2001 marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth, and 20th Anniversary of the death, of the great Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Poland. For this occasion, the Polish Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution to officially dedicate this year to the "Primate of the Millennium" (The thousand years of Catholicism in Poland were celebrated in 1966, preceded by a novena of nine years presided over by Cardinal Wyszynski.) who, through his unshakeable trust in the Mother of God, courageously defended the rights of the Church and of the faithful in front of the Communist dictatorship.
The "Michael" Journal also wants to pay homage to this giant of the Faith with this article, based on issue n. 33 of the French Catholic magazine Dieu est amour (God is Love), dedicated to the great Polish Primate. Cardinal Wyszynski's life of sacrifices and loyalty to God directly contributed to the fall of Communism in Poland and the other countries of Eastern Europe, and to the election of a Polish Pope on October 16, 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, his spiritual son and companion of work and fight for the Church of Christ in Poland during the difficult years of the Communist regime.
On that day, Cardinal Wyszynski encouraged Cardinal Wojtyla to accept his nomination to the Chair of Peter, telling him that God had entrusted him with the mission of leading the Church to the third millennium. He also wrote on that day: "Rejoice, Mother of Poland, for You have given to the Church her best son, formed in the battles and sufferings of our nation... The victory that Cardinal Hlond had foretold has arrived: it is the victory of the Mother of Christ, to whom our nation has remained faithful."
Our Lord said in 1938 to Saint Faustina Kowalska of Poland, the apostle of Divine Mercy, that a great light will come from Poland to enlighten the world and prepare it for His second coming. This great light is the present Pope. If we have a great Pope in the person of John Paul II, it is because he had a great model and mentor in the person of Cardinal Wyszynski. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II publicly acknowledged this, by writing this letter to 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!"
Poland, which had been invaded by the Nazis in 1939, ended up almost decimated after the end of World War II. The Church saw her best bishops and priests disappear in extermination camps. But when the German army left Poland, the sufferings of the nation were far from being over. In Yalta, it was decided that Poland would become part of the Soviet bloc, without asking for her opinion. Poland would have to "cross the desert" and suffer again, with no immediate human hope of being freed from the Soviet yoke.
The then Primate of Poland, Cardinal Hlond, knew that in these difficult times, Poland needed solid bishops who could keep the Faith and hope among the faithful, and form the youth. In 1946, he proposed Father Stefan Wyszynski to become the new bishop of Lublin. Two years later, Bishop Wyszynski succeeded to Cardinal Hlond as archbishop of Warsaw and Gniezno, the primatial see of Poland. The new primate received with humility and courage this legacy, charged with responsibilities. For these new times, new strength was needed. Very soon, Archbishop Wyszynski added to his motto of bishop, Soli Deo (Only God), the words Per Mariam (All to God through Mary).
The faithful quickly recognized in this bishop of 45 years of age the father of the workers and farmers, the leader of the nation, in a word, the only moral authority in the country. His close friends addressed him as "My Father", and he replied by saying "Beloved children of God".
Like a new Moses, Cardinal Wyszynski will help his people cross the desert of atheistic Communism, helped by the Queen of Poland, the Black Virgin of Czestochowa, who marches in front of Her people just like the column of fire for the Hebrews in Moses' time. The secular world will try to ridicule this devotion of the Poles to the Virgin Mary, asking, "Where is your God, you who have been silenced?" But Mary triumphed, Communism collapsed, and the "best of the sons of Poland" became the Vicar of Christ, the first non-Italian Pope in over 450 years.
Stefan Wyszynski was born on August 3, 1901, in Zuzela, as the second of five children of Stanislaw Wyszynski, an organist, and Julianna Karp, who died on October 10, 1910. Stefan was nine years old. (Karol Wojtyla was the same age when he lost his mother.) One year later, his father married Eugenia Podlewska, who had been a good friend of his first wife. Although Stefan's step-mother was very good to him and his siblings, he missed his own mother very much.
Stefan started his studies in 1917 at the Wloclawek Seminary, and he was ordained by Bishop Owczarek on August 3, 1924. After one year of parish work, he went to the Catholic University of Lublin for additional studies. He studied canon law and Catholic social teaching. In 1929, he got a doctorate with a thesis entitled "Law at the school of the family, the Church, and the State."
At the end of his studies in Lublin, he went to. Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany to learn about Catholic social teaching there. After returning to Poland, Father Wyszynski served in various capacities. He worked as a parochial vicar, secretary of the monthly periodical for the clergy (Ateneum Kaplanskie), and as a professor in the Seminary at Wloclawek. There, he organized the Christian "University of Workers", where he taught Catholic social teaching. He was also one of the co-founders of the Catholic Trade Union there.
The Church's authorities called Father Wyszynski in 1937 to work at the Social Council in the Primate's Office in Warsaw. From that time on, he extended the scale of his social work. He initiated sociological research by the Catholic institutes and universities, and he also suggested increasing the number of hours Catholic social teaching was taught in the seminaries in Poland. He also disseminated Catholic social teaching through his publications.
After the outbreak of World War II, the Gestapo began looking for him. His bishop, Most Rev. Kozal (who died in the odour of sanctity in the concentration camp of Dachau), ordered him to leave Wloclawek to avoid arrest by the Nazis. Father Wyszynski organized underground teaching. During the Warsaw Uprising, he was the chaplain of the Clandestine Army, and escaped death ten times.
When Wyszynski returned to Wloclawek after the end of the war, there was a severe shortage of clergy. 2,500 priests in Poland had been killed or sent to extermination camps. Because of this, Wyszynski worked in the seminary at Wloclawek as a rector, professor, spiritual father, and steward.
On March 25, 1946, Father Stefan Wyszynski was appointed by Pope Pius XII as Bishop of Lublin. He was consecrated Bishop by Primate Hlond at the Jasna Gora Shrine in Czestochowa on May 12, 1946. On his coat of arms, Wyszynski placed an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Czestochowa and the motto: "Soli Deo" (Only God).
As Bishop of Lublin, Wyszynski simultaneously became the chancellor of the Catholic University of Lublin. He organized a Department of Christian Philosophy at the university and was very active in the newly-created Institute of Social-Economic and Rural Problems. Moreover, he organized the Institute of Higher Religious Culture, which was a study program for adults. Wyszynski's social sermons were as popular in Lublin as in Wloclawek. He taught about the socio-religious and moral problems of believers in the context of the new Communist ideology, which was alien to the Poles.
After two years of work in the Lublin Diocese, Wyszynski was called, on November 16, 1948, to Warsaw as Archbishop of the Warsaw-Gniezno Archdiocese and as Primate of Poland, to replace Cardinal Hlond, who died on October 22.
The situation of the Church in Poland was difficult, with the presence of a Communist regime imposed by force. Archbishop Wyszynski offered in vain to conclude an agreement with the Government to respect the rights of the Church.
At the beginning of 1949, the Communist Prime Minister, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, threatened to severely punish anyone speaking out against Communism. The authorities of the Communist regime often circulated false information about the Church in Poland. They said that, not only did the Holy See cooperate with Nazi policy during the World War II, but also that some Polish bishops were conspirators. The Communist allegations were especially directed against Czeslaw Kaczmarek, Bishop of Kielce, and Stanislaw Adamski, Bishop of Katowice.
Primate Wyszynski categorically objected to these Communist actions, and wrote two pastoral letters to the faithful in which he explained the true social situation in Poland. In the first (1949), Wyszynski defended Bishop Kaczmarek, and in the second (1950), he described the groundless allegations of the Communists against the Church. The Communist authorities were unhappy with Wyszynski's letters.
The Primate was concerned primarily with keeping unity among the priests, and next, between the priests and laity. He also wanted to stop the disruptive work of the "patriot priests", who were "bought" by Communism and who supported the new Soviet regime. The Communist regime intended to eliminate social activities in the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, but could not because of Wyszynski's courageous attitude and his wise religious policy.
In 1951, Primate Wyszynski visited the Vatican for the first time as a bishop. His previous requests to do so were turned down by the Communists. On that trip, Wyszynski took a small package of Polish soil that included some blood. Also included was another sign of Polish martyrdom during World War II, a Rosary, which was made with bread by prisoners of war. The Communist authorities were angry with the Primate because of his work, and the Moscow newspaper Pravda wrote that Wyszynski "undermines the general interests of Poland.".
One year later, the Communists began liquidating the junior seminaries and religious novitiates. They also established many obstacles in granting the Church permission to build new churches. When Primate Wyszynski became cardinal on November 29, 1952, the Communist regime increased its hostile attacks on the Church. It issued a harsh decree on February 9, 1953, which effectively placed the Church under Communist control.
After that, the Government took another radical step against the Church: it required an oath of loyalty to the Communist Government. The authorities expected every Roman Catholic priest in Poland to sign this Communist declaration as a symbol of his loyalty to communism. Cardinal Wyszynski firmly resisted this action.
The Communists did not stop their fight against the Church. In September, 1953, the Military Court of Justice in Warsaw sentenced Bishop Czeslaw Kaczmarek of Kielce to twelve years in prison. His conviction was based on accusations that the bishop cooperated with the Nazis during World War II, and also that he wanted to subvert the Communist Government. Many priests who were troublesome to the Communists were also jailed.
By these actions, the Communist authorities expected to influence other Polish bishops. Primate Wyszynski did not change his attitude, and on September 25, 1953, the feast of St. Ladislas, patron of Warsaw, he said in public, during a sermon at the Church of St. Anne in Warsaw, that the Church in Poland would always fight for truth and freedom. He also publicly expressed his categorical objection to the imprisonment of Bishop Kaczmarek by the Communists.
A few hours after Wyszynski's speech, a group of armed policemen, (UB: Police Security), invaded Wyszynski's residence, and took him to Rywald Prison. Shortly after that, the Communist regime imprisoned five other bishops, including the coadjutor of the Primate, Most Rev. A. Baraniak (the future archbishop of Poznan). The Communists wanted to make him a main witness in a trial against the Primate, but neither prison, ill-treatment, nor brainwashing attempts succeeded in breaking Bishop Baraniak's iron will. However, he had to pay for his loyalty by spending three years in jail, and his health now compromised.
The agents of the UB feared the anger of the population. They made the arrest at night, in secret. The watchdog of the archbishopric attacked a policeman and bit him before the cardinal could catch its collar. He immeditaly called a nun to dress the wound. When ordered to pack his case, he refused, saying: "I have entered this home poor, and I want to leave it poor."
For three years, Cardinal Wyzsynski was transferred from one prison to another, always in secret. Day and night, twenty guards were on the watch. This time in prison was a period of very intensive work for Primate Wyszynski. He prepared a special program for renewing the Polish nation under the Blessed Virgin Mary. During his prison meditations, he reminded himself of the many events in Polish history which had persuaded him to choose Mary's way as a program for pastoral ministry in Poland's future.
On December 8, 1953, Cardinal Wyszynski signed a definitive pact with Our Lady, by consecrating himself a slave of Jesus through Mary, according to the doctrine of St. Louis Mary de Montfort. Wyszynski attributed to this consecration the grace of "having never held the shadow of a grudge against anyone."
In Komancza, the last place of his imprisonment, the Primate finished his text of the "Jasna Gora Oath", which was to be the cornerstone of Poland's moral and spiritual renewal. This was in preparation for the celebration of the Polish Millennium, the thousandth anniversary of Poland's conversion to Christianity.
Over a million people gathered together on Jasna Gora in Czestochowa on the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, August 26, 1956. All of the Polish bishops surrounded an empty armchair on which Primate Wyszynski should have sat. Next, Bishop Michal Klepacz read the text of Primate Wyszynski's Oath, and the people repeated, "We promise to be faithful to God, to the Church, and to the Gospel."
At the same hour, Cardinal Wyszynski celebrated Holy Mass in Komancza. Those who saw him were struck by the expression of his face, "transfigurated and shinning like the sun." Later, he confided to one of his friends: "During the Mass, I felt a joy I had never experienced before. It was as if a huge burden had been removed from my shoulders."
After the solemn celebrations in Czestochowa and the workers protest in Poznan in 1956, the Communist authorities decided to release Wyszynski from prison on October 26, 1956. They also freed the other imprisoned bishops. From that time on, Communist authorities expected support from the Church because of the social crisis. The Government annulled the decree of 1953 concerning approval of Church positions by the Communists. Next, they announced the resumption of religious classes in schools, the return of monks and nuns to their social work, and the cancellation of Bishop Kaczmarek's remaining prison sentence.
Subsequently, Primate Wyszynski set into practice his Program of the Great Novena for the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Poland. That program initiated a nine-year program of renewal of Faith and morality. Based on the preaching of biblical and moral truths, as well as reflections on the Sacraments, it took place in every parish and Church community. The miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa went on pilgrimages throughout the country, and was received in parishes everywhere in Poland. At the presence of this miraculous icon, every believer and every Catholic family in Poland committed to renewing their Faith and moral life. By receiving the holy icon, this external sign of Faith, they promised to be faithful to the Gospel and to the Church. These actions helped save the Polish nation from complete demoralization and secularization.
The Communist regime did not like Wyszynski's idea and his program of renewal. Despite "warm" assertions about the Church's freedoms, the Communists began treating members of the Church with renewed hostility. They organized special training on how to destroy Church members in their place of work and also in schools, and create conditions similar to the easy way of life of the West in order to create lukewarm Christians, make people more materialistic, and leave the Church.
In 1964, the Primate invited Pope Paul VI to participate in the Polish Millennium, but the Communists did not give him permission to enter the country. At the end of 1965, the Polish Episcopate invited bishops from fifty-six countries for the millennium celebrations, which culminated in Jasna Gora on May 3, 1966. In his homily, the Cardinal Primate said:
"Yes, we must transform everything into love! I always pray for those who calumny me, and I think that the prayer of their bishop will be useful to them. Perhaps I would forget to pray for them if they did not insult me!...
"Never shall we, Catholics, deny our responsibilities towards the nation and the Church in this land! Christendom has given us a lot, but we have already given it back a lot too! In this historic moment, fully aware, and filled with freedom of mind and love for our land, we entrust Poland into the hands of Mary; we give it to Her as Her slaves, and the people of the second millennium will feel secure close to Her. Filled with love for the universal Church and for the Church of Poland, we entrust our nation to Mary for the Church, in order to serve the universal Church!"
For the 600th Anniversary of the presence of the miraculous icon of Our Lady in Jasna Gora, Cardinal Wyszynski began in 1976 "six years of acknowledgement for six centuries of the presence of Mary."
The election of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla as Pope on October 16, 1978, was a great triumph for the Church in Poland. In his first visit to Poland in June, 1979, in the Cathedral of Warsaw, John Paul II called Cardinal Wyszynski "the keystone of the Church in Poland," thanks to his trust in Mary, the Mother of Christ.
Cardinal Wyszynski died in Warsaw on the Feast of the Ascension, May 28, 1981, fifteen days after the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. Because of his great Faith and his outstanding role in the Church and in the Polish nation, he truly deserves the title of "Primate of the Millennium."