The last rosary by Jerzy Popiełuszko

October 19, 1984 would be the last day Jerzy Popiełuszko, chaplain of "Solidarity", was seen alive. Popiełuszko was murdered by the communist government that would not tolerate his opposition to the lack of freedom and the falsity of the system.

Ignacy Soler-October 19, 2022-Reading time: 6 minutes

Those days in October 1984 have remained firmly imprinted in the memory of many. The news was on the front pages of all the newspapers, it was the main news item in Spain at that time: Jerzy Popiełuszko, chaplain of "Solidarity", famous for his masses for the Fatherland in the Żoliborz district of Warsaw, had been kidnapped by unknown persons (it was rightly assumed by government agents). After a few days of waiting the news takes on truly dramatic characters: Popiełuszko murdered. The assumption was confirmed: the executioners were officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

One idea emerges alone and clearly: the totalitarian communist system is responsible for the death of that priest. A system based on lies cannot bear to be told the truth, a truth without hatred, without anger, without revenge.

That event remained strongly imprinted on me in the young years of my priesthood: Popiełuszko martyr of the Truth, of a Truth imbued with Love, of strength and audacity, a courageous truth.

Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our salvation. In these two sentences is contained the source of salvation and truth for every person. The death of the martyr is in the Church the greatest fidelity to the Christian ideal: identification with Christ the Victim.

The first Christians were willing to give their lives and many made that willingness a reality, not for their own pleasure or whim, but as a result of the injustice of oppressive political systems that did not understand, or did not want to understand the Christian truth, as opposed to their religious, political and worldly pretensions.

Among them were many martyr priests who received the vocation to seal with their own blood the sacrifice of the Blood of Christ, a sacrifice that constitutes the foundation and root of priestly being: the offering of Christ on the Cross.

It is not easy to be a martyr, it is not easy to be a witness to the Truth of Christ with one's own life and blood. We also know very well that we are all called to the vocation of martyrdom, of witnessing to the truth, in ordinary life without shedding blood but with a heroism that is no less small. Some are also called to martyrdom in its fully literal sense: to the surrender of their lives. How many martyrs we have had in the twentieth century! One of them is Popiełuszko.

The painful mysteries of Popiełuszko

October 19, 1984. Popiełuszko had accepted an invitation to celebrate Holy Mass with homily in the city of Bydgoszcz 250 kilometers north of Warsaw. Although he had the homily written, he decided not to preach it.

At the end of the Eucharist the recitation of the Holy Rosary is celebrated and before each mystery Popiełuszko makes a brief consideration in a loud voice and coming all from his heart -.ex abundatia cordis os loquitur.

A few hours later, on his way back to Warsaw, he is kidnapped and murdered. These are his last words, this is his last message.

Contemplating the first painful mystery -the prayer in the garden- Popiełuszko spoke of human dignity and freedom. "We must guard human dignity so that good may increase and thus overcome evil. We must remain free inwardly also when external circumstances are lacking in freedom. We must be ourselves in every historical situation. Our divine filiation carries in itself the inheritance of freedom".

Freedom as a gift of God and as a task, the task of defending it when freedom is kicked, snatched and confused: the passion for truth is at the same time a passion for freedom. And he ended his meditation on the first sorrowful mystery with these words: "Let us pray that we may know how to behave every day according to the dignity of the children of God".

In the SECOND MYSTERY -Popiełuszko speaks of the justice that emanates from truth and charity. "Where there is a lack of love and of good there are the germs from which hatred and violence swarm. When someone is motivated by hatred and violence one cannot speak of justice."

For the Christian the source of justice is God himself, therefore it is unjust to impose atheism as a system. "Everyone, without exception, has the duty to live in justice and to ask for justice, for as the ancient thinker said: these are bad times when justice is locked up in silence. Let us pray for justice to guide us every day of our lives".

The consideration of the third mystery The crowning of thorns - the crowning of thorns - revolved around the truth. We move towards it by an impulse of God himself. Truth unites, truth triumphs even though for centuries we have been engaged in a fierce struggle against it. "

Christ chose a few to proclaim the truth. Only the multitude of lies demands untold words. Lies are sold in filthy markets of buying and selling, like merchandise displayed on store shelves. The lie must always be new, it needs many servants to learn it today, tomorrow and a month from now, to remake it again with the violent program of other lies".

It is not easy to distinguish truth from falsehood in the presence of censorship, of which the very words of the primate or the pope fall victim. "It is the Christian's duty to stand by the truth, even if it costs him a lot, because the truth must be paid for. Only the chaff alone costs nothing. The grain of wheat of truth carries with it a great price. Let us pray that our ordinary life may be filled with truth".

The cross at a cost -The fourth mystery is the starting point for meditating on the virtue of fortitude. "The Christian should remember that there is only one thing to fear: the betrayal of Jesus Christ for a few silver coins of hollow tranquility. The follower of Jesus Christ must be a witness, spokesman and defender of justice, for it is not enough to condemn evil. If the Christian renounces the virtue of fortitude, he harms himself and all those who depend on him: his family, his co-workers, his nation, his state and his Church. Woe to you rulers who want to win over the citizens with the price of threats and the slavery of fear! Such power denigrates itself and debases its authority. The practice of fortitude should be in the interest of the rulers as well as of the citizens".

The dominant motif in the meditation of the fifth and last sorrowful mystery -The crucifixion and death of Christ - constitutes the opposition to violence. "He who is not given to convince with the heart and the head tries to win with force. Every manifestation of violence speaks to us of moral abasement. Every idea capable of giving life is maintained by its own strength. And so it was with Solidarity, which, on its knees and with a rosary in its hands, fought for human dignity more than for bread. In Poland, in recent years, the fundamental rights of the human person have been curtailed. When this cornering made everyone feel its painful pressure, then the cry of freedom burst out. Solidarity arose, demonstrating that in order to build a society and its economy it is not necessary to do without God. Let us pray that we may be free from fear, from threats and above all from the temptation of revanchism and violence".

Finishing the holy Rosary and after the prayer "Under your protection we take refuge", Popiełuszko prayed to St. Joseph that he who with the work of his hands maintained the Holy Family may grant all of us Christians "to sanctify all our actions with love, patience, justice and the realization of good". 

His last words of farewell were: "May the evangelical principles of justice and social charity direct the actions of all the people of our country. Amen.

Last hours

Once in the adjoining parish house, a brief informal meeting was held for a few people where he was asked about Solidarityfor his safety and health. Someone asked him if he could not get a battery for his car. Popiełuszko laughed heartily, replying, "You could have told me earlier and I would have brought one from Warsaw along with everything I needed to power the microphone, because it often happens that the power is cut off just when I am preaching the homily."

Although he was tired and somewhat ill, and despite the parish priest's insistence that he spend the night in Bydgoszcz, Popiełuszko wanted to return immediately to Warsaw as he had work the next day.

When someone warned him to be careful on the way back to Warsaw, Popiełuszko reassured him by commenting, "Besides I travel with my cassock on which in this country still means something."

A few hours later, his murderers beat him to death with his cassock on, and with it on, they threw him into the pond, another sign of the reason for his condemnation: to be a priest who bears witness.

On other occasions of persecution of priests, if by chance someone was found wearing a cassock, the first thing they did was to take it off, after which they would sentence him to death.

This was not the case with Popiełuszko who died with his cassock on.

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