Polish cardinal’s beatification reminder of tests of communism
- Jonathan Luxmoore
May 2, 2021
Beatification is a step toward sainthood, and Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, said 37 volumes on the cardinal’s sanctity had been amassed during his 1989-2001 diocesan process for canonization.
In October 2019, the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes said the inexplicable recovery of a dying 19-year-old cancer patient from the Szczecin-Kamien Archdiocese in 1988 had been confirmed as a miracle attributed to Wyszynski’s intercession. His beatification, originally scheduled for 2020, was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mother Elisabeth Rosa Czacka, who founded the Franciscan Sister Servants of the Cross in 1918 and a pioneering center for blind children, will be beatified alongside Wyszynski. She died in Poland in 1961.
The late Catholic historian Andrzej Micewski told Catholic News Service in 2001 that Wyszynski’s leadership had resulted in a victory that was not only political, but also had taught important lessons about securing church freedoms under hostile conditions.
“Wyszynski criticized the communist state, but also compelled communist rulers to deal with him, in this way ensuring his church became Eastern Europe’s strongest,” Micewski said.
Born in Zuzela, Poland, Aug. 3, 1901, Stefan Wyszynski was ordained at Wloclawek in 1924, later serving as a chaplain to Poland’s underground home army under wartime German occupation.
Pope Pius XII named him bishop of Lublin in 1946 and archbishop of Warsaw-Gniezno two years later. In 1950, despite Vatican misgivings, Wyszynski signed the first church accord with a communist government, which promised the church institutional protection in return for encouraging “respect for state authorities.”
The deal was swiftly violated by the communist side, and Wyszynski was arrested with hundreds of priests in September 1953. He was held until October 1956, when a new communist leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka, sought his help in calming industrial unrest.
“When he was arrested, he didn’t know what awaited him — although it turned out to be three years’ detention, it could just as easily have been a show trial and death sentence,” Mazurkiewicz told CNS.
“When we read his detailed notes today, it’s striking how the communist rulers also treated Cardinal Wyszynski as an authority and felt morally inferior beside him, as they tried to present their own perspectives and interests,” he said.
Having reached a new deal with Gomulka to allow freer church appointments, some religious teaching and 10 Catholic seats in Poland’s State Assembly, Cardinal Wyszynski headed the Archdiocese of Warsaw-Gniezno until his death May 28, 1981.
Among his proteges was the future St. John Paul II. When then-Father Karol Wojtyla was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958, the cardinal presented him to a group of priests, saying “Habemus papam” (“We have a pope”).
Mazurkiewicz told CNS Wyszynski’s beatification would be a “form of penance” against recent church scandals by recalling “good and saintly aspects” of Christian life. He also said the cardinal’s role in rebuilding ties Polish with Germany, through a reconciliatory letter to German bishops during the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, had been important for post-war Europe.
Cardinal Stefan Wysznski
The modern world needs to be reminded of the great truth that men are called for eternal life and that their life does not end here, on earth. Our faith in eternal life has a very important meaning: it teaches us to respect men. We must always remember that man is the most important, most precious, most splendid work of God.
The excerpt is from the homily delivered by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland, on May 24, 1964, at the tomb of the Servant of God Fr. Stanislaus Papczyński in Góra Kalwaria near Warsaw.
Cardinal Wysyznski was a very significant person during the Cold War. He became the Primate of Poland when made a cardinal in 1953 by Pope Pius XII.
Additionally he will be known historically as the mentor of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Wysynski proposed Karol Wojtyla to be an auxiliary bishop in Poland.
Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.
Throughout Wojtyla’s life he was his mentor and his partner.
Stefan Wyszynski was born in a village called Zuzela on August 3, 1901, in what was then Russian territory due to the partitions of the late 18th century. At that time the Russian Empire had attempted to make the Polish people abandon their traditions and national awareness. His mother died when he was nine years of age. In 1912 his father sent him to Warsaw to complete his education. He enrolled in seminary and was ordained on his twenty-fourth birthday in 1924.
The next four years were spent in Lublin where he earned a doctoral degree in Canon Law and Social Sciences. Upon graduation he traveled extensively in Europe furthering his education. He then taught at the seminary in Wloclawek. His life changed dramatically with the onset of World War II in 1939 and with the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. At first he assumed pastoral duties for working class people, but eventually he became chaplain to members of the resistance movement. After the war, Wyszynski started a restoration project for the devastated seminary, became its rector and editor of a Catholic periodical.
On March 25th, 1946, Pope Pius XII appointed him Bishop of Lublin and on November 12, 1948, Archbishop of Warsaw. His life was filled with political upheaval. While the war had ended in 1944, a large segment of Poland was engaged in hostilities with the Stalinist government. The Catholic Church actively supported the anti-Communist government. In 1950 Wyszynski signed an agreement with the civil authorities that allowed the Church to hold property, separated church and state, prohibited religious teaching in public schools and allowed for civil authorities to select a bishop from three candidates. In 1953, more persecution swept Poland. When bishops supported the resistance, mass trials and imprisonment of priests began and Cardinal Wyszynski was among them. In 1953, he began his imprisonment in various locations enduring brutal torture and mistreatment, some highly perverse in nature. He was released in 1956.
Pope Pius XII elevated him to the rank of cardinal on January 12, 1953. He never stopped his religious and social work, the crowning achievement of which was the celebration of Poland’s Millennium of Christianity in 1966, the thousandth anniversary of the baptism of Poland’s first prince, Mieszko I. The Communist authorities refused to allow Pope Paul VI to visit Poland, and they prevented Cardinal Wyszynski from attending any celebrations outside of Poland connected to the millennium. In 1978, his brother bishop, Karol Wojtyla of Krakow became Pope John Paul II. Though sometimes at odds with each other, he will be known historically as the mentor of John Paul II. Cardinal Wysznski proposed Karol Wojtyla to be an auxiliary bishop in Poland.
Cardinal Wyszynski worked hard during the Solidarity movement in Poland, appealing to the government and the striking workers to be responsible for their actions.
Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of the Millennium died on May 28th, 1981. He was seventy-nine years of age.
When Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow, another cardinal was a hero of resistance against communist totalitarianism in Poland. It was his friend Stefan Wyszynski, archbishop of Warsaw.
Pope Francis has officially recognized Wyszynski’s demonstration of “heroic virtues.”
It was the first important step in the canonization process.
And on June 7, 2020, he will become Blessed Stefan Wyszyski!
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski participated in the two conclaves in 1978 and helped elect John Paul II.