It was 30 years ago this fall. A gentle priest named Jerzy Popieluszko, age 37, had been bound and gagged and stuffed into the trunk of a Fiat driven by three thugs from communist Poland’s secret police. This kindly priest was chaplain to the Solidarity movement, the freedom fighters who would ultimately prove fatal to Soviet communism.
Father Jerzy’s first beating that evening was so severe that it should have killed him. But somehow, he was surviving. In fact, somehow he unloosened the ropes that knotted him and extricated himself from the car. He began to run, shouting to anyone who could hear, “Help! Save my life!”
He was run down by one of the goons, who unleashed himself and his club with a fury and ferocity as if he were possessed by something else. Father Jerzy’s pounding was so relentless that it wouldn’t be misplaced to think of Christ’s scourging at the pillar. This young man in persona Christi, not much older than Jesus Christ at his death agony, was pummeled to death.
The killers drove to a nearby river. They tied bags of stones to the priest’s ankles and quietly sunk him into the blackness.
The killers felt an immediate sense of guilt. They drove away, downing a bottle of vodka. “Now we are murderers,” one of them somberly thought to himself.
Indeed they were. Of course, so was the communist system they represented. It and its handmaidens consumed countless Jerzy Popieluszkos and millions of others whose names are not remembered.
This priest, however, was remembered, by the millions—including by the fellow Polish priest, Pope John Paul II. They merely redoubled their efforts. As Tertullian put it, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The saintly priest’s demise further fueled the flames for the torch of freedom in Poland and the corresponding crash and burn of Soviet communism.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko was one of many martyrs at the hands of atheistic communism. His death 30 years ago was not in vain.
For Ave Maria Radio, I’m Paul Kengor. Check out my writings at faithandfreedom.com.
image: Krugerr / Wikimedia Commons