January 30 1983

[opening remarks] In the autumn of 1861, on his death bed, Archbishop Antoni Fijalkowski said the following: “Always stay with your nation. Try, as shepherds of your people to defend your country’s case and never forget that you are Poles”. Through our community prayer for our Homeland and for those who suffer for the cause, we fulfill in a way, the will of this great Archbishop of Warsaw who died during the difficult times preceding the January Uprising. This month we shall celebrate its 120th anniversary. We want the Holy Masses for Our Country to help retain within us the spirit of love for her, we want to strengthen our hope, to increase our concern for the good of our common home. Hopefully, they will help us to get out of the treasure box of our hearts all that is most precious, all that goodness which will help us to conquer evil.

Holy Mass for the Fatherland was celebrated on January 30 1983, by Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, who delivered the sermon.

[homily]¹ From the beginning of the history of our country, our ancestors fought and bled to stop foreign powers from depriving us of our greatest national treasure, our freedom, because:

Once the war for freedom starts
with the blood of the father, it becomes his son’s inheritance…²

Poles always knew how to defend their country from invaders. They knew how to demand freedom for her in times of occupation. They are always

Popieluszko, January 30 1983

By Andrzej Iwański [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

accompanied by the light of Christ’s Gospel, which says, that freedom is the gift of God Himself. There were many rebellions and national uprisings. Two of them deserve special mention; they are, the November and the January revolts. Both of them are close to our hearts and contain great analogy to our reality today. First, a few words about the year 1830.
The uprising involved mainly the young generation, youth who would not put up with the situation created in Poland by the great powers. The patriotic rebellion of the young men at the military academy made Warsaw the center of action. Sadly, the governance of the country was in the hands of people who had been comfortable in the nests of their existence, people who were on the occupation administration’s payroll. They did not support the rebels. In order to misguide public opinion, they brought into their midst, to calm the general public, a few individuals who had been true patriots. The rebellion was put out but the desire for freedom continued because:

Once the war for freedom starts
with the blood of the father, it becomes his son’s inheritance…

Year 1863. Let us consider the picture, the atmosphere and some of the reasons which led our ancestors to undertake such an uneven struggle on a cold evening of January 22, 1863.

When, after 25 years of martial law imposed during the November uprising, the law is canceled in 1856, the evil is somewhat diminished, but people become more sensitive. It
often happens that in a nation, who accepts some very unfair regulations, people who learn to live with it, without much complaint, suddenly want to shake off the gallows as those become lighter.

Evil, which had been tolerated as inevitable becomes unbearable when one feels that one can free oneself of it. The nation experienced moral revolution. Christian values, previously often only declared, become the center of life of ever more numerous social groups. People, as never before, begin to gather in churches, to celebrate anniversaries, which had been previously prohibited. When, on the 30th anniversary of the November Uprising, after the celebration of Mass in the Carmelite Church, people were invited to meet again that evening, thousands of Warsaw citizens attended. At a given signal, in spite of the street being covered in mud, with tears in their eyes, they sang the hymn Lord, Who Saved Poland.

Patriotic sentiments grew fast. People took to heart the phrase: “Return to us our Country and our Freedom”. From then on, patriotic feelings were being demonstrated on various occasions. The governing body, however, did not, or did not want to recognize these sentiments. They regarded all these activities as due to foreign influence. To the administration, accustomed to the citizens working and remaining silent, this display of manifestations was something unexpected. They decided to react using force. On February 27th 1861, after people left their church in Leszno, 55 shots were fired, 5 men died and a dozen or more were injured.³

But the patriotic feelings were generated from an authentic concern about bringing freedom back to the nation. People did not look for confrontation. In spite of this tragedy they only looked for a pact with the administrating body who acted for the occupying powers. They signaled that clearly by addressing their problem directly to the Tsar. A Pole, Margrave Wielkopolski was brought in. Naturally, he was a confidant of Petersburg. Generally he had been regarded as a great statesman, but there were some who regarded him as compromising and a traitor. Soon it was discovered that the second judgement was correct. He appeared to agonize the country almost on purpose. People did not believe him and kept rejecting the reforms proposed by him even though they may not have been particularly harmful.
Then came the liquidation of the self-governing organizations which sprang out in the period known as “Polish Days,” organizations which gained authority and the support of the people.

Again the innocent began to suffer. The nation was even more abused. Street manifestations ended, patriotic emblems were prohibited. There was a semblance of a return to peace but it was only an illusion. It lasted but a short time. Patriotism was being manifested in churches and the efforts to involve the bishops in order to end the manifestations, failed.

The manifestations at the funeral of Archbishop Fijalkowski and the announcement of a manifestation on the anniversary of death of Tadeusz Kosciuszko became the direct reason for the declaration of martial law on October 14th. The ruling powers were mistaken in their assumption that the dramatic rules of martial law on the one hand and, in exchange for calmness, vague promises of its withdrawal, on the other, will improve the situation. Just the following day, people, by the thousands, attended church services and, as the prohibited hymn was announced, the churches were surrounded by army units and that night Governor General, hated by the Poles, decided to attack the church. Drunk and angered soldiers pounced on the praying crowd. 1687 men were arrested. In town, military patrols were beating up on the people.

The declaration of martial law and the happenings on October 15th convinced, even those who had been willing to compromise, that no pact with the ruling powers was possible. Wielkopolski, who suffered from pathological blindness for social atmosphere, did not wish to understand that political revenge and ruthlessness in politics do not pay. At the same time, his great supporter Przyborski maintained that a government, which forces by order its citizens’ loyalty, does not govern legitimately.

Then, on a winter’s evening of January 22nd, 1863, people forcefully rebelled. The rebellion, even though it failed, in- creased greatly the number of Poles who became conscious of their rights, of their inheritance, of their aspirations as a nation. And the realization of the need to attain freedom remained within them, just as the poet had said:

Once the war for freedom starts
with the blood of the father, it becomes his son’s inheritance…

Then came the First World War. That was the only war, in the past 200 years, which Poland had won. The war after which we were not enslaved either by structure or by authority. And when, shortly thereafter, that new and true freedom was threatened from the east, our whole nation rose to defend it. It was then, that the Most Holy Mother showed us, in a particular way, on the day of Her Assumption, that She is Poland’s Queen. She gave us the miraculous victory near Warsaw, the victory which has remained in the memory of our nation as the “Miracle on the Vistula”. Later, during the years of occupation, the people of Warsaw again rose to battle in the summer of 1944. This uprising, which cost so many lives, mainly because we were abandoned by our allies who, instead of bringing help, looked across the river as Warsaw was bleeding and dying and as the abandoned people of Warsaw placed on the altar of the nation’s freedom, their sons… Because:

Once the war for freedom starts
with the blood of the father, it becomes his son’s inheritance…

As the poet, Jerzy Zagorski put it, this is what can be said about the streets of Warsaw:

Take handful of soil in your hand
Squeeze it in your fist and blood will flow. Because in this earth, in the blood-drenched clay Each layer of martyr bones
 is a relic, a golden angel…⁴

Our search for freedom did not come to an end after the Second World War. We have had many instances of various rebellions, rebellions where, rather than calling for daily
bread, the calls were for rights to freedom, for respect of
human dignity.

The late Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski said this in his final year of life:

(…) The working world has faced many disappointments and restrictions. Working people and all the citizens of Poland lived through anguish with regard to basic human rights, limitation of the freedom of thought, world opinion, worship of God, education of our younger generation. All this was stifled. A special type of person was created, person forced to be silent and work hard. When this type of pressure eventually fatigued everyone, a call for freedom sounded… “Solidarity” was born.

A young poet wrote:

Never before were our backs so flogged with rods of lies and falsehoods,
 lit by flaming furnaces.
Never before one could clearly see the face of deceit lurking from the iron gates of extermination…

Freedom is a reality which God installed in man as he created him in His own image. The nation with its Christians tradition of 1000 years will always reach for freedom. Desire for freedom cannot be defeated by force because that force is the strength of those who do not have Truth. Man can be forced to bend but he cannot be enslaved. A Pole who loves God and Country will arise from any humiliation, he only kneels before God. We have sadly too many examples of this in our past and present history.
It is worth while, at the end of our deliberations to be reminded of the words of our current Primate, Cardinal Josef Glemp who, last year, on November 7th, in Lublin said this:

(…) The nation who is humiliated, has the right to protest, to demand its rights… The right to be themselves…⁷

Let us pray today, on the 120th anniversary of the uprising, that we may know how to nurse our search for true liberty within ourselves, in our families, our surroundings, our places of work and in our entire nation.


  1. Maciej Kozlowski’s outline of Chanses of Avoiding the January Rebel- lion published in “Tygodnik Powszechny” 1983 #4 was used in this sermon.
  2. George G. Byron, Giaur, as translated by Adam Mickiewicz, p. 125-126.
  3. Lt. Julian Komar, WarsawPatriotic Manifestations 1860–1861, PWN, Warsaw 1970, p. 17-19.
  4. Jerzy Zagorski, Relics, see: Let’s Not Close Our Eyes, Warsaw Independent Office of Poets and Artists “Przeswit”, Warsaw 1985, p. 33.
  5. Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski Church is the Closest Friend of Our Children.To NSZZ “Solidarnosc” region Wielkopolska, Gniezno 2/4/1981,also: Church in Service of the Nation,p. 224.
  6. Anonymous handwritten poem given to fr. Jerzy Popieluszko.
  7. The Church Must Be Itself. Speech on the inauguration of academic year 1982/1983, Lublin, KUL see: Archbishop Jozef Glamp, Primate of Poland, Pastoral Teachings, 1981–1982, p. 696.