Proclaimed “Blessed” by John Paul II at Warsaw on 13th June 1999.
108 POLISH MARTYRS
Proclaimed “Blessed” by John Paul II at Warsaw on 13th June 1999
Since the beginning of the Church, the Disciples of Christ opposed the world, which had a different way of thinking. They intended to give witness to Jesus, the Teacher of Nazareth, with their own life, even to the point of sacrificing it. In its recent history, the Church in Poland confessed its faith with martyrdom. A large number of Christians, whom it is difficult to count, gave their lives during the persecutions by atheistic, totalitarian systems.
Divine Providence wanted their witness should not be forgotten for the most part. Thus, 108 heroes of the faith killed by Hitler’s Nazis have been included in the cause of beatification. This showed clearly their martyrdom and holiness.
From the account of the process of beatification
The cause of beatification of the 108 martyrs, victims of the years of persecution of the Church in Poland, during the years 1939-1945 by the Nazis, was formally introduced only in 1892. In fact, the origin goes back to the first years after the Second World War. The knowledge of their holiness and martyrdom, the graces attributed to their intercession have often urged the dioceses and religious families to begin the causes of beatification on account of martyrdom. We can mention the example of Archbishop Julian Anthony Nowowiejski, Bishop Leon Wetmanski, Fr Henryk Hebowicz, Fr Henryk Kaczorowski with the group of priests from Wloclawek, Fr Jozef Kowalski, Salesian, Br Jozef Zaplata of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Then came the beatification of Bishop Michal Kozal (Warsaw, 1987), called “A true teacher of martyrs” for the clergy of the concentration camps, especially Dachau. While they were discussing the martyrdom of Bishop Michal in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the request to start a separate process for those who were companions of the Martyr Bishop came about for their highest witness of the faith.
The process by the Episcopal Conference of Poland began and was presided over by the Bishop of Wloclawek. During the persecution, this diocese had incurred the greatest loss among the diocesan clergy in Poland.
On the day of the opening of the process at Wloclawek on 6th January 1992, anniversary of the death of the Blessed Martyr, Michael Kosal, 92 martyrs of the different dioceses and religious families were considered. The number of the candidates changed with the addition of new candidates and the exclusion of some others because there was not sufficient material to prove their martyrdom. Finally, the number of 108 people who suffered death because of hatred of the faith in different places and circumstances was fixed.
The document of the process filled 96,000 pages and these were given in 1994 for the consideration of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. The very thorough study, which followed, made it possible to reach on 20th November 1998 the theological discussion on martyrdom. The positive outcome combined with the congress of the cardinals and bishops on 16th February 1999 opened the road to beatification carried out by the Holy Father on 13th June 1999 at Warsaw, during his apostolic journey in Poland.
Who are the 108 Martyrs?
They come from 18 dioceses, from the Military Chaplaincies and from 22 religious families. They are priests, religious and lay people whose lives completely dedicated to the cause of God, and whose death, inflicted out of hatred for the faith, had the imprint of heroism. Among them there are three bishops, 52 diocesan priests, 22 religious priests, 3 students for the priesthood, 7 religious brothers, 8 sisters and 9 lay people. This numerical proportions are linked to the fact that the clergy was the main object of hatred of the faith by Hitler’s Nazis. They wanted to shut up the voice of the Church which was considered an obstacle to establishing a regime founded on a vision of man without the supernatural dimension and full of violent hatred.
Altogether, the 108 martyrs represent all the different members of the Church.ie bishops, diocesan clergy, religious and lay people. A representative of each of these categories is on the title of the cause of beatification.
The group of the bishops begins with the Bishop of Plock.. Archbishop Antoni Julian Nowowiejski, an illustrious professor of liturgy, a fervent pastor was killed in the concentration camp of Dzialdow. The diocesan clergy is represented by Fr Henryk Kaczorowski. He was rector of the theological seminary of Wlocwalek, a man of science and goodness, a great educator of priests. He was taken out of the camp of Dachau and died in the gas-chamber. As representative of relgious families, there is a Capuchin, Fr Anicet Kopalisnki, the apostle of charity in the Warsaw area. He wanted to face up to his sufferings with prayer, in imitation of the Teacher of Nazareth. He too died in a gas-chamber in the camp of Auschwitz. Finally, the lay people are represented by Marianna Biernacka. She was shot near Grodno. She was a simple woman, for whom God and His Law were the values esteemed above all, even above freedom and life. In the fervour of charity she had offered here life to save her daughter-in-law, who was pregnant and was going to die and for the life of the baby who was about to be born.
The witness of the martyrs is extremely meaningful. The numerous diocesan and religious priests who died rather than renounce their priesthood. Also there were those martyrs who were died because they had defended Jews or Communists. Many were shot or tortured to death on Good Friday almost to show the union of their martyrdom with the cross of Christ. There are numerous testimonies of sisters who persevered in their generous and quiet service of charity who accepted with a spirit of faith the abuses and also death.
FR HILARY JARNUSZEWSKI (1909-1945), a Carmelite who managed to survive in the camp of Dachau and go free. Then in Feburary 1942, in the lager typhoid spread, he offered himself freely to serve those who were dying in an isolated make-shift building because, as he used to say, he was more needed there. He contracted typhoid and died there.
How can we fail to mention a teacher from Poznan, NATALIA TULASIEWICZ (1906-1945), who was a leader in the apostolate of lay people. During the occupation, she volunteered to leave for the Third Reich together with of ther women condemned to do heavy work in order to give them spiritual comfort. When the Gestapo found out, she was arrested, tortured and humiliated in public and was condemned to death in the Rawensbruck camp. On Good Friday, with the strength that was still in her, she climbed a stool in the hut and gave a talk to the prisoners on the passion and resurrection of Jesus. Two days later, they brought her to die in a gas-chamber.
SISTER JULIA RODZINSKA (1899-1945), a Dominican, she died in the extermination camp of Stuthoff, having contract typhoid serving the Jewish women prisoners in a hut for which she had volunteered.
SISTER CELESTYNA FARON (1913-1944), had offered her life for the conversion of a priest. She was arrested by the Gestapo and condemned in Auschwitz camp. She put heroically with all the abuses of the camp and died on Easter Sunday 1944. That priest was converted and he was instrumental in bringin back another priest.
FATHER FRANCISZEK DRZEWIECKI (1908-1942), a Son of Divine Providence (Don Orione), from Zduny, he was condemned to heavy work in the plantation of Dachau. While he was bending over tilling the soil, hre adored the consecrated hosts kept in a small box in front of him. While he was going to the gas-chamber, he encourage his companions, saying “We offer our life for God, for the Church and for our Country”.
In this list of martyrs, there are also FATHER PIUS BARTOSIK (1909-1941) and FATHER ANTONI BAJEWSKI (1915-19412), both Franciscans of Niepokalanow. These were the closest collaborators of St Maximilian Kolbe in the fight for God’s cause and together suffered and helped each other spiritually in their offering their lives at Auschwitz.
The Message of the Martyrs
There are basically two reasons for these beatifcations. Firstly, to give glory to Christ our Saviour, who suffers and conquers in His martyrs for the spreading of the Kingdom of God, and, secondly, to show the great witness of the Church in Poland at the end of the twentieth century. This witness is all the more significant because this century will be remembered in history as a time of degradation for humanity in a way as yet unheard of, through ferocious wars, the genocide of entire peoples and systematic hatred for all that is good. Our martyrs are a prophetic sign of protest for such a world, and, at the same time, a sign of hope in the love of God and in the strength of the grace of the Saviour of mankind, that always triumphs even in the midst of a sea of hatred.
John Paul II, in the encyclical letter “Veritatis Splendor” n.91 remembers that “to elevate the martyrs to the level of the altar, the Church canonises their testimony and declares true their judgement according to which the love of God implies as a consequence respect for His commandments, even in the most difficult circumstances and the refusal to betray them, even with the intention of saving one’s own life”. “Martyrdom – as it is explained in n. 93 - is a marvellous sign of the Church: fidelity to the holy Law of God witnessed through death is a solemn proclamation and a missionary duty till death, because the splendour of moral truth may not be blurred in behaviour and in the mentality of society. Such witness offers a contribution of an extraordinary value because not only in civil society but also in the midst of the ecclesial communities people may not fall into the most dangerous crises that can befall man. The confusion of good and evil can make it impossible to build and keep the moral order of individuals and communities”.
The witness of the martyrs is inscribed in the memory of the Church, a memory which is usually different from the usual historical type because it is alive and bears fruit in the mystery of the communion of saints. On fire with great love of God, the martyrs are alive and able to inflame the spirit like passing light from torch to torch, in the courageous journey towards the great ideals of Christianity. They announce that the generous and total imitation of Christ makes the heart of man capable of the greatest sacrifice; they inspire authentic love also towards our homeland. They encourage great social responsibility, help to overcome the barriers of selfishness, of their own weakness in order to establish and authentic human order in the world.
Although it is fifty years since their matyrdom, the 108 new Polish Blesseds remain up- to- date and personal examples to imitate.
We have all this in front of our eyes when we present to the world Christian martyrs formed with the power of the Holy Spirit. They have given their own lives through witnessing their faith full of love of God and neighbour so that a greater and more lasting good may result from their sacrifice.
Blessed Fr. Franciszek DRZEWIECKI,
born at Zduny (Lowicz - Poland), killed in hatred of the faith at Dachau - Hartheim on 10th augustr 1942, at 34 years of age, 11 of reliogus Profession and 6 of Priesthood.
Francis entered the seminary of Zdunska Wola (Poland) as a teenager. After the grammar and philosophy schools, he went to Italy in 1931, to the Mother House of Tortona, for the noviciate and the study of theology. Ordained priest on June 6th 1936, he dedicated the first few months of his priesthood to the Little Cottolengo of Genova Castagna.
He returned to Poland at the end of 1937 and continued his work of teacher in the college of Zdunska Wola. In the summer of 1939 he was given the charge of the "Sacred Heart" Parish and of the Little Cottolengo of Wloclawek. Here he was overtaken by the Nazi September 1st invasion that soon became open persecution against the Catholic Church. On the 7th November of the same 1939, Father Francis, together with almost all the clergy of the diocese, was arrested and put in jail. A long "via crucis" of humiliations and sufferings brought him to various concentration camps and finally to Dachau. His fellow prisoners remember him as a "good man and a holy priest who edified by his kindness and attention".
After two years of hardship and privations, forced labour and heroic witness of strength and charity, he was killed on 10th august 1942. As he was being led to death, Father Francis affirmed calmly and willingly: "We are going… But we will offer, as Polish men, our lives for God, for the Church and for our country". These were his last words. Charity, the fruit of his habitual union with God, was the real framework of his life. It made him, first a model clerical student, then a zealous teacher and pastor and, lastly, it sustained him and carried him in the last horrible trial and death in the concentration camp. John Paul II proclaimed him blessed on 13th June 1999.
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