Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blessed are they

On Wednesday the Vatican announced the date of the beatification of Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko as a martyr, on 6 June in Warsaw, Poland.

Ever since I heard his story I was impressed by the commitment of this young priest to the cause of the Polish workers.

He seems to have been a reluctant activist. In 1980 striking Warsaw steel plant workers asked the cardinal for a priest to say Mass at their plant. The cardinal found the Father Popieluszko at the church where he was serving part-time, because of his poor health. Father Popieluszko gradually became more involved in support of the Solidarity trade union. Eventually he presided over monthly Masses for the Fatherland where his preaching strengthened the people in their struggle.

He was a threat to the regime and so was abducted by the Polish secret police on October 19, 1984, and died after being bound, gagged, and thrown into a reservoir. He was 37 years old.

I was impressed by his commitment to nonviolence. Here are a few quotes I came across:
“Do not fight by means of violence. Violence is a sign of weakness. Whatever cannot win by influencing the heart tries to win by means of violence. The most splendid and lasting battles known to history are the battles of human thought. The most ignoble and the shortest are the battles of violence. An idea which needs weapons to survive will die of itself. The idea which prevails merely through the use of violence is perverted. A living idea conquers by itself. It is followed by millions.”
Mass for the Country, December 1982
Let us pray that we may be free from fear and intimidation, but most of all that we may be free from the desire for violence and vengeance.
at his last Mass
Through Christ’s death and resurrection the Cross – a symbol of disgrace – became a sign of courage, virtue, help, and brotherhood. In the sign of the Cross we embrace today all that is most beautiful and valuable in man. Through the Cross we go to the resurrection. There is no other way. And therefore the crosses of our county, our personal crosses, and those of our families, must lead to victory, to resurrection, if we are united to Christ who conquered the Cross.”
Mass for the Country, September 1982
in Grazyna Sikorska, Jerzy Popieluszko: A Martyr for the Truth
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 52.
As I read this news today I thought of two other persons who also deserve honor. One is Franz Jaegerstaetter, an Austrian Peasanta who refused to serve in Hitler’s army. For his conscientious decision he was beheaded on August 9, 1943. he was beatified in October 2007. Orbis books has recently published a collection of his writings, Franz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison.

The other person who should be formally canonized – and not just beatified – is Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was a voice for the voiceless. In many ways I think he was a reluctant prophet, much like Blessed Jerzy. He also stood with the people, denouncing injustices and seeking a way out.

He has been canonized in the hearts of millions in Latin America and throughout the world as San Romero. But the Vatican has been slow to acknowledge him, possibly because of what they see as his political stances. However, in my eyes he was much less politically partisan than Blessed Jerzy.

There are two major differences between the two men. The killers of Blessed Jerzy were Communists whereas San Romero’s were nominally Catholic. In addition, San Romero found himself in conflict with the conservative bishops of El Salvador.

Yet he has inspired millions to live as people of faith committed to justice. Whether he is canonized or not in the next few years, his example as a bishop committed to Christ and to the suffering needs to be emulated and followed – especially these days.

A collection of quotes, The Violence of Love, is published by Orbis Books and is also available as a PDF file from Plough Publishing. Romero: A Life by James Brockman is also available from Orbis Books.

Lest I be accused of sexism, I must mention that yesterday the person who contracted the killing of Sister Dorothy Stang, a Notre Dame sister who defended the people in the Brazilian rain forests was found guilty again.


The photo of Blessed Jerzy Popieuluszko is from the Wikipedia page.

1 comment:

phoenixwoman said...

Some good news. Pax Christi has signed on to a call to end the threats and violence in Bajo Aguan. A number of other organizations have done so as well, though regrettably not Guatemala and Columbia as the signature lines would indicate.

Some other major organizations have signed as well, but Pax Christi is the most important for affecting public opinion in the US.