Church beatifies Pole slain by Communists in 1984

Thousands of Poles filled a vast sunbathed square in Warsaw for beatification of Jerzy Popieluszko.

Updated: Jun 06, 2010, 19:00 PM IST

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 freedom movement.

The head of the Vatican`s saint-making office, Archbishop Angelo Amato, presided over the Mass at Pilsudski Square that was also celebrated by 120 bishops and 1,600 priests. Popieluszko`s 90-year-old mother Marianna, his sister and brothers, were among some 140,000 attending that included Walesa.

Amato read out Pope Benedict XVI`s declaration that made Popieluszko blessed for his martyrdom in giving his life to defend good. The crowd applauded when Popieluszko`s portrait was unveiled.

The pope, on a visit to Cyprus, said Popieluszko`s "zealous service and his martyrdom are a special sign of the victory of good over evil."

The two-and-half-hour Mass in Warsaw was followed by a procession of his remains — referred to as relics — encased in a small silver reliquary, to a church in southern Warsaw.

Popieluszko`s grave remains in the yard of St. Stanislas Church, where he used to give riveting sermons. Since his burial in 1984, it has been visited by many world leaders.

Popieluszko, an outspoken priest, is remembered as one of the historic figures in the nation`s struggle against communism. His "Masses for the Homeland" during a time of harsh repression under martial law in the 1980s drew crowds as he preached the value of freedom.

"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 traveled from Grajewo, near where Popieluszko was born, to attend the Mass.

On Oct. 19, 1984, three secret police officers kidnapped the 37-year-old priest and his driver.

The priest was beaten, bound, gagged and stuffed in the trunk of an unmarked police car. He escaped when they pulled in at a secluded parking lot, but was captured again, beaten and stuffed in a sack weighed down with stones and thrown into the Vistula River.

His driver, Waldemar Chrostowski, managed to escape and tell about the priest`s abduction. Popieluszko`s body was found two weeks later.

Popieluszko`s murder sparked massive outrage and drew hundreds of thousands of people to his funeral, in a massive show of opposition to the communist regime. The authorities conducted a quick trial and convicted the three abductors and their immediate superior to prison terms of up to 25 years. All of have since been released.

Beatification procedures opened in 1997. Last December, Pope Benedict declared Popieluszko a martyr, opening the road to his beatification.

Beatification is a step toward possible sainthood, which, if sought in an official procedure, should be backed up by proven cases of miracles attributed to the candidate for sainthood.

Bureau Report