• U.S.

Memories of Father Jerzy

2 minute read

Boston Bureau Chief Richard Hornik covered Poland for TIME during the Solidarity era and under martial law. Still vivid in his mind is the memory of a priest he knew. His report:

He shyly introduced himself as Father Jerzy and asked if he could be of help. I had been wandering around the ground floor of the rectory of St. Stanislaw Kostka in Warsaw attempting to interview recipients of Western aid distributed by the Catholic Church. Jerzy Popieluszko, painfully frail and thin, introduced me to his parishioners, calming their fears about talking to a Western journalist. It was only a few months after the imposition of martial law, and the national spirit that had soared during the heyday of Solidarity had been crushed by Polish soldiers and police.

But Father Jerzy was not cowed, and he gladly explained how his aid center distributed medical supplies. It was clear from his shabby cassock and waxen complexion that he, unlike some of his colleagues at other Polish churches, rarely availed himself of the fruits of Western aid. In a room upstairs was a large map of Poland showing the location of every political detention center in the country. This quiet, unassuming priest had become a message center for the Solidarity underground, keeping activists in touch with one another. He was a valued source, for he knew better than most what was going on in the splintered organization. He lived in constant fear of being arrested and never slept well. Although he operated openly, he did take some minor precautions, such as keeping underground literature in a bag hanging outside his bedroom window. Eventually he found it necessary to seek the protection of some of the brawnier steelworkers to whom he had ministered.

Although he was to become known for his monthly sermons denouncing Poland’s Communist rulers, he never declared hatred for his opponents. He was not a firebrand but a deeply religious man who simply followed the dictates of his conscience. And for that he was murdered.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com