Warsaw: Thousands of Poles filled a vast sunbathed square in Warsaw on Sunday for the beatification of Jerzy Popieluszko, a charismatic priest tortured and killed in 1984 by communist Poland`s secret police for supporting Lech Walesa`s Solidarity movement.
The head of the Vatican`s saint-making office, Archbishop Angelo Amato, presided over the beatification Mass at Pilsudski Square that was also celebrated by 120 bishops and 1,300 priests. Popieluszko`s 100-year-old mother Marianna, was among those attending.
The Mass will then be followed by an hours-long procession of his remains — referred to as relics — to a new church in the southern Warsaw suburb of Wilanow.
Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz said he expects about 250,000 Poles to attend the beatification of Popieluszko, a popular and outspoken priest who preached the value of freedom during his "Masses for the Homeland." He is remembered as one of the key historic figures in the struggle against communism. His beatification could pave the way toward possible sainthood.
"We are very proud of him, he was a very good and brave person," said Wieslawa Nowak, 57, a bookkeeper.
"He preached the truth and was killed for preaching the truth," said Nowak, who travelled since early morning to attend the Mass from Grajewo, near where Popieluszko was born.
Popieluszko is a huge source of pride for many Poles and for the church, which won the devotion of many here for its opposition to communism. No figure better represents that struggle than the late John Paul II, the Polish-born pontiff credited with helping to defeat communism across eastern Europe.
Popieluszko`s sermons — with references to freedom and to John Paul`s teachings — drew large crowds during a communist crackdown on the opposition in the early 1980s.
The regime reacted by harassing Popieluszko — and with an attempted assassination attempt meant to look like a car accident in October 1984.
Two weeks later, the secret police kidnapped the 37-year-old priest and his driver on October 19, 1984. He was beaten, bound, gagged and stuffed in a sack weighed down with stones and thrown into the Vistula River. His driver managed to escape.
His murder sparked massive outrage and drew hundreds of thousands of people to his funeral, in what was widely seen as a massive show of opposition to the communist regime. The authorities conducted a quick trial and convicted four Security Service officers. All of them have since been released from prison.
Last December, Pope Benedict declared Popieluszko a martyr, thus opening the road to his beatification. Martyrs, having given up their life for the Church, do not need a proven miracle to be beatified.