Paprocki on Wojtyla as a model of courage in defending religious freedom

Paprocki on Wojtyla as a model of courage in defending religious freedom
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki
The Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield, Il.  delivered the homily for the Red Mass in Houston Texas. He warns us of the aggressive form of secular ideology that is permeating our society, animating many politicians and cultural leaders to make every effort to reduce the Church’s presence in the public sphere. He draws inspiration from the courage of Cardinals Wyszyński and Wojtyla. I reproduce that portion of his homily below. (Find the full homily here)

Perhaps the best antidote to profane secularism can be learned from the example of those who withstood and defeated godless communism. One of the staunchest defenders of the Church in communist Poland was the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. In May 1953, the communist regime ordered the implementation of a law by which it, not the Catholic Church, would appoint and remove pastors, vicars and bishops. The Church would become, de facto, a subsidiary of the state. In a powerful sermon at Warsaw’s St. John’s Cathedral, Cardinal Wyszyński drew the line, saying, “We teach that it is proper to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. But when Caesar sits himself on the altar, we respond curtly: he may not.”

Shortly afterwards Cardinal Wyszyński was arrested and began three years of internment. “By the end of the year, eight bishops and 900 priests were in prison for their faith. The numbers would increase to 2,000 over the next two years, while theological faculties were closed, parents threatened, religious education stopped in the schools, and onerous taxes [were] laid on the Church.” When unrest took hold of Poland in the form of workers’ demonstrations during a general strike in June 1956 that was crushed by tanks of the Red Army, the new communist leader realized that “only one man could calm the situation – Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński – and so he had him released from his interment, but only after Cardinal Wyszyński demanded and received other concessions from the communist authorities.
A young Bishop by the name of Karol Wojtyła would follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Wyszyński in defending . Following World War II, the Polish government established a town called Nowa Huta in the industrial outskirts of Kraków. They intended it to be a model communist city without God, comprised of steel workers and other laborers, but in which there was to be no church building. The Polish Catholics of Nowa Huta and the local Auxiliary Bishop thought otherwise. On December 24, 1959, Bishop Wojtyła began celebrating Christmas Midnight Mass in a freezing open field in Nowa Huta during the years in which the communist regime refused a building permit. On October 13, 1967, the communist authorities finally gave permission to build a church, and the very next day, Wojtyła, who by then had become the Cardinal Archbishop of Kraków, “drove to Nowa Huta and turned the symbolic first spade of earth, preparing the ground for the cornerstone, which was donated by [Pope] Paul VI and taken from a fragment of Constantine’s ancient basilica of St. Peter in Rome.” The triumph of Cardinal Wojtyła was celebrated with his dedication of the new church in Nowa Huta on May 15, 1977.
Poland was blessed with some strong bishops during the years of communist persecution, especially Cardinal Wyszyński and Cardinal Wojtyła, but we should note that their eventual success was bolstered by a fervent and determined laity. Without the protests of the laity, Cardinal Wyszyński would not have been released from his confinement and Cardinal Wojtyła would never have dedicated a new church in Nowa Huta. People need to keep that in mind when they demand strong leadership from their bishops. Yes, the successors of the apostles must be willing to lay down their lives for the faith as did the first apostles, but bishops should also be able to count on the dedicated and zealous support of the lay Christian faithful.


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