Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
A couple of days ago, I watched Messenger of the Truth, the story of Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest who made headlines during the 1980s as the heroic chaplain of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and my mind is still occupied with the haunting images in this film. It will be playing on public television on Sunday, June 1 and Monday, June 2. Adults will re-live the historic events that unfolded in Poland in the decade leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and young Americans will get a remarkable lesson in how the courage and faith of one individual can help transform an entire nation.
To check out if and when the documentary will be aired on your public television station, go to this website: http://www.messengerofthetruth.com/.
In 1979, when then-Pope John Paul II returned to his native land on his first pilgrimage as the first Pole elected pope in the history of the Church, he began a series of homilies that openly challenged Soviet domination and the totalitarian lie that had stranggled the soul of Eastern Europe for almost half a century. In his first homily in Warsaw, John Paul said that Poland's history and man's history could not be understood without Christ. The prayer that closed his first homily ignited a revolution in Poland that culminated in the non-violent overthrow of the country's Moscow-backed regime:
Let your Spirit descend.
Let your Spirit descend.
and renew the face of the earth,
the face of this land.
John Paul told his fellow Poles that they should not be afraid. "Act like you are free," he said, urging them to banish the self-censorship that discouraged political and social action. Lech Walesa and other union activists listened and they formed the Solidarity movement, demanding the right to strike, among many other freedoms that were denied workers and other citizens of Poland.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko became their chaplain, drawing thousands of Poles to the masses he celebrated for members of the Solidarity movement. Father Jerzy's homilies spoke truth to power and as his reputation grew, the authorities grew scared and Moscow demanded he be shut down. But threats and imprisonment didn't stop Father Jerzy, and the film shows he knew exactly what his fate would be, as he continued his pilgrimage to Golgotha for the sake of his people.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York described the film as “a must-see documentary for all who believe in the rights of religious liberty, the dignity of the human person, and those who are lovers of freedom and defenders of the truth.”
Those who want to know more about the priest and the Solidarity movement, should pick up George Weigel's twobiographies of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, and The End and the Beginning, which includes information Weigel culled from the files of Soviet-era KGB and related services that viewed the Catholic Church in Poland as a serious threat and monitored priests like Father Jerzy.
Here's a bit more about Father Jerzy from the filmmakers:
Father Jerzy was an ordinary priest, whose strong faith, conviction and courage mobilized a nation to believe that they were indeed free in their hearts. His pursuit of the truth stood against the Soviet-backed Poland regime’s pursuit of power. They were willing to kill, he was willing to die. The Soviets saw this one man speaking the truth in a country full of lies as a threat. The truth Father Jerzy spoke of gave the people strength and courage. This truth was the source of faith, hope and love that united the people and gave rise to the spiritual fortitude that would ultimately destroy the communist regime. This truth was revolutionary. Father Jerzy’s example and message of human rights, justice, the truth and freedom ignited a faithful nation to not only dream of freedom, but have the courage to make it a reality. At Father Jerzy’s funeral, an estimated 1 million people surrounded his church in Warsaw and as one, they promised to continue his struggle for freedom through non-violence. Saint John Paul II admired Fr. Jerzy’s courageous stand for freedom and truth, and prayed at his grave. The four-year anniversary of Fr. Jerzy’s beatification is June 6, 2014. He is expected to be canonized in the near future.