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Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, Primate of Poland (1901-1981)

Stefan Wyszyński's life can be divided into two fundamental stages, the caesura of which is the year 1948 and his appointment as Archbishop of Gniezno and Archbishop of Warsaw and Primate of Poland. The period after 1948 is most often analysed, which is understandable when his life was not only intertwined with the history of the Church and Poland, but also contributed to its creation. Nevertheless, everything Stefan Wyszyński had previously experienced prepared him for his primacy, which he held for over thirty years, at one of the most difficult moments in the life of the Church and the nation.

Stefan Wyszyński was born in 1901, when Poland was not on the map of the world, in Zuzela nad Bugem, the then Russian partition. He got to know well what the lack of his own statehood means, the lack of Polish language, history or geography at school. This affected his thinking about his homeland, state and nation, and influenced his patriotism. He was taught Polish history, culture and love for his homeland by his father Stanislaw, a rural organist, and by secret scouting, both in Warsaw at the Gorski’s grammar school, which he attended between 1912 and 1915, and then at the School of Commerce in Lomza (1915-1917), where he had to move as a result of World War I. He passed the exam for the love of his homeland many times, first of all when he was the Primate of Poland, but also earlier, during the Second World War, when he served in a hospital in Laski near Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising as a Home Army chaplain, pseudonym Radwan III.

A tragic childhood event, which was the death of Julianna's mother, who died in 1910 when Stefan was nine years old, influenced the spirituality of the future Primate. Stefan transferred love for his mother onto Our Lady. It was a long spiritual process, an important stage of which was his first mass celebrated on 5 August 1924 on Jasna Góra - here, and not in the family parish - in order to always have a mother, a mother who does not die. The crowning event of this process was the act of personal surrender to Mary in captivity on December 8, 1953, that is during her imprisonment in Stoczek in Warmia. 

Stefan Wyszyński was ordained a priest on 3 August 1924, i.e. in already free Poland, in Włocławek. Choosing the seminary in that town, he was bound to it for several decades. This was all the more important as Włocławek, before the war, was a city of workers' character, thanks to which the priest. Wyszyński got to know the life and problems of the workers well, which was an extremely important experience in the post-war reality. The priest Wyszyński, who was involved in social issues by nature, was an assistant of the Christian Trade Unions in Włocławek and gave lectures for workers at the Christian University of Workers. He interpreted the problems of the working world from the point of view of Catholic social science, the answer to which was different from the revolutionary solutions proposed by the communist movement. He gained Catholic social science, but also knowledge of political and economic systems, capitalism, as well as Marxism and communism, during his studies at the Catholic University of Lublin in 1925-1929 (he defended his doctorate in canon law), and then during a one-year study tour of Western Europe.

An important part of the priest. Wyszyński's activity in the interwar period was journalism. The future Primate was a journalist, editor, publicist, and editor-in-chief of the journal 'Ateneum Kapłańskie', among others. (1932-1939). He was already writing at that time about the huge threat that communism posed to man, anticipating that in the near future there would be a confrontation between Catholicism and godlessness, as he called the atheism introduced by communism, and that Catholicism would emerge victorious from this confrontation. 

With such experiences - very briefly presented - the priest Stefan Wyszyński has entered the post-war reality. In March 1946, at the request of the then Primate August Hlond, Pope Pius XII appointed the priest. Stefan Wyszyński as Bishop of Lublin, and two years later, on 16 November 1948, he signed a nomination bull as Archbishop of two great metropolises - Gniezno and Warsaw - and Primate of Poland, equipped with special powers of attorney of the Holy See.

The nomination in November 1948 was a fundamental caesura in Stefan Wyszyński's life.

The new Primate of Poland was indicated by the dying Primate August Hlond to the amazement of the Episcopate - after all, he was the youngest among them (he was 47 years old) and the youngest Bishop. But Bishop Stefan Wyszyński himself did not want to accept this position at first either. In a letter to Pope Pius XII on 1 January 1949, explaining the reasons for his resistance, he wrote about himself that he was a 'poor status man': "I have, it is true, the fearless faith of an open-minded man, the love of an almost childlike heart, attachment to the Church and the will to make any sacrifice. But when I look at myself, I see no prudence as necessary, no education, experience, intellectual preparation'. And then on: "Holy Father! These days require a man fully and perfectly God, ready for any sacrifice, strong in spirit, endowed with wisdom and Christian prudence, so that the signs of the Church, to which the fate of the Nation is linked today, may be carried out in the most worthy manner possible'.  

It is striking that the traits which, in the opinion of Primate Wyszyński, should characterise the person who heads the Church in Poland in these difficult times, were fully manifested in him over time. Apart from them, there are others - farsightedness, humility and modesty, which pierces the tone of the letter, but also courage and moderation, and above all love, capable of heroic sacrifice. 

He came to lead the Church, and in time he became someone more, because the spiritual leader of the nation at an extremely difficult time - during the period of the People's Republic of Poland, when Poland found itself in the sphere of influence of Soviet Russia, and the Polish communists, by depriving their compatriots of all rights and freedoms, were building a utopian system, because it was based on a wrong concept of man.

One of the aims was to atheisate society, expel the Church from the public sphere, subjugate the state and, in the times of Polish Stalinism, physically destroy the Church. 

These political changes coincided with the first period of Stefan Wyszyński's primacy (to be arrested in September 1953), when, in an attempt to give the Church a minimum of independence in its pastoral work, he decided that the Episcopate should sign an agreement with the authorities, which, however, was violated by the Communist authorities from the beginning. Nonetheless, it allowed a fundamental blow to the Church to be postponed and, as a result, to shorten the period of operation of the draconian law, which was the Decree of the Council of State of February 1953 on the staffing of church clergy, which had the entire clergy, including bishops, subordinated to the State. Only one thing could be said about this by the Primate with bishops: Non possumus. We cannot. "We must not lay down the things of God on the altars of Caesar. Non possumus”.

As a result, Primate Stefan Wyszyński, a cardinal from January 1953, was arrested. The three years of imprisonment - from September 1953 to October 1956 - were a difficult time in a physical sense, but very fruitful in spiritual terms for the Primate, and consequently for the Church and for Poland. During his imprisonment, he wrote Jasna Góra's Vows of the Nation (made by about one million people on 26 August 1956) and an outline of the nine years of the Great Novena, which prepared for the celebration of the Millennium of Polish Baptism in 1966. It was the largest pastoral programme since the Christianization of Poland, carried out between 1956 and 1966. Its aim was the religious and moral renewal of Poles, the strengthening of their dignity and internal freedom and, as a consequence, the survival and strengthening of their faith, Catholic identity and links with Western Christian civilisation. This was a condition of external freedom: "A free man can feel trapped in his own homeland. He then mobilises all forces to bring about the freedom of the nation. If the effort of the people, endowed by the Creator with freedom, becomes widespread, there is no force capable of overcoming the collective, mobilised will of free people. Sooner or later they will lead to the freedom of a nation. The cradle for the freedom of a nation is therefore the freedom of the human person'. - said Primate Wyszyński in the 1960s. When the year 1966 - the year of the millennium of Polish baptism - ended, he wrote: "my life's task is finished". He knew that time would bear fruit, but one only has to wait confidently, trusting in Mary. Throughout the whole period of his primacy, he remembered the words and testament of his predecessor, Primate August Hlond, who spoke while dying: "work and fight under the protection of Our Lady. Victory, when it comes, will be a victory for the Blessed Virgin Mary'. The Primate Wyszyński entrusted himself to Mary in 1953, and such an act of surrendering himself to Mary for the freedom of the Church of Christ in Poland and throughout the world was offered by him to Poles on 3 May 1966, in the Millennium Year. The Vows of the Nation, the Great Novena Millennium of Polish Baptism were the spiritual foundation for the spiritual revolution that broke out in August 1980. 

When, in 1956, Card. Wyszyński wrote the renewed vows of the nation, 300 years after King John Casimir, he became a spiritual leader not only of the Church but of the nation. He became an interrex, following the example of the Primates in the First Republic, who took over the reign during the interregnum, and that was the time when most Poles considered the period of the People's Republic of Poland as such, because the rulers were not elected by the people, but imposed on them. After the confrontation with atheistic power, which was victorious for the Church in the millennium year, the Primate became the only authority in the country whose opinion, especially since the mid-1970s, also the leaders of the People's Republic of Poland were of importance.

The farsightedness of the Primate, part of which was courage, but also moderation, ordered him in periods of stagnation, to stimulate Poles spiritually, to remind them of the right that every human being has not only to freedom of conscience and religion, but also to the right to life, to truth in public life, to work, to decent wages, to free association, and so on, In times of great social tensions, in the so-called Polish months of October 1956, March 1968, December 1970, June 1976 and August 1980, to mitigate these tensions so that no fraternal blood is spilled 

For three years of imprisonment, the Primate Wyszyński, in forgiving the perpetrators of persecution, passed the test of Christian love day after day. He also passed the test when, having experienced two great world wars himself, in November 1965, he signed a message from the Polish bishops to the German bishops, which began a long process of Polish-German reconciliation. Thirteen years later, in September 1978, in the Cathedral of Cologne, he predicted that the future of Europe depends on the strengthening of its Christian identity and on whether it manages to deepen its Christianity.

The sign of Mary's victory, about which August Hlond spoke, was for Primate Wyszyński the election as Polish Pope Karol Wojtyła in 1978, and then the first pilgrimage to Poland with a Mass on Victory Square, which activated the nation's spiritual powers, strengthened by the Primate for several decades.  

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński died on 28 May 1981. His funeral on 31 May was a great religious-patriotic demonstration. He passed away as one of the greatest primates in the history of the Church in Poland, about which John Paul II spoke: "'God gives such a father, shepherd and primate once every thousand years'. He himself sometimes confessed that these were years of sacrifice, suffering and humiliation. 

The process for the beatification of Primate Stefan Wyszyński began in May 1989, in December 2017 a decree on the heroic virtues was proclaimed, and in October 2019 Pope Francis approved the miracle through the intercession of the Primate.

The beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński took place on September 12, 2021 (together with Mother Elizabeth Roża Czacka) in the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw. The ceremony was presided over by the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro.

dr Ewa K.Czaczkowska 

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