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Poland: Fr Jerzy Popieluszko is beatified

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko on the day of his ordination

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko on the day of his ordination

More than 150,000 people gathered in Warsaw this morning,  for the beatification of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, a Catholic priest and campaigner for human rights who was murdered in October 1984, by the communist secret police.

At the Beatification Mass, Pope Benedict was represented by Archbishop Angelo Amato, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, together with more than 120 bishops, 1,300 priests and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Jerzy Buzek, the head of the European Parliament.

The ceremony was held under bright blue skies in Pilsudski Square - the same place where the newly-elected Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated an historic Mass on his first visit as Pope to then communist Poland.

A huge banner above the open-air altar was inscribed with Fr Jerzy's trademark teaching: 'Overcome evil with good'.

Among the congregation was his mother Marianna, who is now 100.  She told reporters; "I cried when my son left this earth, and now it is with tears of joy that I greet his beatification."

Asked how she had raised her son, she said he had been borught up to: "Love people, Love God, with all your heart."

After the Mass, Popieluszko's relics were carried in procession through Warsaw and laid to rest at the Church of Divine Providence,  in the suburb of Wilanow.

The Vatican began Fr Popieluszko's beatification process  in 2001 under Pope John Paul II. In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI agreed to fast-track his cause.

Fr Popieluszko was a quiet priest who suffered poor health and was not particularly well known as a preacher,  until  he was appointed to the church of St Stanislaw Kostka in the Warsaw suburb of Zoliborz, as chaplain to the Solidarity trade union.  In his sermons he encouraged the workers to pray and fight for their rights by peaceful means. His Masses for the Homeland, with references to freedom and  Catholic social teachings, drew huge crowds during the communist crackdown on the opposition in the early 1980s. Besides ministering the sacraments Fr Jerzy worked around the clock helping to  organise food, clothing and medical aid for his parishioners.

He survived the first assassination attempt - a car accident -  but two weeks later, on 19 October, after he had celebrated Mass in Bydgoszcz, central Poland, three secret policemen kidnapped him. He was beaten, bound, gagged and stuffed in a sack weighed down with stones and thrown into the Vistula River.  He was just 37.

His driver managed to escape, and alerted the world to what had happened. Fr Jerzy's murder sparked national outrage and drew hundreds of thousands of people to his funeral, in what was widely seen as a massive show of opposition to the communist regime. The authorities conducted a quick trial and convicted four Security Service officers. All of them have since been released from prison. No high-ranking official has ever been found guilty of involvement.

A pamphlet: Jerzy Popieluszko is available from CTS at: www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_B654.html