The film role of Fr Jerzy

Milena Kindziuk

When the shooting of the film started Adam Woronowicz was afraid of one scene: the last one. How to play martyrdom? How to show that a saint is killed?

Currently, he is of almost the same age as Fr Jerzy when he celebrated his famous Masses for the intention of the Homeland. The actor playing the role of Fr Popieluszko Adam Woronowicz was born in 1973. He is slight, thin, wearing a dark blue sweater, a white T-shirt, jeans and sports shoes. He does not look like a serious matured actor. Just like Fr Jerzy did not look like an experienced mature priest. But…

Memorable scenes

Until recently Adam’s day consisted of only shooting. Visits, meetings with the people who knew Fr Jerzy, hundreds of conversations about him, getting to know his places as well as his sermons and notes. Woronowicz had to come to the filming of ‘Popieluszko’ at dawn. Many a time it was at 3.45 when the manifestations and battles with the militia units at the Castle Square in Warsaw were shot. And the shooting continued until late evening. Day after day for several months. As the leading actor Adam was always at the film set. He came before other actors since being made up as Fr Jerzy took over one hour and for the last shots it lasted over three hours. He remembers all scenes but some became embedded in his heart. For example, when he faced the Primate of Poland who played his role in the film. ‘It was an extraordinary experience. I felt that Cardinal Glemp talked to me exactly like he talked to Fr Jerzy years ago. He had a similar experience when wearing an ornate he stood at the altar of St Stanislaus Kostka’s Church in the district of Zoliborz in Warsaw and he had to say a fragment of the homily like Fr Popieluszko did it at this place. ‘It was hard because in the church there were people who remembered Fr Jerzy and knew his gestures, his lifestyle, well. Adam was also greatly impressed by the dam in Wloclawek. ‘I was here for the first time when the film was made’, he admits. And in the Church of Holy Brothers and Martyrs in Bydgoszcz from where Fr Jerzy began the last trip of his life. ‘When I, as Fr Jerzy, said a fragment of the rosary reflections, which were the last words of Fr Popieluszko, I remember an old man with a teenager son approaching me.’ He told me that he had been in this church when Fr Jerzy had celebrated Mass on 19 October 1984. Then he told me the simple words ‘thank you’ and went out. It was an extraordinary experience for me, for which I cannot find proper words.’ Woronowicz does not want to say anything else about these film scenes. He is too emotional still. He weighs words since it is too easy to change them into emptiness and banality.

‘I am not Fr Jerzy’

The shooting of the film ‘Popieluszko’, directed by Rafal Wieczynski, finished long ago. The film is being edited and the sound track has been almost completed. But Woronowicz has not seen any shot yet. He is looking forward to the final effect. Now he is acting in ‘Spring Awaking’ at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. Nothing odd, the normal course of events. Actors finish their roles and begin new ones. ‘But my adventure with Fr Jerzy has not ended’, he explains. ‘This role is working in me’, he adds enigmatically. ‘Does it mean that somewhere inside, at the bottom of your soul, something from Fr Jerzy has been left in you?’, I ask. Silence. Adam’s gaze is fixed on the distance. Lost in thought he seems absent. After a while he quietly explains, ‘I am not Fr Jerzy. I am only an actor. My task was to play this role as faithfully as possible. But can you play the role of a saint in one hundred per cent?’
Woronowicz has become intimate with this role so much that now doing other activities he often thinks of Fr Jerzy. He made a mark on him. He reflects on the words of the homilies that he knows by heart. He says that their contents are universal; they teach how to be free in your inner being, how to put the words of the Gospel into practice, how to overcome evil with good. ‘When I learnt these texts I could see how deep they were. The closer his end was, the more mature his texts were. ‘I think that Fr Jerzy’s prayer exerted a big influence on them. Only during the shooting did I understand that that man would not have had such spiritual strength if he had not prayed. Was I able to show this spiritual depth?’, Woronowicz wonders. And continues his story, ‘I also realised that Fr Jerzy did not proclaim himself and his truth and that, in spite of the accusations, he was not a politician but first of all he was a priest and a man who was open to people.’

Various roles

I cannot resist asking Adam Woronowicz whether he has more faith after having played the role of Popieluszko. ‘Can you weigh and examine faith… It has always been natural for me like the air and at the same time it was the most important thing for me.’ His faith developed in his family house in the region of Bialystok. It was obvious for him to go to church on Sundays, to pray at home. He owns that to his parents and grandmothers as well as priests he met in his young life. ‘I owe a lot to Fr Andrzej Talataj from the parish of St Roch in Bialystok who is now a parish priest in the place of Fr Jerzy, near Suchowola. ‘Is my faith bigger? I do not know. Surely, it was an occasion to deepen my faith.’ From the beginning Adam was afraid of playing the last film scene. How to play martyrdom? How to show that a saint is killed? Nights spent in the forest, among tress who were the only witnesses of the crime committed on Fr Jerzy and his great inner strength and at the same time extreme suffering… One can see so many similarities to the way of Christ in Fr Jerzy’s last way. No wonder that that film scene made the biggest impression on Adam Woronowicz. He will always remember the scene. Now he is looking forward to seeing the whole film. But his evaluation will not be most important. The audience will decided whether he managed to play Fr Jerzy well.
Finally, I ask him whether he is not afraid of being associated only with the role of Fr Jerzy. ‘I am not afraid of that’, he answers decisively, ‘this is my job. I am not Fr Jerzy. When I see myself in the mirror every day I realise that very clearly. I play different roles.’
On Sunday 19 October 2008 falls the 24th anniversary of the martyr’s death of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko. On this occasion Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw will celebrate Mass at 6 p.m.

The premiere of the film ‘Popieluszko’, directed by Rafal Wieczynski, will take place on 20 February 2009.

"Niedziela" 42/2008

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