I did not speak severely, only openly

Mateusz Wyrwich

It was already in the 1970s that Bishop Ignacy Tokarczuk spoke openly that communism would fall soon. Such statements caused ruthless communists’ attacks and the anti-communists’ conviction that the bishop had ‘visionary’ ideas. Archbishop Tokarczuk himself explains quietly, ‘When in the mid 1970s I lectured in Wroclaw I said that communism would fall by the end of the century. Someone asked me whether I had some visions. I answered I did not. Actually I had no visions. But in fact, my various contacts with countries beyond the Soviet border were sufficient to say so. I knew that the system was less and less efficient there and people needed God more and more. […]
Several years before his graduation (1937) he knew he would enter the Lvov Metropolitan Major Seminary and at the same time he would enrol in Philosophy and Theology at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Jan Kazimierz in Lvov. The war broke the peace of the seminarian and university studies. Then there was the occupation, first the Soviet one, and then the German one. Ignacy Tokarczuk was an alumnus of the second year at the seminary. People were shot and arrested. There were deportations to Siberia and endless territories of Kazakhstan. He hid for weeks to avoid being drafted in the Red Army. In the meantime theology was removed from the University of Jan Kazimierz. And then the seminary was closed. But its rector organised underground classes. In that depressing atmosphere Ignacy Tokarczuk was ordained on 21 June 1942 in the seminary church by the bishop suffragan of Lvov Eugeniusz Baziak. The young priest began his ministry in the drama of increasing terror and hunger. Both the German and Soviet occupants fuelled aversion towards Ukrainians and Poles. In the next massacre his two cousins were killed. He himself was miraculously saved.

Communism launching an attack

In May 1945, when contemporary powers thought the war was over, Fr Ignacy Tokarczuk ministered in St Mary Magdalene Church in Lvov. He knew that Lvov would not be Polish. He left the city towards the end of November 1945. In the middle of December he was nominated parish vicar in the Parish Church of Christ the King in Katowice. He began catechising the local people of Silesia and the Polish immigrants from the eastern territories of Poland. […] He did not hide his conviction that he did not like the totalitarian government in Poland. He was soon warned that the party members did not like his critical opinions on the new political situation. He was advised to leave the diocese of Slask. Fr Tokarczuk ‘immigrated’ to study at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1951 Fr Ignacy Tokarczuk defended his doctoral dissertation in philosophy. He was employed as a senior assistant at KUL and as a lecturer in the Major Seminary in Lublin. When the Association of Polish Youth was created at the university and its Rector Fr Antoni Slomkowski arrested, Fr Tokarczuk understood that the sovereignty of the private Catholic school was violated. He decided to leave the university. In 1952 he settled in Warmia, close to his parents’ farm, his parents were repatriates themselves, and became administrator of the parish in Gutkowo. He also began lecturing at the Major Seminary ‘Hosianum’ in Olsztyn. Almost at the same time he was nominated students’ chaplain at the Higher Agricultural School in Olsztyn.
Years went by. Seasons were filled with baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Generation after generation of alumni, taught by the young priest-doctor, left the Olsztyn seminary. The propaganda announced ‘another success in building the socialist economy.’ But prisons and labour camps were full of true and alleged opponents of the dictatorship. The authorities destroyed private ownership. Collective farms were established in villages. Poland was to look like the Soviet Union.
After the massacre of June 1956 in the streets of Poznan, crime committed by the communists, Fr Tokarczuk had no doubts that the communists would not stop shedding blood in order to maintain power. Although after the ‘Polish October’ terror was less severe and almost all political prisoners were set free, the reforms announced by Wladyslaw Gomulka, had nothing to do with democracy. Although priests were set free, including the rector of KUL, and Fr Tokarczuk began lecturing there again, it was known that the fight against the Church was not over.

Whatever happens I will not be afraid

The last month of 1965 opened a new chapter in the long life of Fr Ignacy Tokarczuk and the history of the Polish Church. On 3 December Paul VI made him bishop of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Przemysl. Two months later, 6 February 1966, he was anointed bishop in the cathedral in Przemysl.
Soon afterwards, during his first meetings with the local PZPR dignitary, Bishop Tokarczuk said that Polish nation lived in abnormal times and the system ‘proposed’ by the communists was an anarchy dressed in the robes of law. The Security Services launched a smear campaign against the bishop. The rumour about his Ukrainian nationality was spread. The provocateurs intended to evoke mistrust of those who were harmed by Ukrainians. In turn Ukrainians were told that he was nominated to restore Catholic churches. There were riots in villages and towns. But the new bishop did not surrender and began visiting parishes in his large diocese in a systematic way. He celebrated Masses in small churches and chapels. He visited both poor and rich houses. The attempt to antagonise local societies against the bishop did not succeed. ‘When I took over the diocese of Przemysl communism was present for twenty years in Poland’, says Archbishop Tokarczuk. ‘A new generation was growing and they began rebelling against their parents. Many young people got lost in godless materialism. Sometimes because of laziness, sometimes because of fear of loosing jobs or student log books. Therefore, one of my tasks was to break the barrier of fear. In myself and in people.
Soon Bishop Tokarczuk provided strong support for priests. He was generous for those who wanted to be involved in building God’s work. But he was not lenient for those who intended to keep the faithful at a distance and to enter into an alliance with the communist authorities. He thought, and used to repeat, that ‘the Gospel is over the Curia’. The communists were helpless facing an increasing number of newly constructed churches. […] Within 25 years of Archbishop Tokarczuk’s ministry in the diocese of Przemysl over 220 new parishes were erected. Over 400 churches and chapels were built. ‘I thought that people should be reminded of the fact that this was their home. That the communists were invaders and for years they created such situations which made Poles think that this country was not their home’ Archbishop Tokarczuk stresses. In the 1970s the Security Services again attacked the bishop. They placed their agents in parishes, in the Major seminary of Przemysl and in the bishops’ curia. Bishop Tokarczuk forbade his priests any contacts with the SB officials, which made recruitment of new collaborators difficult. In the strategy of fighting against the Church the services set churches on fire. Facing that threat Bishop Tokarczuk organised guards who watched their churches day and night. The administrative harassment increased. Those who built churches were arrested and sent to prison. Severe fines were imposed. The bishops’ curia was tapped. Other attempts to evoke conflicts between the bishop and his faithful, and even some members of the Polish Episcopate, were made. The PRL authorities wanted to destroy the pastoral ministry of the bishop and through their diplomatic channels they put pressure on the Vatican to ‘tame’ the Metropolitan of Przemysl. The talks between the PRL government and the Vatican, which had been initiated in the early 1970s, were in danger to be broken. But those communists’ attempts did not succeed, either. In his sermon preached in July 1978 the Bishop of Przemysl said that ‘the present situation of the Church and relationships in the country are the same as those during the period of the Nazi occupation.’ In a short time the relationships between the PRL and the Vatican entered into a completely new phase. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, with whom Bishop Tokarczuk discussed his strategy against the communists, became pope.

Are you doing anything?

Then the region of Podkarpacie became more and more ‘autonomous’ in spite of its closeness to the Soviet border. From the late 1970s emissaries of the Workers’ Defence Committee and the Movement for the Defence of Human and Civic Rights reached people in that region. The first Self- Defence Committees of the Faithful in the Region of Przemysl were initiated and the strongest peasants movement: Farmers’ Defence Committees. Therefore, the origin of ‘Solidarnosc’ was not a surprise for Bishop Tokarczuk. It was an obvious course of events. Although he admits that he did not expect the movement to be so large. But from the beginning he treated ‘Solidarnosc’ as an independence movement. And he taught his priests to assume a similar attitude towards NSZZ ‘Solidarnosc’.
Bishop Tokarczuk regarded the marshal law as the beginning of the end of the totalitarian communists’ system. ‘I was in Rzeszow’, he recollects, ‘Jaruzelski sent his staff officers to me to explain what a marshal law meant. I told them, ‘You have set fire but you will not quench it with your own hands. And I will continue supporting the nation as I have always done.’ From the first days after marshal law had been imposed there was the Committee to Help the Arrested and the Interned in the diocese of Przemysl. Both priests and laymen were much involved in helping the people of ‘Solidarnosc’ in the diocese.
‘It was very easy to get in touch with priests in the whole region of Podkarpacie’, the activists of the underground movement say, ‘Since Bishop Tokarczuk had a custom that during his pastoral visitations he did not ask about parish life, religious life, but he asked priests how they could help those who were involved in wide political activities. Helping the ‘Solidarnosc’ activists was a peculiar moral commandment’, says Zbigniew Sieczkos, former ‘Solidarnosc’ activist. Archbishop Tokarczuk himself experienced many a time the power of presence of his faithful. In the 1980s the communists initiated various actions against him. They even resorted to the most atrocious provocations. One of such actions was to accuse him of having collaborated with the Gestapo. It was during the trial of Grzegorz Piotrowski, one of the murderers of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, that the slander about the bishop was spread. ‘Yes, it was an accurate shot, Archbishop Tokarczuk admits, ‘Since love for my Homeland and fellow countrymen is next after my love for God. It was painful. But I rejoiced over the people’s attitude. They did not let me down. Today I smile remembering hundreds of thousands of signatures under the letter of protest in my defence. I thanked people for that. And I am thankful until now.
Bishop Tokarczuk was glad to see the election of 1989. However, he thinks that his later ‘cordial relationship’ with Mazowiecki and the relationship between Mazowiecki’s government and the communists as well as the mass forgiveness for the communists’ crimes were great mistakes. He emphasizes that the government that built the beginnings of the independent country deprived it of any ethical elements. ‘And without ethics you cannot build a worthy, strong state. And this was our failure’, he stresses. ‘It was against our interest. I have warned against the lack of ethics in politics. These words of mine were criticised by the communists and the later authorities. I was told to have uttered severe words, that I was too radical. But I only spoke openly. However, when I look at it from the perspective of 18 years, since 1989, I think that our nation has not been in a bad way…
These are fragments of the book entitled ‘Kapelani Solidarnosci, 1980-1989’ [Solidarity Chaplains, 1980-1989], volume II, ed. RYTM. The book will be available these days.

"Niedziela" 23/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl