Primate Wyszynski - why a saint?

Milena Kindziuk

There were two sheets of paper in the yellowed breviary of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. One page contained the names of all the priests who left the priesthood. The other one contained the name of his persecutor: Boleslaw Bierut. Cardinal Wyszynski said, 'I pray for them every day.'
Saints smile. And have a fantastic sense of humour. And Primate Wyszynski had such sense of humour.
In his residence during meals he never used to speak about professional matters and sad things.
- The Primate tried to make it a time of relax and he could make us laugh - recollected Fr Hieronim Gozdziewicz.
Cardinal Wyszynski often told us jokes during meals: Jewish jokes, highlanders' jokes and he could even speak the dialect, especially during his holiday. His favourite joke was about a dog called Nerus:
'A gent returns from a visit abroad and his coachman arrives to meet him and helps him get in the carriage. The gent asks:
- Well, Jozef, how are things?
- Nothing new, sir, only Nerus died.
- Nerus died? What happened?
- This stupid dog ate some carrion and died.
- Carrion?
- Yes, sir. When the stable was burning some cows ran way and some did not. Everything was burning and this bad dog ate carrion and died.
- What did you say, Jozef, the stable was burnt?
- Yes, when the barn was burning, the stable caught fire, then the cattle was burnt and Nerus ate carrion and died.
- Did the barn burn?
- Yes, sir. When the house was burning the barn caught fire and then the stable burnt and then the cattle and Nerus died after having eaten carrion.
- Did you say, Jozef, that the house burnt?
- Yes, a candle caused the curtain to catch fire and from the curtain the house was burnt.
- The curtain caught fire?
- Yes, sir since there was a candle at the coffin of our lady and the curtain caught fire..."
Once when the Primate was just to end this story he added, 'Do not worry. All those events were true but they concerned the neighbours!'
This anecdote was told so jokingly, in actor's manner, that all people laughed each time they heard it.
On holiday or feasts the Primate used to amuse people sitting at the table by telling sketches. Barbara Dembinska from the Primate's Institute recollects:
- I remember such an event: the Primate had an anecdote written on a piece of paper. It was on a half of the page. But he read it and read it. Finally, someone looked at the page through his arm and said, 'Father, there is nothing here.' And he answered, 'O son, you cannot read between the lines!' I remember perfectly well how he laughed till tears came when two girls, sing very badly, 'Lord my God, I am Your ox…!'

When a woman enters, stand up!

The Primate was so easy-going that during meals he could stand up and approach someone saying, 'Well, brother, why aren't you eating?' Or he could put some cold meats on someone's plate. He never began eating before his guests had food on their plates.
His respect for women was meaningful. 'Whenever a woman enters your room stand up regardless how busy you are,' he wrote in his 'Prison memoirs.'
- Indeed, he always stood up when a woman came in - recollects Barbara Dembinska. Anna Rastawicka adds that sometimes the Primate, thanking for something, could kiss a woman's hand. And when she was confused, he asked smiling, 'Well, am I not worthy?'
One of Cardinal Wyszynski's doctors Prof. Zdzislaw Lapinski, recollects, 'Once I was in the Primate's study. He lay on his bed to be examined by the doctor. I came to the bed and sat by him. We began speaking about something. The Primate interrupted me, 'Brother, how can I thank you for what you are doing for me?' He caught my hand and kissed it!'
Undoubtedly, Cardinal Wyszynski was a man of love. Firstly, love of man. He simply loved each man since 'God loves him,' he used to say. That's why when some priest confessed to the Primate that his parish priest bore a grudge against him and mentioned what it was, Cardinal Wyszynski answered, 'Then it was my fault and mistake. But so, do not worry! Poland's Primate has many ways to solve such situations!' And when the rector expelled four seminarians from the major seminary because they drank beer in their free time, Primate Wyszynski devoted time to each of them. He spoke to each of them and asked about the circumstances of that event and motivations of their vocations. Then he hugged them and… ordered the rector to accept them again. Today all of them are zealous, outstanding and publically known priests!
When one reads the Primate's texts, his books, speeches, notes one is struck by one thing: great love and respect for others. His life creed summarises the Social Crusade of Love in which he reminded people, 'Respect other people since Christ lives in them; be sensitive to other people, Your brothers!'

School of highest standards

The attitude of Cardinal Wyszynski towards those who imprisoned him or harmed him was extraordinary.
A classical example is his reaction to the death of Boleslaw Bierut who ordered to arrest the Primate. When Wyszynski learnt that Bierut had died he prayed for him at once. In his 'Zapiski' he wrote, 'I want to pray for God's mercy for the man who harmed me. Tomorrow I am going to celebrate Mass for the dead. Now I forgive the one that sinned against me, being confident that just God will find fairer deeds in this life that would bring the Divine Mercy on it.'
The Primate did not forget Bierut till the end of his life. Fr Andrzej Galka, now a judge in the cause for beatification of Cardinal Wyszynski, speaks about it:
- I do remember that when just after my ordination I had the occasion to be in the private chapel of the Primate he opened his yellowed breviary and took two sheets of paper out of it. One contained the list of all priests who left the priesthood. He told me that he prayed for them every day. And the other one had the name of Boleslaw Bierut. 'I pray for him daily since he was a man who made wrong choices in his life. But in fact he was not a bad man' I heard from him and I was astonished.'
In his opinion it was a clear feature of the Primate holiness. It was revealed expressly when he was in prison.
- By his attitude he showed how to love all people, including those who harmed, betrayed and cheated others. It is a great school of love, school of Christ, of highest standards. And this is what Christianity is about.
Cardinal Wyszynski prayed for all his persecutors: for the 'men in plastic robes' that came to arrest him, for those who watched him in the places of his internment. His Mass intentions embraced those who harmed the nation: state services that made the celebrations of the anniversary of Poland's baptism difficult and 'arrested' the picture of Our Lady. As he wrote, 'there is no harm that cannot be forgiven.'
- Wyszynski's sanctity is characterised first of all by his ability to forgive,' says Rev. Dr. Janusz Zawadka from the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.

Like an early martyr

Primate Wyszynski was faithful to the appeal of St Paul 'to overcome evil with good.' It was the principle of all his life. Others admired that. Fr Jerzy Popieluszko tried to realise it in his activities, being influenced by the Primate's example.
Forgiving enemies and overcoming evil with good are the quintessence of the Good News. Only a great, unique man can follow such principles. And Primate Wyszynski did so. And perhaps it is the biggest evidence of his sanctity.
He could also be generous and forgive those who failed, betrayed, showed their weaknesses. And he was extremely loyal towards his collaborators. Before his death he said to the bishops, 'To all I am leaving my heart that does not take any reservations towards any bishop.'
- The life of Primate Wyszynski in Stalin's and Gomulka's times, especially his imprisonment, reminds us of the attitudes of the martyrs in the first centuries of the Church. They also could find strength in their faith to accept sufferings in the way that cannot be explained from the human perspective, but they could also forgive their persecutors and even sacrificed their hardships for them. These are the attitudes of saints. Hence the principle that persecutions do not destroy the Church but can strengthen her came true in Cardinal Wyszynski's life,' explains Rev. Prof. Jozef Naumowicz, an expert in early Christianity.

Do I have to understand everything?

He could find hidden sense of events he neither wanted nor understood. 'Thy will be done in heaven and in Komancza,' he noted in his 'Zapiski.' He wrote at another place, 'Best Father, even if you did not have for me anything more than a stone thrown by an evil hand I would desire to accept it as Your greatest grace; I want to kiss it.'
'I do not believe in God so much as I am sure he is,' the Primate used to say. He was also fully convinced that God is the Lord of history. He wanted to serve only him, which he stressed by his bishop's motto 'Soli Deo.' He also reminded people that 'God is Love' and 'he is not so much concerned that we fear him but that we fall in love with him.'
His strong faith was full of humility towards God's economy. Wyszynski realised very well that although many affairs seemed illogical and unnecessary from the human perspective they had sense from God's perspective. 'Do I have to know and understand everything? He asked rhetorically. And he advised others, 'You don't have to understand all things. It is sufficient that you love all that God gives.' And 'It is not enough to believe in God; one should trust in God.'
Towards the end of his life he accepted God's will although it was hard for him. As Fr Bronislaw Piasecki, the chaplain of the Primate, recollects Cardinal Wyszynski spoke to his collaborators, 'During these two weeks of lying in bed I had time to reflect how great God's gift - time - is; I had plenty of time, almost 80 years. I cannot ask God and his Son for anything more. I cannot ask him for recovery, full strength because I have been at the See of the Warsaw and Gniezno bishops for almost 33 years. It is a long period. For many reasons this period deserves some decision of Christ who appoints shepherds and calls them off. I am fully peaceful in this field.'
- Primate Wyszynski was a man of great trust. He was most of all a trusting disciple of Christ who courageously followed him on his way of vocation,' states Fr Dr. Janusz Zawadka.
John Paul II was convinced about this extraordinary power of trust and he inspired the idea of the process of beatification of Cardinal Wyszynski. He also encouraged us to reflect on his teaching. 'Make the figure of the unforgettable Primate, late Cardinal Wyszynski, his personality, his teaching, a special subject of meditation. May this work be undertaken with the greatest responsibility by the shepherds of the Church. May the clergy reflect on it,' the Pope asked.

My life - Good Friday

Cardinal Wyszynski was taking notes throughout all his life. Almost every day, in the evening, even if he returned late, he found time to write about the main events of that day. He also wrote his reflections on various topics and, what is perhaps the most valuable thing, spiritual meditations. So far his 'Zapiski wiezienne' [Prison Memoirs] and 'Zapiski milenijne' [Millennium Notes] were published. They clearly prove that the Primate saw all events in the light of faith and referred them to God.
The Primate entitled his daily notes 'Pro memoria.' But they create a specific diary of the soul, like great mystics wrote. They confirm his unshakable faith, confidence. But they also speak about difficulties and sufferings as well as endurance in suffering, insult or persecution.
'My life was Good Friday,' he used to say many a time. But he added that 'every true love must have its Good Friday.'
He also spoke about himself, 'I am going through my life full of poverty, weakness and hurts on the way. A true worm, not a man.' And on his death bed, in May 1981, he stated, 'My way was always the way of Good Friday during 35 years of bishop's service. I am very thankful to God for my way.'
However, all his life shows that he was a big athlete of God, a man of unique depth of spirit, attaching extreme importance to prayer and leading an authentic spiritual life. As he said himself his dedication to God helped him, 'One should see traces of God's love in all things that happen in man's life. Then joy enters his heart.'

Soon raised to the altars?

He was characterised by great love of the Church. That's why he kept claiming the rights of the Church in social life and did his best to preserve her identity and vividness. He also believed that no threats could destroy the Church. 'One can speak about a crisis in the Church if Christ stopped working in the Church,' he stressed.
Finally, Primate Wyszynski loved Poland with unlimited love. And he worked for her. 'It is an art to die for your homeland but the biggest art is to lead a good life for her.' His love resulted from his faith as he emphasized, 'Everything I do for my Homeland I do for God.'
Primate Wyszynski's great faith and his great love of man, the nation and the Church made him a candidate for the altars.
The process of Stefan Wyszynski's beatification began in Warsaw on 29 May 1989. Since that moment he has been entitled to be called 'Servant of God.' 289 sessions have been held during which 59 witnesses of the Primate's life have been heard.
- Hearing them we had no doubts that Wyszynski was a saint - Fr Andrzej Galka, a judge in the process, admits.
The diocesan stage of the process ended on 6 February 2001. Then the acts were sent to the Vatican. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued a decree confirming the validity of the beatification process.
Currently, the second stage of the process is being conducted. The 'positio,' special document including the Primate's life, especially his heroic virtues, is being prepared. It is to contain the testimonies of Wyszynski's sanctity, gathered on the diocesan level.
- The work has been partly done - Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz reveals.
He is convinced that the 'positio' can be completed in ca. 2013 and then in the Roman Congregation for the Causes of Saints there will be a discussion on the issuing of the decree concerning the heroic virtues of Cardinal Wyszynski.
A miracle through his intercession, confirmed by doctors and theologians, is also needed to raise the Primate to the altars.
- I trust that Primate Wyszynski will be announced Blessed soon - the Metropolitan of Warsaw says.

"Niedziela" 22/2011

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