Module 1: WHO SAYS

(Page 26) Resource sheet 5

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Father Jerzy Popieluszko

In October 1984 the body of Father Jerzy was dragged from a reservoir in Poland. These words were written about him after the news was heard.

To the mother of a murdered son
you were a son,
to the families abandoned and forsaken
you were a brother.

to the old
you were a reminder of their once noble youth,
to Warsaw and to Poland
you gave a hope and a heart

So why was he murdered and by whom?

Jerzy was born in a remote village near the USSR border where the conditions were very primitive. Their house had two rooms, only one of which was heated by a stove; all the family slept in this one room in winter. There were five children. They all had to help in the home and in the fields.

When he was 18 years old Jerzy went to study for seven years. He had chosen to become a priest. Most people would think that was a safe job. It was far from safe in Poland at that time. The government was trying all the time to destroy the church. It did not want the people to listen to any ideas but those of communism.

After his training and two years of compulsory military service Father Jerzy worked in two churches. He was never strong and was in hospital twice with serious illness. His ill health meant he should have led a quiet life, but he was always involving himself with others' needs.

Father Jerzy was invited to preach on basic human rights all over Poland. He is specially remembered for the way he helped the workers in the factories of Warsaw giving them great spiritual and moral support. One Sunday in August 1980 he was asked to take a religious service for the men on strike inside the steel works. From then until his death he stood by these men as they fought for fair treatment. Also, to help people express their feelings for Poland, he started a special 'Mass for the Fatherland'. Each month people from all over the land came to take part in the worship.

The authorities began to attack Father Jerzy although his only crime was to preach love and forgiveness. His small flat was damaged, his car followed. Though the workers set a watch to protect him, he was arrested and charged with having arms and anti-government papers. This was not true and he was released. After that he was often arrested and questioned but this did not stop him from doing what he believed to be right.

On 19th October 1984 his car was stopped by the secret police. Father Jerzy was bundled into the boot. He was tortured for several hours, badly beaten, tied up and thrown into a reservoir.

In killing him his enemies believed they could kill the truth for which he stood but eventually it was courageous living like this which broke the stranglehold of fear and dictatorship in Poland.

R1-M1-PAGE 26

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