The embrace between John Paul II and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński (Photo: ServizioFotograficoOR/CPP)

"Were it not for your faith"

On September 12, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Polish Primate of the "Millennium", will be beatified. His life was a bulwark of Christianity in the face of totalitarianism. From the September issue of Tracce.

Just as their closeness on earth was assiduous, fruitful and fraternal, thus we can now imagine them close in heavenly bliss. Stefan Wyszyński will now receive the halo of the blessed, approaching the glory of sanctity already granted to Karol Wojtyla, who himself wished to begin his cause of canonization. The water of the silver Vistula, which bathes Krakow and Warsaw (flowing into Gdansk), the cities where the two men worked as pastors of the Church entrusted to them, is thus tinged with reflections of memory and spiritual gratitude that reach beyond the borders of Poland itself. The moving words of Karol, who had just taken office as John Paul II in Rome, to his brother Stefan come to mind: "Venerable and beloved Cardinal Primate, allow me to tell you just what I think. This Polish pope, who today, full of fear of God, but also of trust, is beginning a new pontificate, would not be on Peter's chair were it not for your faith which did not retreat before prison and suffering. Were it not for your heroic hope, your unlimited trust in the Mother of the Church!" (Letter to the people of Poland, October 23, 1978).

These words are doubly true, since with time the authoritativeness of Wyszyński's government action and the clarity of his directives towards the faithful, clergy and bishops had become proverbial. Therefore, Wojtyla's acceptance of his election as Pontiff was certainly a "yes" to the choice of the Cardinals of the universal Church enlightened by the Holy Spirit, but also an act of obedience to his Primate who, before the vote in the Conclave, had "suggested" to him, in a sober and peremptory tone: "If they choose you, you must accept". The other meaning of these words by John Paul II has a more historical and biographical character, related to the personal experience of Wyszyński, who was twenty years older than Wojtyla.

History soon placed heavy responsibilities on Wyszyński with his appointment as Primate of Poland in 1948, in the aftermath of a period of bloody chaos: 25% of the Polish clergy had perished in Nazi concentration camps, another 15% were severely crippled, and, as if that were not enough, the end of the Nazi German rule was replaced by the Russian Communist regime. Three things immediately became clear to Wyszyński: 1) it was necessary to save what could be saved in the adverse situation of a totalitarian power that declared itself an atheist; 2) it was necessary to preserve the unity of the Church, clergy and faithful, which was subject to terrible tensions; 3) it was necessary that he not dismiss talks-negotiations with the communist power. This meant: 1) the need to negotiate with the government; 2) not to allow the birth of "patriotic" Catholic movements, i.e., pro-government, as was happening in other nations under the Communist heel; 3) to direct the national activities himself and not delegate them to the Holy See. This was a difficult and difficult path, which only his solidity of mind and faith, and that of the conscience of the entire Polish people, made it possible for him to undertake. However, this was not enough; it also required a personal act of suffering when in 1953 the Polish episcopate, which had signed an agreement with the government in 1950, urged by Wyszyński (and with a touch of perplexity on the part of the Metropolitan of Krakow, Cardinal Sapieha), decided - again urged by Wyszyński - to criticize the constant failures and growing demands of the agreement ("The things of God cannot be offered on the altars of Caesar. Non possumus"). In response, the Communist government placed the Pastor under house arrest, in total isolation from his flock and his family. He remained there for three long years, in the face of de-Stalinization and the Khrushchevian "bonhomie". These were three years of fruitful solitude to which we owe his touching The Prison Notes; these are vivid and very fine pages in which the faith and probity of this man really stand out. It is impossible not to quote a few excerpts because it is within these pages that those heroic virtues shine through, which, beyond his merits as a wise leader of the Polish Church, make him an authentic witness of Christ who still edifies and inspires by his example. In the variety of registers, from the lyrical to the reflective, from the familiar to the "political", from the cultured to the popular, from the ironic to the spiritual, the personality of a truly extraordinary man is sculpted.

On the condition of imprisonment, November 29, 1953. "Since the requests I have made up to this point have not been taken into consideration, I have decided to do nothing more to defend myself (...). I shall also try to refrain from reflection about my present situation. One Ave Maris Stella provides more joy and freedom than the entire logic of a possible self-defense. For some time now my soul has treasured the words of Cardinal Mercier, so often repeated by Father Korniłowicz: "I do not like to think of what used to be, nor foolishly dream of what will be – these things are up to God. The purpose of life comes down to the present moment.”

On Anti-Christian Hatred, Jan. 6, 1954. "Herods are a strange lot. In hating too much, they become apostles of the cause they fight against. Herod was the first to believe in the King of the Jews. He created a good deal of publicity for Him all over Jerusalem. First he sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem. He forced the Doctors of the Law to study well the prophetic Books so that they could discover where the Christ was to be born. Jesus was still a little ‘newborn’ and already Herod's world was trembling. (...) The persecutors of God work for His Glory."

On the Communist humanity of his jailers, April 19, 1954: "The indifference of those around us towards order, more than once, gave us the amusing impression that we are the materialists and they are the idealists, who despise everything that requires effort and order (...). Watching them we could make predictions about the future of the system (...). These were obviously men in search of easy ways and a comfortable life. Who among them knew the Marxist doctrine well? And who believed in it? I was probably the only one in that house who had gone through Das Kapital three times, beginning in the seminary!”

On prayer, May 5, 1954. "Careless words are like empty boxes with illegible labels. Careless prayer is a pile of empty boxes. Is a storehouse of empty boxes valuable? Who comes here to nourish themselves?"

Read also - The beginning of my search

His prison diary should be read because it was there, amid the many trials, that his tempered faith guided the Cardinal's actions throughout his life and that would see him as the leading figure of the great religious event in 1966 for the millennium celebration of Christianity in Poland. The Primate of the Millennium is not a cold, bio-chronological definition, but it a title of honor given to a Pastor who made the anniversary bear fruit by reminding his nation, extensively, where the treasure of its identity lies; this is the antibody against every poisonous virus of history and is the source from which to draw energy against any difficulty and struggle. If Wojtyla can be considered the fuse for the peaceful liberation of the whole of Europe from communism, Wyszyński's tenacious, decades-long pastoral commitment to strengthen the Christian roots of Poland, and its role as "bulwark of Christianity", was the propellant. In light of Wyszyński's instruction not to hate one's enemies, it does not seem out of place to quote here the respectful words that General Wojciech Jaruzelski wrote, in his Memoirs, about the Cardinal: "That prelate impressed me for more than one reason. I knew his past, the trials he had had to endure in the fifties, particularly during his imprisonment. I was aware of his determination and intransigence. I also knew that he was first and foremost a patriot who was deeply, vitally attached to the destiny of his country. He always expressed respect for the Polish state (...) He had always fought to safeguard the position and authority of the Church, but he had always ensured that this fierce and unrelenting struggle did not harm the interests of the State. He fought for the interests of the Church and of believers, but he was careful to preserve the international position of the State."

The raising of this patriot and heroic Polish disciple of Christ to the honor of the altars will revive within contemporary and future co-science that the certain victory of Christ cannot but pass through the dulce lignum of the Cross. In his own words, written in prison: "The cause of Christ has existed almost two thousand years, and men continue to be put in prison for it. This cause is not outdated, it is current, fresh, young, fascinating."