Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981), called the "primate of the millennium" (because he had presided over in 1966 the grandiose ceremonies of the millennium of Christianity in Poland, with the baptism of King Mieszko I in 966), is considered as a national hero in Poland just like his compatriot Pope Saint John Paul II, for having, among other things, contributed to the fall of Communism. He will be officially declared blessed by the Catholic Church on September 21, 2021 in Warsaw.
On October 2, 2019, Pope Francis recognized a miracle due to the intercession of the late cardinal — a 19-year-old young woman with an incurable thyroid tumor was cured in 1989 thanks to the intercession of the servant of God. Her cancer has never returned since. This recognition of the miracle thus gave the green light for the cardinal's beatification, which was initially scheduled for June 7, 2020, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony was postponed until September 2021.
by Thérèse Tardif
Stefan Wyszynski was born on August 3, 1901 in Zuzela as the second of five children of Stanisław Wyszynski, organist, and Julianna Karp, who died on October 10, 1910. Stefan was then 9 years old. (Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, was the same age when he lost his mother.)
Stanisław and Julianna Wyszynski with their children (from left to right): Stanisława, Janina, Stefan (the future primate) and Anastasia. Photo taken in 1906.
A year later, his father married Eugenia Podlewska, a good friend of his first wife. Although Stefan's mother-in-law was very kind to him and his siblings, he missed his mother very much.
Stefan began his studies for the priesthood in 1917 at the Włocekawek Seminary, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Owczarek on August 3, 1924, on his 23rd birthday. After a year of work in a parish, he undertook further studies at the Catholic University of Lublin. There he studied canon law and Catholic social sciences. In 1929, his dissertation in Canon Law was entitled The Rights of the Family, Church and State to Schools.
After graduation, he traveled to Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to further his education on Catholic social sciences. After returning to Poland, Father Wyszynski served in many different places. He worked as a parish vicar, was editor-in-chief of the monthly Ateneum Kapłanskie for the clergy, and professor at the Włocławek Seminary. There too, he organized a Christian workers'university, where he taught Catholic social sciences.
After World War II broke out, the Gestapo began to search for him. His bishop, Most Rev. Michał Kozal (who died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1943, and was declared blessed by John Paul II in 1987) ordered him to leave Włocławek so that he could avoid being arrested by the Nazis. Father Wyszynski then organized underground education. During the Warsaw Uprising, he was chaplain of the insurgents'hospital in Laski, and of the Zoliborz military district of the Armia Krajowa, the Polish underground resistance organisation. He escaped death ten times.
When Father Wyszynski returned to Włocławek after the end of the war, he found there a serious shortage of priests: 2,500 priests in Poland had been killed or sent to extermination camps. Father Wyszynski then moved to Włocławek's seminary as rector, teacher, spiritual father and director. He was also the chief editor of a Catholic weekly.
The then Polish Primate, Cardinal August Hlond, knew that, in these difficult times, Poland needed reliable bishops who could keep the faith and hope among the faithful and educate the youth. In 1946, he proposed the name of Father Wyszynski who, on March 25 of the same year, was appointed bishop of Lublin by Pope Pius XII. On May 12, 1946, he was consecrated bishop by Cardinal Hlond at the national shrine of Jasna Góra. In his coat of arms, Bishop Wyszynski placed the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the motto Soli Deo (Glory to God alone).
The faithful quickly recognized in this 45-year-old bishop the father of workers and peasants, the head of the nation; in short, the only moral authority in the country. Like a new Moses, Bishop Wyszynski (later Cardinal) will help his compatriots to cross the desert of atheistic Communism, supported by the Queen of Poland, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, who walks at the head of her people like a pillar of fire ahead of the Hebrews in the time of Moses.
The secular world will try to ridicule the devotion of the Poles to the Virgin Mary, asking "Where is your God?" But Mary triumphed, Communism collapsed, and "the best son of Poland" became in 1978 the Vicar of Christ, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years.
As Bishop of Lublin, Wyszynski also became the Grand Chancellor of Lublin's Catholic University. He organized its Faculty of Christian Philosophy and was very active in the work of the new Institute of Social, Economic and Rural Problems.
After two years of work in the diocese of Lublin, Bishop Wyszynski was appointed, on November 12, 1948, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Warsaw-Gniezno, thus becoming Primate of Poland (and President of the Polish Bishops'Conference, a position he held until in 1981), replacing Cardinal Hlond, who had died on October 22.
The situation of the Church in Poland is then difficult, in the presence of the Communist regime established by force. Archbishop Wyszynski unsuccessfully calls for work to be completed on an agreement with the government that would respect the rights of the Church.
In 1952, the Communists began to liquidate young theological seminaries and religious novitiates, and created many obstacles to the issuance of permits to build new churches.
As Wyszynski became cardinal on January 12, 1953, the Communist regime intensified its hostile attacks against the Church. On February 9, 1953, it issued a strict decree that placed the Church under Communist control. Then the government took another radical step against the Church: it demanded from every Catholic priest an oath of loyalty to the Communist government. Cardinal Wyszynski strongly opposed this action.
In September 1953, the Warsaw Military Court sentenced Bishop Czesław Kaczmarek of Kielce to twelve years in prison. His conviction was based on charges that the bishop collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and wanted to overthrow the Communist government. Many priests were also imprisoned.
On September 25, 1953, during a sermon in the Church of St. Anne in Warsaw, Cardinal Wyszynski publicly declared that the Church in Poland will always fight for truth and freedom, and he also publicly expressed his categorical opposition to the imprisonment of Bishop Kaczmarek by the Communists.
A few hours after Wyszynski's speech, a group of armed police broke into his residence and took him to Rywałd, where he was interned. Soon after, the Communist regime imprisoned five other bishops, including Wyszynski's assistant, Bishop Antoni Baraniak (later Archbishop of Poznan). The Communists wanted to make him the main witness in the trial against the Primate, but neither the prison, nor the mistreatment, nor the brainwashing attempts succeeded in breaking Bishop Baraniak's iron will. However, he had to pay his loyalty with three years in prison, and his health was compromised.
Secret police officers were afraid of the people's anger. They secretly arrested the Primate at night. The dog guarding the archdiocese office attacked the policeman and bit him before the cardinal could grab the dog's collar. The cardinal immediately called a nun to heal the wound. When asked to pack his suitcase, he refused, saying, "I came to this house poor and I want to leave it poor."
For three years, Cardinal Wyszynski was transferred from one place of detention to another, always in secret. Twenty guards watched him day and night. The time spent in prison was a period of intense work for Cardinal Wyszynski. He was preparing a special program for the rebirth of the Polish nation by the Blessed Virgin Mary. During his meditations in prison, he recalled many events in Polish history that convinced him to choose the Marian path as a pastoral ministry program in the future.
On December 8, 1953, Cardinal Wyszynski signed the final covenant with Our Lady by the consecration to Jesus through Mary, in accordance with the teaching of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort. Wyszynski attributed to this consecration the grace of "never having had the shadow of a grudge against anyone."
Cardinal Wyszynski forgave everyone, even those who jailed and detained him in harsh conditions, such as in Stoczek Warminski where he severely damaged his health during the harsh winter. Ice and frost were everywhere then: in the hallway, in the cell and on the windows. The rooms were not heated at all, the walls were covered with mushrooms. To go out into the garden, the primate had to clear the stairs. Sometimes the snowdrifts made it difficult to leave the building. As the Primate wrote, Stoczek was a place where he couldn't "warm his feet once." He even had to wash himself in ice water. There were times when the water froze. There were also days when the primate could not write because his cold hands refused to obey him. His hands were swelling, his head, kidneys and stomach aching. Despite many requests, he could not get any medicine, not even a pain reliever.
In Komancza, the last place of his imprisonment, the primate completed the text of the oath of Jasna Góra, which was to be the cornerstone of the moral and spiritual renewal of Poland. It was linked to the preparations for the celebration of the millennium of Poland's baptism, in 1966.
On August 26, 1956, over a million people gathered in Jasna Góra for the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa. All the Polish bishops surrounded the empty chair on which Primate Wyszynski should have sat. Then Bishop Michał Klepacz read the text of Primate Wyszynski's oath, and people kept repeating, "We promise to be faithful to God, the Church and the Gospel."
After the Czestochowa ceremonies and the workers'demonstration in Poznan in June 1956, the Communist authorities decided to release Wyszynski from prison on October 26, 1956. The government canceled the 1953 decree on the approval of church posts by the Communists, then announced the re-establishment of religious education in schools, the return of monks and nuns to their social work, and the annulment of the remainder of Bishop Kaczmarek's sentence.
Then, Primate Wyszynski implemented his program of the Great Novena for the millennium of Christianity in Poland. It was then that he initiated a nine-year program of renewal of faith and morals. Based on preached biblical and moral truth, as well as on reflection on the sacraments, this program was carried out in every parish and ecclesial community.
The miraculous painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa began a pilgrimage through the country and reached all the parishes in Poland. Faced with this miraculous image, every believer and every Catholic family in Poland was committed to renewing their faith and moral life. These activities helped save the Polish nation from complete demoralization and secularization.
The Communist regime did not like Wyszynski's idea and his renewal program. Despite assurances to guarantee the freedom of the Church, the Communists again began to treat members of the Church with hostility. They ran special training courses on how to destroy Church members in their workplaces as well as in schools and create conditions similar to the easy way of life in the West, to create cold Christians, to make them materialistic people to finally leave the Church.
In 1964, the primate invited Pope Paul VI to participate in the Polish millennium, but the Communists refused him entry into Poland. At the end of 1965, the Polish episcopate invited bishops from 56 countries to the millennium celebrations, which culminated in a meeting in Jasna Góra on May 3, 1966. In his homily, the Cardinal Primate declared:
"Yes, we have to turn everything into love. I always pray for those who slander me, and I think their bishop's prayer will be helpful to them. I may forget to pray for them if they stop insulting me!... At this historic moment, fully aware and filled with freedom of spirit and love for our land, we entrust Poland to Mary; we give her Poland as her slaves, and the people of the second millennium will feel safe around her. Filled with love for the universal Church and for the Church of Poland, we entrust our nation to Mary for the Church, at the service of the universal Church!"
On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the presence of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, Cardinal Wyszynski began in 1976 "six years of gratitude for six centuries of Mary's presence."
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski's life of sacrifice and loyalty to God directly contributed to the fall of communism in Poland and other Eastern European countries, as well as to the election of a Polish Pope on October 16, 1978: Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow, his spiritual son and associated with the struggle for the Church of Christ in Poland during the difficult years of the Communist regime.
On October 16, 1978, Cardinal Wyszynski encouraged Cardinal Wojtyła to accept his election to the Chair of Peter, telling him that God had entrusted him with the mission of bringing the Church into the third millennium. Cardinal Wyszynski wrote that day: "Rejoice, Queen of Poland, for having given to the Church her best son, shaped in the struggle and suffering of our nation... The victory that Cardinal Hlond had predicted has happened: it is the victory of the Mother of Christ to whom our nation has remained faithful. "
Our Lord had said in 1938 to Saint Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, that a great light would come out of Poland to enlighten the world and prepare it for its second coming.
If we have had a great pope in the person of Saint John Paul II, it is because he had had a great model and guide in the person of Cardinal Wyszynski.
During his first visit to Poland in June 1979, in Warsaw's Cathedral, John Paul II called Cardinal Wyszynski "the keystone of the Church in Poland", thanks to his faith in Mary, the Mother of Christ.
John Paul II publicly emphasized that he appreciated the role of Primate Wyszynski. "A primate like Wyszynski appears once every thousand years," he said. At the inaugural Mass of his pontificate on October 22, 1978, the cardinals stepped forward, as is customary, to pay homage to the new pope. When Primate Wyszynski approached John Paul II and knelt to kiss the ring of the new head of the Church, the Pope stood up, kissed him, kissed the cheek and hand of the Primate, thus underlining his filial respect for him.
The next day, October 23, in a message to his Polish compatriots, Saint John Paul II wrote, addressing Cardinal Wyszynski:
"Venerable and beloved Cardinal Primate, allow me to tell you just what I think. This Polish pope, who today, full of fear of God, but also of trust, is beginning a new pontificate, would not be on Peter's chair were it not for your faith which did not retreat before prison and suffering. Were it not for your heroic hope, your unlimited trust in the Mother of the Church! Were it not for Jasna Gora, and the whole period of the history of the Church in our country, together with your ministry as Bishop and Primate!
Being sick at the beginning of 1981, chains of prayer were created to obtain the healing of Cardinal Wyszynski. Following the assassination attempt on John Paul II on May 13, 1981, Wyszynski urged the faithful to no longer pray for him but for the life of the Pope. Cardinal Wyszynski offered his life to the Virgin Mary in exchange for that of John Paul II, which was then between life and death. CardinaI Wyszynski died a few days later, on May 28, 1981 (Ascension Day), of the consequences of abdominal cancer, after having received by telephone the blessing of John Paul II, who had therefore escaped death. Wyszynski's funeral, presided over by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, was attended by several hundred thousand people. Cardinal Wyszynski was buried in St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw.
Cardinal Wyszynski's beatification process was opened by John Paul II in 1989. On December 19, 2017, Pope Francis recognized his heroic virtues, and a miracle has now been recognized for the beatification of the Cardinal Primate. Because of his great faith and his exceptional role in the Church and the Polish nation, he truly deserves the title of "Primate of the Millennium"