the courtroom. I sat in the front rows, and the accused saw that their families were being taken care of. They wrote me letters saying that they knew about my prayers for them, and that these prayers gave them strength.
Many people have since passed through this house, the church. My monthly mass for the country and for those who suffer for it has become one such meeting place. The masses have become very popular. In my sermons I speak about what people think and what they tell me in private, for often they lack the courage or the means to speak publicly. I speak out whenever I discern in their words a truth I think others should share. This truth-saying in church makes people trust me. I express what they feel and think. The numerous renewals of faith bear witness to how important this is. After many years, decades sometimes, people suddenly have the courage to come to me and ask to be reconciled with God, for confession, for holy communion. It is a wonderful experience for me as a priest, and for those people also. They didn’t dare go to anyone else. Very often the process of conversion, the return to God, to the Church, or simply the discovery of God, begins when someone takes a patriotic stand. Many paths lead to God.
I receive many letters from people saying that these monthly masses for Poland help them live in hope, help them cleanse themselves of the hatred which, despite all, grows in them. This is a great reward for a priest, who really has no life of his own.
The authorities, trying to suppress me, have often attempted to exert pressure on the curia, on the bishops. They have sent letters charging me with various trespasses, often fabricated. I remember a letter in May—signed, incidentally, by a general of the militia—stating that on May 13 I conducted mass in the Church of the Holy Cross and used certain formulations ill becoming the dignity of the temple. But on the evening of May 13 I was sitting in my own church, in the confessional; I have never in my entire life said mass in the Church of the Holy Cross. If the bishop doesn’t yet have the facts, why not burden the priest with more charges, to finally get him?
Recently the prosecutor’s office published an item in its own internal paper saying that it had begun an investigation of me on the grounds that I abuse my freedom of conscience and of belief.
How can one abuse freedom of conscience? One can limit freedom of conscience, but one cannot abuse it. That is why these accusations are nonsense, but of course I realize that for the truth one must suffer. If people who have families, children, responsibilities, were in prisons, and still suffer—why should not I, a priest, add my suffering to theirs? Because of this they bully me. There have been certain attempts, very crude ones, and no doubt they will continue. For example: At two o’clock in the morning of December 14, after I had already gone to bed, dead tired, the doorbell rang. I didn’t get up. Moments later, an explosion. A brick with explosives had been hurled into the apartment, breaking two windows. I’ve had two sham burglaries. I am under constant surveillance. On my way to Gdansk I was stopped and detained eight hours in a police station outside Warsaw. The driver was detained fifty hours. These are all very gross tactics, but there are larger matters at stake, and I am convinced that what I am doing is right. And that is why I am prepared for anything.
—Translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewski
December 6, 1984