Messenger of the Truth is one of the first feature documentary films to reveal the story of Polish martyr and a true 21st century hero of human rights, Father Jerzy Popieluszko.
Father Jerzy was an ordinary priest, whose strong faith, conviction and courage mobilized a nation to believe that they were indeed free in their hearts. His pursuit of the truth stood against the Soviet-backed regime’s pursuit of power. They were willing to kill, he was willing to die. The Soviets saw this one man speaking the truth in a country full of lies as a threat.
“Totalitarian systems destroy man because they captivate his inside, his thoughts, free will and conscience,” Popieluszko said to the people of Poland. “The only efficient defense against these systems is the truth.”
This truth he spoke of gave the people strength and courage. This truth was the source of faith, hope and love that united the people and gave rise to the spiritual fortitude that would ultimately destroy the communist regime. This truth was revolutionary.
“Telling the truth with courage is a way leading directly to freedom,” Popieluszko preached. “To do this we must overcome fear. This fear makes us act against our conscience and it is by means of conscience that we measure truth.”
Father Jerzy’s example and message of human rights, justice, the truth and freedom ignited a faithful nation to not only dream of freedom, but have the courage to make it a reality. Messenger of the Truth is his story.
The Polish Catholic weekly Niedziela recently published an exclusive interview granted by Marianna Popieluszko, Father Jerzy’s mother, to Milena Kindziuk. We publish it for our readers by courtesy of Niedziela.
Do you ever pray to your son?
Marianna Popieluszko: I pray to God, because we must pray Him, not men. Yet we can ask certain holy men to intercede for us.
Does Father Popieluszko help you. Is his intercession effective?
Marianna Popieluszko: Shall I tell everyone how he helps me? Should anybody want to know if Father Popieluszko helps men, they should start to pray him to intercede; they will find out themselves.
Have you ever been granted any grace through your son’s intercession?
Marianna Popieluszko: He has helped me more than once. Some time ago I had problems with my legs and I had to be operated on. I prayed on my son’s grave. The pain ended and I was able to dig out potatoes in the fields all week.
I remember that some years ago you said that you wanted to live to see Father Jerzy beatified. This day has finally arrived. Are you happy?
Marianna Popieluszko: I’m always happy. We must always be happy whether things go right or wrong. God knows what’s best for man. If I’ve lived to see my son beatified it means that God wanted me to. The beatification of Father Jerzy is important because those who shed tears will rejoice. I separated from my son in tears, now I will see him again with joy.
What is the most significant of your son’s teachings?
Marianna Popieluszko: “Defeat evil with good.” If people put these words into practice, they would be better and if people are better, the world too will be better.
You are a saint’s mother. What was most important in the upbringing of your son?
Marianna Popieluszko: I always reminded my children to say: “Jesus be praised.”?Whenever I go to church, my heart rejoices and cries out: “Jesus be praised.” Father Jerzy knew that the Lord is the most important thing in life.
How did Jerzy learn to pray?
Marianna Popieluszko: As a child he used to pray at home with all of us. We used to pray together. On Wednesdays we used to pray in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the kitchen, on Fridays in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on Saturdays in front of the Virgin of Czestochowa. It was always like this.
In other words, my son received at home the first lesson of prayer. But all that was good in him was a gift from God’s grace. Anyway, Jesus Christ was important to him.
As a child he used to build little altars and play with holy pictures and build small chapels to which he used to bring flowers; he even dressed up as a priest. When he became an altar boy, he had a short chasuble, but he wanted a long one! He just lived on these things.
Did he go to church everyday when he was an altar boy?
Marianna Popieluszko: Yes, in all weathers and seasons. He woke up at 5 a.m. everyday to go to church and walk four kilometers through the wood from Okopy to Suchowola. As an altar boy he never missed Mass, not even once. He never complained that he was tired. He never did: he was like that.
By the way, how was Jerzy as a child?
Marianna Popieluszko: He was a good boy. I never had to reproach him. He obeyed me whatever I asked him to do. It was clear from the childhood what he was like.
For example, he loved people, he was attracted to his neighbors. An old woman lived next to us; she pastured her cows on her own everyday. He used to go to her for a chat. Even when, as a seminary student, he returned home, he always paid a visit to this old woman. On the other hand, I repeated to him: “The love of God and our neighbors is what leads us to Heaven.”
In the showcase of the Memory Room dedicated to Father Jerzy at Suchowola there is a book he received as a prize bearing the following dedication: “For your school performance, 9th January 1955.” Did your child always do well at school?
Marianna Popieluszko: I remember in particular the time he was preparing for his first communion; he was a very keen student. He was patient, constant and hard working. The parish priest told me: “Madam, your son is very gifted, he can become very good or very bad, depending on how he is brought up.” I brought him up as best as I could, teaching him not to lie. He knew there was no place for falsehood at home, that he was not supposed to steal, not even a pear picked from a tree on a road.
The teacher one day summoned you, asking you to reproach your son…
Marianna Popieluszko: He wanted to inform me that Jerzy spent too much time saying the rosary at church. It was true that after school he went to church and said the rosary every day, but the teacher intended to intimidate us, threatening to mark him down for conduct. I replied to the teacher that there was freedom of worship in Poland and that everybody could do as they pleased (the Holy Ghost must have inspired me at that moment). In the end, they did not mark him down for conduct, even though he always went to church for the rosary.
Did you feel that your son would become a priest?
Marianna Popieluszko: I had been asking God to grant me this grace. I had been praying to be a priest’s mother. Even when I was expecting him, I offered him to God. I don’t know if he became a priest for this reason. I don’t know if God listened to me or somebody else…
What do you mean you offered your son to God?
Marianna Popieluszko: Soon before he was born, I simply offered him to the Virgin Mary.
Your son’s decision to enter a seminary, did you take it for granted or did it come to you as a surprise?
Marianna Popieluszko: I was surprised. God had granted me that grace. Life is like this: God grants a grace and if one accepts, one will walk in His footsteps.
Do you remember the moment Jerzy told you he wanted to become a priest?
Marianna Popieluszko: Yes, after the ball at the end of the school, he just went to Warsaw’s seminary to hand in his documents. On that occasion he took the train for the first time, but he didn’t get lost.
I think he chose the Warsaw seminary because it was the closest one to Niepokalanów (a town not far from Poland’s capital city, whose name means town of the Immaculate Conception; there Father Maximillian Kolbe established an important Franciscan community). He was strongly attached to this place, maybe because when he was with his grandmother, he had found several issues of the magazine “Rycerz Niepokalanej” (“The Knight of the Immaculate”). He had taken them and always thumbed through them. At the time he desired to go to Niepokalanów.
He talked a lot about Father Kolbe: he regarded him as an example. I remember that when he came home, he brought pictures and slides of Father Maximillian. He showed the slides to all the people of the village, who gathered in our house on that occasion. He told about his life and was moved when he spoke of his arrest, his imprisonment and martyrdom in the concentration camp. He was very sensitive.
I was happy when he became a priest and prayed all the time that he would remain faithful to God, as this is the most important thing in life.
Did he rarely come home while studying at the seminary?
Marianna Popieluszko: He usually came home when he was on holiday. He helped us with the reaping and the building of the granary. Unfortunately, he was sickly, especially when he had been operated on in the thyroid after military service. In the army his health had been undermined. He suffered a great deal of injustice, even though he never told us anything, he never complained. He was like that. After his death his fellow soldiers told us about the abuse he had suffered. One day he was forced to stand barefooted in the snow as he had refused to hand in a rosary.
After finishing his studies he came home even more rarely. One day he said to me: “Mama, you had lots of children and took care of them. I have many more and I’ll have to account to God for their care.”
The last time he came home he left me his soutane saying: “I’ll take it next time. Otherwise you will have a memento of me.” I’ve kept it as such until now.
Were you afraid when he served as a priest in Warsaw?
Marianna Popieluszko: Yes, I was, like any mother. But what could I do? He knew what to do, we didn’t. On the other hand, if I had given my son to the Church, I couldn’t take him back. If God had called him to serve the Church, he couldn’t serve his family.
Father Jerzy did not say what he did in Warsaw. But I knew the secret police followed him, even when he returned home to us. He didn’t want to be photographed (“Why all this fuss about me?” he would say).
He was courageous, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken that way and run so many risks. He was strong, though physically weak. He realized he had chosen to serve God and that he would be faithful to Him till the end.
After your son’s funeral you declared that those who had killed him did not fight against him, but against God…
Marianna Popieluszko: Yes, I did, because they did not aim at Popieluszko, but at the Church. His death will lie heavy on me as long as I live. It’s a great pain. It is a wound which will never heal; it is something impossible to forget. But I don’t condemn anyone. God will judge those people one day. But I would be happy if they were converted.