I would like to live to that moment
Milena Kindziuk talks to Cardinal Jozef Glemp about his conversations with Fr Jerzy, the attempts to save his life and the role of the Primate in the new film ‘Popieluszko.’.
Milena Kindziuk: - Do you recollect those events related to Fr Jerzy Popieluszko when the anniversary of his death is approaching?
Cardinal Jozef Glemp: - These thoughts return quite often. There are moments that I see both Fr Popieluszko and those events.
- You said once that it was the most difficult experience in your ministry as bishop and Primate...
- That’s true. I often wonder whether he could have been saved. Some friends of Fr Jerzy came to me, he was also present, and proposed to send him to study, perhaps to Rome. Fr Jerzy would have obeyed my order but actually he did not want to leave.
- Why do these thought return?
- Those were dramatic events after all. It was a drama to me as well. The life of my priest ended tragically. And I treated all my priests with fatherly affection regardless of the attitudes: some were worthy to be followed and some experienced difficulties and somehow got lost. They were my priests. And I often keep them in my memories. I am moved by any priest’s death. I witnessed some deaths of my priests and those were hard experiences. Such experiences touched the bishop very much. But the death of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko was the most tragic event.
- That’s why you uttered such moving words at the Theatre Square in Warsaw in the year 2000, ‘The burden remains in my conscience. I constantly think of the fact that I failed to save the life of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko in spite of all my efforts. May God forgive me, maybe it was his holy will.’
- I regret that I could not save Fr Popieluszko. Neither my efforts not the efforts of Archbishop Dabrowski succeeded. Fr Jerzy’s transfer outside of Warsaw (the trip to Rome was one possibility) could have calmed down the environment of the St Stanislaw Kostka’s Church because his successor would not have drawn such crowds, which was the charisma of Fr Jerzy. But I could not have ordered Fr Jerzy to leave Warsaw since that would have been regarded as my collaboration with the authorities and the removal of the troublesome priest as the government wanted. Once I said that if Cardinal Wyszynski had lived he would have done the same. And now I see that the events were God’s will. That’s why, one should understand which events were political and which events were the matter of faith. If someone does not get to know the reality of those events well he may oversimplify everything.
- Your Eminence, if Fr Jerzy had not died a martyr’s death, if he had been saved, he would not be the Servant of God today.
- That’s true. If Fr Popieluszko is beautified it will mean that it was God’s will.
- Will the film ‘Popieluszko’ present all those complicated matters? You had the chance to be involved in shooting the film.
- I do not know whether the film will depict all the nuances but I would like it to be a good movie. I would like those events be presented in true light. That was the reason why I decided to play in the film.
- This will be a hit: the Primate is playing one of the main roles in ‘Popieluszko.’
- That is no dishonour. The film is the reconstruction of the actual events, an artistic vision of the past that I experienced. If the Pauline Fathers could be actors, reconstructing the situations they witnessed years ago or other people could also do that, for example Mrs Maria Komorowska, why was I not to agree to reconstruct those times in the film, placing myself in the situation that actually occurred. I had to play as an actor, I learnt my role, I had a make-up...
- Which scene was the most difficult one to play?
- Perhaps the conversation with Fr Popieluszko in the major seminary in Warsaw when I warned him, I asked him to be more cautious. In that scene I changed the screenplay since I tried to reconstruct the moment as far as I could remember it. The film director helped me a lot.
- In this conversation Fr Jerzy felt that he was misunderstood, which he wrote in his ‘Notes.’
- That’s right. Fr Popieluszko wrote down very sorrowful words concerning the meeting. Those words are unfair to me. However, I try to explain the reaction of that important priest from the psychological point of view. In some period Fr Popieluszko felt that he was unique. Walesa himself addressed him by his first name. ‘But people listen to me, it is me that they want to confess their sins, I speak to them’, he tried to convince me. And I said, ‘I am thankful for your zeal but remember that we have more zealous priests, more priests who teach and confess.’ The conversation was successful since afterwards everything was normal again.
- His refusal to leave Warsaw was, therefore, an act of disobedience to his superior?
- No, I would not say so. The proposal to change his ministry was presented by some friendly people. I saw it as a chance to solve the problem since Fr Popieluszko was in danger and could be dragged into some political game. But he did not want to withdraw. He did not want to give up proclaiming the truth. H knew that people trusted him and needed him. And I wanted to respect his decision.
- The government kept pressing on the Warsaw Curia and the Episcopate Secretariat to stop the activities of Fr Popieluszko and make him silent, didn’t they?
- Yes, they did. They also tried to influence Bishop Wladyslaw Miziolek, Archbishop Bronislaw Dabrowski and especially Bishop Kazimierz Romaniuk. However, we could not stop a priest proclaiming the Gospel. And Fr Popieluszko did proclaim the Gospel. His entire teaching was based on the Gospel. I do not know whether he did anything else besides praying and proclaiming God’s word. He did not call people to riots, he did not offend anyone, and he did not incline people to oppose the government. He was only interested in human dignity, his faith and relationship with God. I knew his sermons. The Curia had notes from his sermons, and there were also recordings. We talked in the Curia that he was tracked, that some materials, allegedly some bullets, were planted on him, in his flat (outside the parish building). He did not speak about that, he did not complain. He was really a zealous shepherd, dedicated to his faithful. He directed his zeal to workers in the first place. He knew their hardships; he explained the social teaching of the Church to them. He believed that the time of the truth would come and that the truth would be the base of the new social order. He dedicated his life to the workers of the health services; he was their chaplain, and he showed much concern for the unborn children. Finally, I noticed his unique involvement in youth activities. I remember meeting him in 1981. He came to me with some students of the Higher School of Fire Service. It was just after the strike that the young men announced. They were expelled from school. They looked for some solution, expecting help from the Church. That’s why Fr Popieluszko brought them to me. I saw his concern for those young people and how much he could do for them, even at the cost of his health, rest or sleep. Then those young men were offered help at the Warsaw Polytechnics where they could count on Rector Wladyslaw Findeisen.
- In February, at some meeting with Fr Popieluszko you handed him the book entitled ‘Sztygar Bozej kopalni’ [Foreman of God’s Mine] with your dedication. For Fr Jerzy that book was a significant sign of kindness of his bishop for him in the period of the increasing public witch-hunt against him.
- He could always count on our kindness. He knew who his bishop was for him. He enjoyed his colleagues’ recognition although some thought he went too far with his activities. In those days much hope was placed in the ideological movement that was associated with ‘Solidarity.’ The young people thought that it would bring about changes, create new social and political order and that decisive actions were necessary. I was of different opinion. I was more cautious. I tried to see the whole situation.
- You learnt about the kidnapping of Fr Popieluszko on 20 October 1984.
- I was in Koszalin. I participated in the inauguration of the academic year in the Major Seminary of the Diocese of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg. I remember that the whole affair was much publicised. But nobody suspected that Fr Popieluszko was dead. I did not take his death into account. I did not expect such a course of events. I was convinced that he would be released after 48 hours, as it was usually the case. The next day I dedicated the Con-cathedral in Kolobrzeg and then I left for Berlin. The visit had been arranged earlier. The kidnapping was supposed to be explained soon. But I began observing the next events and was more and more worried. Fr Popieluszko did not return and nobody knew where he was. So after my return to Poland on 25 October I wrote an appeal concerning his kidnapping and asked people to pray for him in all the churches of the Archdiocese of Warsaw. And the next day, together with Bishop Kazimierz Romaniuk, I went to the Church of St Stanislaw Kostka and celebrated Mass there. The atmosphere was very tense; there were huge crowds who prayed for Fr Popieluszko’s rescue day and night. I remember well the tragic day of 30 October 1984 when I heard the news that his body was found in the Vistula River. I was shocked. Although his death was predicted, he received many threats. There were warnings but I did not expect that he would be murdered in such a cruel way. I know that the communists feared what would happen in Poland. Until today we do not know whether it was a revenge of the people working in the Fourth Department that were hostile to the priest. And their efforts against that preacher of the Gospel were unsuccessful. We do not know if it was a matter of the whole system that did not allow such teaching. And perhaps both. There were other priests who opposed the system defending the truth. Some even wanted to imitate the Masses celebrated in the Church of St Stanislaw Kostka. But the real hero was Fr Popieluszko.
- Would you have made the same decisions today, after almost 30 years following those events?
- I think I would. I could not have acted otherwise. I could not have treated the priest who proclaimed the truth in a different way. Of course, if he had left, if he had not been kidnapped and would have survived. But he would have denied himself and his principles as well as the truths he proclaimed. He would have stopped being the advocate of the freedom of the Church. And he was such a man. But determining whether I was right will be only evident when Fr Popieluszko is canonised.
- Your Eminence, will there be a place for Fr Jerzy in the Temple of God Providence in Warsaw? Will it promote the message of Fr Jerzy?
- I think that his museum in the Church located in Zoliborz helps promoting the message of Fr Jerzy. We owe its creation to the parish priest Fr Zygmunt Malacki who had endurance to put this great idea into practice and complete the work.
Naturally, when the Temple of God Providence is completed there will be a courtyard dedicated to the Polish saints and the Polish army. And certainly there will be a place for Fr Popieluszko. Perhaps a monument to him will be erected in the future but we still must wait. I would like to live to that moment.
On behalf of the team of the film ‘Popieluszko’ I would like to thank all readers of ‘Niedziela’, all pilgrims and extras who have supported the film depicting the life and martyrdom of Fr Jerzy by their participation, prayer and kindness. Julita Swiercz-Wieczynska, film producer.