Today’s offering in our Timeless Essay series affords readers the opportunity to join Peter S. Rieth as he discusses Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish martyr who was murdered while loving his enemies. —W. Winston Elliott III, Publisher
Do not use violence in your struggle. Violence is not a sign of strength, only of weakness. He who cannot win the heart or the mind seeks his victory through violence. Each act of violence is vivid proof of moral incompetence. The most excellent, enduring battle known to Man, known to history, is the battle of ideas. The most pitiful and insignificant battles are the violent ones. An idea which requires weapons to defend it will die on its own account. An idea which can only live by violent means is a perversion. An idea which is capable of life conquers on its own account. Such an idea will find millions of spontaneous followers.
Thus spoke the Blessed Martyr Father Jerzy Popieluszko on December 26th, 1982. Father Jerzy loved his enemy. During martial law, in 1981, he told Poles to take hot drinks and food to the soldiers who stood ready to shoot them. The tens of thousands who came together to celebrate the Eucharist with him did not carry weapons, they did not shout partisan political slogans full of hate for one group and blind worship of another group. They never once took up arms against their oppressors. They listened to Father Jerzy’s famous “Homilies for the Fatherland” in which they were told that the only proper action a man could take in the face of physical and spiritual oppression was prayer and constant acts of love—especially towards their enemies.
No matter how many bullets were fired at them, no matter how many police batons loomed over their heads, sometimes striking their bodies, no matter how empty their stomachs due to food shortages, the tens of thousands of people who came to receive the Body of Christ from Father Jerzy’s hands, the nine million members of the Solidarity Union for whom Father Jerzy was a moral patron and the tens of millions of Poles who heard his words and learned of his works never once engaged in armed revolution, insurrection or any form of mass coordinated popular violence.
Their enemy, the Communist Polish State and the nuclear armed Soviet Union that stood behind it, charged three officers of the Ministry of the Interior to murder Father Jerzy; they beat him, tied him, put him in the trunk of a car, tied his arms, neck and legs together, tied a heavy rock to him and threw him into a river, after torturing him and apparently bludgeoning his skull. The men who committed this murder are free today. One of them had and may still have a lucrative career writing anti-Catholic news articles for the mainstream Polish press. The other two convicted murderers changed their names and live free. All three of them served only a few years of time in jail. Their friends are well-known democratic politicians. They are free primarily because the III Republic of Poland is a nation-state built on a compromise between Father Jerzy’s murderers and Father Jerzy’s followers.
For the murderers of Father Jerzy were not merely the three men who physically beat, tortured, and threw Farther Jerzy’s body into the water; the murderers are members of parliament, ministers of government and former Presidents who all played a role in organizing the killing. These people now are under the protection of NATO and the EU, who have taken up the role once played by the KGB and GRU. Father Jerzy’s murderers are now heroes of Democracy. Father Jerzy is not a hero of Democracy; he remains a witness to Truth. This truth is a simple one: after Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and their progeny attempted to reconfigure the world every which way, yet failed to bring humanity one step closer to justice; after mankind found itself stuck at the brink of nuclear war between two hegemonic super powers, God heard the prayers of his people and sent them Father Jerzy Popieluszko who, for the few years before he was murdered, taught us the secret to securing liberty and winning the peace of the world.
As you read the teachings of Father Jerzy, dear reader, do not let your mind be fooled into thinking them the ravings of a dreamer, nor the naive prattling of a simpler age. Father Jerzy, though he died while his murderers still live, has triumphed. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Berlin wall fell, human liberty was restored where all the guns of the world wars failed to plant it—by one man: Father Jerzy Popieluszko. You may not hear much about him or his teachings now—when the Pharisees of our time speak of their plans to democratize the world and end tyranny and build nations and color revolutions any hue but blood red. Likewise, just as no one remembers the great armies that fought and bled in the time of Christ, so too, a thousand years from now, Churchill will be forgotten, Stalin and Hitler will be forgotten, the graves at Normandy will be forgotten, because as Father Jerzy taught—the battles of armies are meaningless. Only the battle of ideas has meaning; it changes the world for the better. To read Father Jerzy’s teachings is to read simple truths which, like all truths, change human life for the better.
On February 2, 1982, Father Jerzy taught:
The calling to freedom is intricately rooted in the nature of each individual person and within a mature national consciousness. This is why the calling to freedom is connected to law and duty. It is connected to law insofar as every limit of freedom necessarily leads to the suffering of every person and every nation. Limiting Man’s inalienable right to freedom leads to rebellion, even to war. The calling to freedom is therefore connected with the duty to understand that freedom—not license—is the challenge standing before each person and it requires reflection, prudence, the ability to choose, to make decisions.
On April 25, 1982, Father Jerzy, assigned to care for steel workers, read a poem by one of them:
We the workers, we the simple folk,
to Your temple carry our standard—
Bless Solidarity oh, God
Fill our hearts with passion.
Oh, Lord our God, have mercy on our nation
Oh, Lord our God, bless your pious people, give us peace!
On May 30, 1982, Father Jerzy showed people the best way to achieve their hopes for justice and peace: prayer –
Mother of those who put their hope in Solidarity, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been cheated, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been betrayed, pray for us.
Mother of the imprisoned, pray for us.
Mother of those forced to freeze in the cold, pray for us.
Mother of those in abject fear, pray for us.
Mother of the steel workers who have been shot, pray for us.
Mother of the shipyard workers, pray for us.
Mother of the interrogated, pray for us.
Mother of the unjustly condemned, pray for us.
Mother of the working man, pray for us.
Mother of the university student, pray for us.
Mother of the stubborn actors, pray for us.
Mother of the truth tellers, pray for us.
Mother of those who cannot be bribed, pray for us.
Mother of the unbreakable, pray for us.
Mother of the orphaned, pray for us.
Mother of those beaten on your Holy Day, the day of Mary, Queen of Poland, pray for us.
Mother of the ridiculed who carry your symbol, pray for us.
Mother of those thrown out of work, pray for us.
Mother of those forced to sign documents contrary to their conscience, pray for us.
Mother of the children of the imprisoned, pray for us.
Mother of weeping mothers, pray for us.
Mother of caring fathers, pray for us.
Mother of Your servant, Lech, who is in prison, pray for us.
Mother of scientists and writers who have been demeaned, pray for us.
Mother of suffering Poland, pray for us.
Queen Mother of suffering Poland, pray for us.
Queen Mother of independent Poland, pray for us.
Queen Mother of Poland, always faithful, pray for us.
Mother, who art the hope of millions, we pray to you: let all Men live in freedom and truth, in faith in You and Your Son.
On September 26, 1982, Father Jerzy taught:
Why did the salvation of humankind have to take place upon such a cruel instrument, why did it have to come through death on the cross, something conceived by the Phoenicians for people who were hated the most, for people with no rights, for slaves? Perhaps, if Christ died by stoning, He would have merely died as one of the Jews, perhaps if He had been beheaded, He would have died like a Roman? However, dying like a slave, on the cross, He became a brother to each human, because the death of a slave was the death of humans from all of the various nations. A slave could have been Jewish, Greek or German. A slave could have been illiterate or, at times, an educated man.
Father Jerzy’s teaching should not be a surprise for Christians. What should be pointed out, however, is that Father Jerzy brought down the Soviet Union and brought peace and freedom to the world. The Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko undoubtedly now sits at the side of God and prays eternally for none other than the souls of the three men who murdered him and who, today, as you read this, are free, having spent a few years in prison. The Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko undoubtedly now sits at the side of God and prays eternally for the souls of the many men who gave the order to murder him, and who have covered up his murder for the greater good of European unity and political necessity. Finally, the Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko undoubtedly now sits at the side of God and prays eternally for all of our souls because we have forgotten his teaching and the teaching of his Lord Jesus Christ.
For if we look at the wise men who whispered war, revolution, regime change, democracy, free markets, nation building, and the end of tyranny in our world over the past twenty-five years, we find that none of them, in their wisdom, whispered the love of the enemy, nor prayer, nor law and order, nor humble suffering and patient faith in providence. And, if we read the wise literature about the end of the Cold War, we learn about economic factors, politics, arms races, and statesmanship, but we do not learn of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, nor of the pre-eminence of loving thy enemy, of prayer, or of the Virgin Mary. And if we do hear of such things, we do not practice them.
It was Maimonedes, in his Guide for the Perplexed, who made sense of the story of Job by pointing out to us that the Old Testament never says that Job is wise; only that he is pious. In the last twenty-five years, the West has had many wise men giving wise speeches and making wise plans, and yet we have—despite our wise men and wise plans—come to ruin. We do not understand this ruin; we grope to find answers to how we might get ourselves out of this wise mess. Unlike the pious Job, who did not seek to understand the ways of the Lord, but obeyed, we seek to understand—and perhaps by doing so, we fail to really understand. Maimonedes tells us that Job is a teaching about the superiority of Providence over human wisdom. Looking at Father Popieluszko’s life—a life of prayer, obedience (and for a Christian, obedience means loving your enemy!) and faith—let us ask ourselves: How many of the nation builders, regime changers, military planners, new world order builders—how many of them spent time considering that a humble Catholic priest, with his prayers and acts of love, might have actually stood behind the miraculous end of the Soviet Union and of tyranny, rather than these miraculous events having been caused by Pentagon planners? Maybe, just maybe, this is why Iraq burns, why Ukraine burns, and why the whole world will burn until we relearn what Father Jerzy taught us: That liberty and peace begin in the Church, on our knees, and nowhere else.