37th anniversary of ‘Solidarity’ chaplain’s tragic death

October 19 marks the 37th anniversary of the tragic death of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, symbol of Polish peaceful resistance to the Communist regime.

Jerzy Aleksander Popiełuszko was born in 1947 as Alfons Popiełuszko. He attended a priests’ seminary in Warsaw, followed by compulsory military service. He was transferred to a special unit with tightened discipline, as part of the repressions of the Catholic Church by the communist authorities. After changing his name to Jerzy, in 1972 he was ordained priest by cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and served in several parishes in Warsaw.

In 1981, Jerzy Popiełuszko visited the workers protesting in the Warsaw Steelworks. Thereafter he became the unofficial chaplain of the “Solidarity” trade union (the first legal trade union in communist countries that was independent of the authorities) and was associated with opposition to the Communist regime.

During Martial Law he served monthly Masses for the Homeland attended by tens of thousands of people and became a target for the security services.

On the evening of October 19, 1984, Father Popiełuszko was kidnapped by agents of the secret service of the Interior Affairs Ministry. The priest was beaten, tied up, and thrown into a car boot. With a sack of stones bound to his feet, he was dropped into the Vistula river near the town of Włocławek, northern Poland.

His body was found on October 30 and the news of his death caused a powerful wave of indignation in the country. His body was tortured to the extent that he could only be formally identified by his distinguishing features.

His Warsaw funeral on November 3, was attended by more than 250,000 people, including the “Solidarity” leader Lech Wałęsa. His resting place is near the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw, where he used to celebrate his Masses for the Homeland.

Father Popiełuszko was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest distinction, in 2009. The following year he was beatified by Archbishop Angelo Amato in Warsaw.

As Adam Nowosad, a witness in the beatification process, said, contrary to what is commonly said, Father Popiełuszko was prepared for death.

“He was ready for anything,” he pointed out, adding that the priest did not show fear or despondency.

On the 37th anniversary of the martyr's death, in Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw a Holy Mass will be celebrated at 6 pm and a chapel with relics (cassocks and other items that the chaplain of “Solidarity” had with him at the time of his death) will be opened for public.