The whole Poland followed his coffin
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
The Great Primate of Poland Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski died on 28 May 1981. It was a big loss for the Polish nation that was still under the communist pressure. Cardinal Wyszynski was one of those personalities that were the support for Poland and Poles. Therefore, when he died he was called the Primate of the Millennium. For he was an extraordinary primate. He carried the sign of 'interrex' - the one who had power in interregnum. Since the authorities in Poland, which was then called the Polish People's Republic, came on the bayonets of the Red Army. They seized power in falsified elections. However, we realised where we were living and Who we should listen to. Our legal system was built on the Soviet patterns like in many other countries of the socialist block. Although there were, unfortunately, many people who accepted the communist option in Poland, becoming members of the Polish United Workers' Party and following the directions of the Kremlin, and in fact the whole nation was pilloried by the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, the attitude of Primate Wyszynski made us feel the dignity of God's children, experience freedom and independent thinking as well as pride of being Poles.
The Church had to function in the country built on the Soviet model. It tried to be a vivid witness of what was happening in the Polish nation. In Poland there were no other institutions that would defend the Polish soul although there were attempts to create its various substitutes as fully controlled 'safety-valves.' Thus in the Poles' awareness the Primate appeared as 'interrex,' the one that represented the Polish interests when there were no democratic authorities. We remember him like that and so did his closest collaborators, participants of meetings and services he took part in.
Therefore, when the time of the Primate's illness and then death came the whole nation remained silent, praying, showing thankfulness and at the same time helpless. I do remember that day. I went to some office in the capital, which was of course a communist one, to settle formalities connected with publishing 'Niedziela.' There I met people who were saddened by the news and even the officials working in communist institutions were moved. They were human in their hearts.
The preparations for the Primate's funeral began. The state authorities knew that they had to open the capital and allow the media to broadcast this service. That's why the funeral was of national and even international character. 'The whole Poland followed this coffin,' a reporter wrote in 'Niedziela.' And it was true. We all knew that it was a funeral of someone very important, someone who resisted the communist system, who openly spoke to the authorities and they had to mind his words and sometimes, especially in difficult economic moments, they as if expected him to help them. Since they knew that the nation minded the words of Cardinal Wyszynski.
We, priests, looked at him, listened to his speeches, especially those delivered at Jasna Gora. We saw the delicate but firm actions taking place in the platform of the Polish culture and economy, where the fates of Poles, both old and young generations, were played.
The Primate used to be involved in all stages of our national life. He spoke, taught and reminded people in those places where the state was failing or infringed the law. But he could be firm and consistent. He did it as a shepherd; he did not want to annoy anyone. He was always responsible for his nation for whom he was a guide, and he was also responsible for all that happened in the country.
He was a great man. Poland had no such a man then. John Paul II stressed that fact on the second day after he had inaugurated his pontificate, 'There would not be this Pope if there were not this Primate.' Our nation knew that it was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski that paved the way for the Polish Pope.
30 years has passed after the death of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski. We would like the nation to remember this figure vividly and faithfully, and that this remembrance deepen our love of the Homeland and 'all that Poland is' as the Primate used to say.
Let us pray for the beatification of this great Primate. We, Poles, should be interested in it since he was a brave man, who dedicated his life to Christ in a heroic way, and he also loved his country and nation. Our prayers and efforts to remember the beautiful figure of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski should be our pride.