“A nation that cuts itself off from its history, that is ashamed of it, that brings up a young generation without any historical ties, is a nation of renegade." - Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński
A principal Church leader in Poland under Communism, her Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński (1901-1981) was beatified on September 12th.
In his pastoral letter to the faithful of the Gniezno and Warsaw Archdiocese on the occasion of his installation as bishop in 1949, Cardinal Wyszyński remarked: “Am I obligated to introduce myself to you? I am not a politician or a diplomat, I am not an activist or a reformer. Instead, I am your priest, the shepherd and bishop of your souls, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Known as the “Primate of the Millennium,” Father Wyszyński devised the celebration of one thousand years of Christianity in Poland. Spread nearly over a decade the event culminated in 1966. It was a moral triumph of Catholicism over Communism, as the regime failed to upstage religious commemoration with its Soviet-style secular festivities of the millennium of the nation’s statehood.
Cardinal Wyszyński was one of the most prominent figures in the Catholic Church of the twentieth centuries. He led Poland and her Catholic Church from the Jasna Góra Vows to St. Mary, through the Great Novena and the Millennium Victory.
He paved the way for Karol Wojtyła, future John Paul II, to the throne of Saint Peter. He was a mentor and hero to Wojtyła. I am convinced that there would be no Polish Pope without the Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński.
Like the rest of his compatriots, the Primate of the Millennium suffered the tragedy of the German and Soviet totalitarian regimes. He witnessed the evil of our times and showed the Poles an effective way to defeat it. He played a crucial role in the downfall of the Soviet Union.
First, Wyszyński attempted humility and conciliation with the Red regime, which some mistook for appeasement and surrender. They were wrong. When it became certain that Communist authorities would not keep its promises, the Polish bishops’ address to the authorities a letter
known as Non possumus (We do not agree). The Primate of the Millennium was behind this letter which was denouncing the persecution of the Church in Poland.
The Soviet-imposed state wanted to control the appointment of the bishops. Wyszyński flatly rejected the orders. “If external factors would prevent us from appointing competent people to spiritual positions, we are determined to leave them unfilled, rather than to give the religious rule of souls to unworthy hands”, wrote Polish bishops. Wyszyński and the Episcopate thus opposed the decree rendering every ecclesiastical nomination dependent on the consent of the Communists. Their response became a major slap on the face of the Red regime.
For his stance, secret police officers arrested the Primate on the night of 25-28 September 1953. His detention lasted over three years. He was never formally charged.
In spite of difficult conditions, Cardinal Wyszyński never doubted he was on a right path. Contrariwise, during his imprisonment, he worked out the premises of the program of the Great Novena and the Millennium of Poland’s Baptism. When he was released from prison in late October 1956, he was ready for action.
Cardinal Wyszyński also played an important role in normalizing the relationship between the Polish and German nations. He conceptualized the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops: “we forgive and ask for forgiveness.” The message was powerful.
It is symbolic that the beatification of Cardinal Wyszyński took place on September 12. The Battle of Vienna, pitting the Poles and the troops of the Holy Roman Empire, on the one hand, against the Ottoman Turks, on the other, took place on that day in 1683. It brought victory of Polish King Jan III Sobieski. It was the day of Christendom’s triumph over Islam. The Polish Catholic soldiers rode under the of Our Lady Queen of Poland. Marian devotion was one of the pillars of Cardinal Wyszynski’s teachings.
Cardinal Wyszyński entrusted his life to the Mother of God. He would always stress that “Mary’s role is to show us the path to Christ.” Complete trust in her was the secret of Wyszyński’s life and “strategy of his episcopal ministry.”
During the Second Vatican Council, in response to the Primate’s request on behalf of the Polish bishops, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary the Mother of the Church on November 21, 1964, and on December 8, 1975, the Pontiff entrusted the whole world to Mary.
As John Paul II later pointed out, “For the Cardinal Primate has become a special keystone of that unity. A keystone is what forms the arch, what reflects the strength of the foundations of the building. The Cardinal Primate shows the strength of the foundation of the Church, which is Jesus Christ. This is what his strength consists of. The Cardinal Primate has been teaching for over thirty years that he owes this strength to Mary, the Mother of Christ. We all know well that it is possible, thanks to Mary, to make the strength of the foundation that is Christ shine out, and effectively to become a keystone of the Church.”
The Iron Primate passed away in 1981.
The Venerable Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was a hero of our times. He was a shepherd of Poland whose faith and courage to proclaim the truth and freedom, could be a priceless lesson for both spiritual and political leaders today.
May Cardinal Wyszyński inspire Americans in their battle for freedom and truth.
Monika Jablonska is an author of "Wind from Heaven: John Paul II, The Poet Who Became Pope." Her next book on Saint John Paul II is forthcoming in 2021. She is a lawyer and a literary scholar living in Washington D.C. Read Monika's Reports — More Here.
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