Introduction by Paul Hensler:
Month after month the secret police maintained their pressure on Father Jerzy.
Every time he delivered the sermon at a mass for the Fatherland the SB would deliver another dose of harassment; his tires were slashed, his car splashed with paint and police vehicles would sit outside the rectory every night , rev their engines and sound their sirens every hour on the hour. It was not only Father Jerzy who suffered from lack of sleep and flat tires. The same was happening to His pastor Father Bogucki and the resident priests and nuns who lived in and near the rectory.
The police could silence Father Popieluszko either directly by building up criminal charges against the priest, or by stealth, by demonstrating that the priest was in so much personal danger the Church should transfer him. Perhaps to Rome, perhaps to the countryside, far away from workers, from intellectuals, and from Solidarity.
In response to all of the Communist Government’s tactics, Father Jerzy Popieluszko delivered the following sermon at the mass for the fatherland on September 26, 1982.
We stand today with the crucifix in our hand at the Mass for Our Fatherland and for those who suffer injustice in our land. This way we want to emphasize that, in the crucifix, everything has its sense. Everything, which we know as pain, suffering, physical or spiritual torture. All that we commonly know as the cross of our lives, the cross of our Nation, takes on greatest meaning by being connected with the cross of Christ. There is no church without the cross, no sacrifice, no blessing, no service without the cross. There is no permanence and no victory without the cross. Everyone who succeeds in just endeavors wins through the cross and in the cross. The Church must proclaim the truth. The Church is to defend the downtrodden. In the name of truth the Church cannot overlook evil and human abuse without concern. So today, the Church embraces all the painful events taking place in our country, it embraces especially those who are imprisoned, those unjustly condemned, those who are interned, the disregarded, the unemployed. All of them are, through their suffering, in a special way, like the suffering Christ.
Today also is the first anniversary of the blessing of the Solidarity banner for the FSO Warszawa Union members. The banner which, as well as the word “Solidarnosc” displays the image of St. Christopher the patron saint of drivers. Let us then also pray for the workers of FSO that they may be faithful to the vows they made to that banner last year.
Holy Mass for the Fatherland on September 26 1982 s celebrated by Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko who delivered the sermon.
Christ dies on the cross for all humanity, He conquers death and opens the way to Resurrection.
Why did the redemption of humanity have to take place on this horrific tool of torture, what meaning had the cross in ancient times?
Death on the cross was introduced by Phenicians for the most despised, for people with no rights, for slaves. Had Christ been stoned, he would have been just one of the Jews, has He been beheaded, he would have died as a Roman. But dying as a slave, on the cross, he became the brother of all humanity because death of slaves was meant for people of all nationalities. A slave could have been a Jew, a Greek, a German. A slave could have been an illiterate or a highly educated person.
Thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ, this symbol of shame and degrading became the symbol of courage, bravery, help and brotherhood. The cross indicated for us today all which is most beautiful and most valuable in man. The Cross leads to Resurrection. There is no other way. And, therefore, the cross of our Nation, our personal crosses, those of our families must lead to victory, to resurrection when we join them with Christ who conquered the Cross.
Our crosses and our suffering can be connected with Christ because the persecution continues in us, his brothers. Because the actors in this drama still live. Only their names and faces have changed, their birthdates and their birthplaces have changed. The methods are different but the case against Christ continues. All those who cause pain and suffering to their own brothers, who fight against what Christ died on the cross for, take part in it. The players are those who try to build on lies, falsehoods and half-truths, those who degrade human dignity, the dignity of a child of God, who deprive their compatriots of their self-worth so dearly valued by God Himself, those who take away or diminish freedom. All of them participate in it.
How like Christ bleeding on the cross is the suffering of our nation today!
Oh, Christ nailed to the cross
Like Poland in the days of bondage. Oh, Christ nailed to the cross
Like Poland in the times of freedom…
– cries the poet¹.
Just like Christ on the cross, our nation is bleeding. Her sons are deprived of respect, honor, self-worth, they are degraded and frequently abused.
Christ is being killed on the cross by His own people, in His own country. Today, our brothers are killed by their countrymen. We can cite many of these incidents, the crosses of our nation, crosses of our Fatherland.
Lack of respect for basic human rights leads to many other crosses. In the words of our late Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski: “the foundation of all social order and the condition for peace in the world and nations – is the respect for basic human rights”². Where the human rights concerning truth, freedom and justice are not respected, there is no, and never be, peace. First of all one has to ensure that these basic rights be respected and only then one can join together and build peace.
In our country these rights are not respected as thousands are held in prisons and concentration camps. The authorities generate many untrue messages and justice in painfully rare.
Our country’s cross arises from the fact that, for decades, there has been a strange determination to take away from our people, especially the youth, God and to superimpose an ideology not at all related to the thousand years of the Christian tradition of our country. As the late Primate said: “How could one think that Poland, who for ten centuries lived in the light of the Cross and the Gospel, could deny Christ and abandon Her Christian culture, culture for ages interwoven with our personal, family and national lives”³. The deliberate promotion of atheism, the war on God and everything that is His is, at the same time, a war on human greatness and worthiness. Man is great because he carries within him the dignity of being a child of God.
Lack of truth is a cross. Truth has the ability to prevail and to come out into the daylight even when one tries scrupulously and deliberately to hide it. Lies always die sudden death. Truth is always brief, lies are made up of lots of words. Lack of truth is the root of all crises.
Lack of freedom is a cross. Where there is no freedom, there is no love, no friendship as much within the family as within the nation or even among nations. One cannot be forced into love or friendship. Today’s man is more sensitive to the force of love that that of power. Poles cannot be won over by threats, only by love, and bravery does not rely on – as the late Primate said – being armed, courage is not related to metal, but to heart.
Each one of us standing here could name an endless number of crosses which he experienced or witnessed especially within the, almost ten, previous months. Months of chaos, wandering and fear, months of the unknown tomorrows.
All these crosses of our lives, personal and national, must end up in the Resurrection of our Nation, entirely free and just. From the moment when Christ died on the cross, we cannot be shamed by any suffering or degradation. Shame belongs to those who cause it, So, just as Christ did not turn back from his way to crucifixion but continued to His glorious end, so will our Nation, strengthened by Christ, not resign even if the way to our Resurrection has to be made on our aching knees.
We ask God for hope because only the people strengthened by hope survive all their difficulties. We ask Him for inner joy because that is the most threatening weapon against satan who is unhappy from his very first moment, We ask for freedom from revenge and hatred and for that freedom which comes from love.
¹ Alexander Widera Litany to the Mother of God, Queen of Poland see brochure prepared by Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko and distributed before this Mass.
² Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski Crux-spes nostra – to the authors and writers at the closing of recollections, Wasaw, 3/28/1981. Also: Church in Service of the Nation, p. 260-261.
³ Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Blessing of crosses, of the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa and consecration of the bells. Bydgoszcz-Wyzyny 9/18/1980, also Church in Service of the Nation, p. 51.