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Interview with
Fr Roman Wiszniewski

parish priest of Drelów in the Diocese of Siedlce and lecturer of patristic at Institute of Catholic Theology in Siedlce

Mr Pawel Osikowski (Głos Katolicki) – When we speak about the Masses for the Country we think spontaneously about Father Popieluszko from Warsaw whose the 20th  anniversary of death is now celebrated. But such Messes have a quite long tradition in our country. In the time of war (introduced by Jaruzelski at 1981) such Masses were celebrated in eastern part on Poland. It was your initiative.

Fr Roman Wiszniewski – The Pope John Paul II after his election demanded to pray for him so that he would not remain alone in his pontifical service. As a response to this appeal in all parishes on Poland a Mass for the Pope was introduced; such a Mass was celebrated at 16th  of every month. Because in that period Poland was in a difficult situation, the people prayed for the Pope and for the country as well. In the time of war such Messes were quite transformed into Masses for the country, especially after the death of Father Popieluszko. Even some time earlier, in 80th , especially in cities, the people working for big companies demanded a Mass for the country. It is not to be forget:  it was the  time of returning of crosses and other religious signs to the public places, like schools, factories, offices.  Before putting a cross in a place, a Mass in the church was celebrated; such a Mass was prepared in a particular war; it was a solemnity. In this way a tradition was formed. In November 1984 Cardinal Glemp, Primate of Poland said that the work of Father Popieluszko should be continued. Since that time in the whole Poland the priests started to celebrate  Mass for the country. In this sense, I was not alone to celebrate such  Masses.

Mr P.O. – The celebration of the Mass for the country has a quite long tradition in Poland, such Masses were celebrated  even earlier, in XIX century.

Fr R.W. – This tradition is old indeed. In the time of monarchy the king and the knights used to take part in a Mass for the country for example before a  battle or in any difficult circumstances, there was a tradition to organize processions. Many people took part in such prayer. There are some documents which proof this tradition during the January Insurrection (1863). It is known that in 1920 – it was the time of war between Poland and Russia – the military operations were accompanied by the prayer of many people. The testimony of general Weigand is highly appreciated on this subject.

Mr P.O. – What about the Masses for the country in the diocese of Siedlce: were they similar to any others which were celebrated over Poland in that time or perhaps they had something special?

Fr R. W. – Generally, the Masses in Warsaw (and everywhere in Poland) and in Biala Podlaska (I was there a priest assistant) had the same character; they gave to the people much force of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual strength. The people taking part in such a Mass became stronger in the spiritual sense. In this way the chains of slavery was gradually destroyed. This is – I think – a similar point. And the difference? Surely, the number of persons coming to the Mass for the country was bigger in Warsaw; there ware more churches. But I suppose that perhaps in Biała Podlaska the influence of our Masses on the people might have been bigger. Why?  Because in a small city the Masse for the country it was an important event, realised by many persons, the people spoke about it, shared theirs opinions, while in a big city such a Mass was one of many events.

Mr P. O. – Did  the  proximity  of the border with the former Soviet union have an influence on the people?  For those who took part in such a Mass was the risk bigger to be attacked then in other parts of Poland?

Fr R.W. – What concerns the risk to attacked because of the border, is it difficult to say something with precision. The whole country was ruled by the communist system. It is sure that in our part of Poland there were many policemen everywhere, perhaps more that in other parts. The police cars were placed very often near the church during the celebration. Surely, they wanted to frighten people and priests as well. Like everywhere in Poland, some priest were convoked to the police station (to be reprimanded) or to a special Department for Confessions.   

Mr P. O. – And in spite of it the people used to come… Why?

Fr R.W. – It is known that the Solidarity issued from our community of spirit. The time of war of Jaruzelski has blocked somehow this solidarity; the authorities wanted for any price to separate the people. In this context the Masses for the country   helped to experience our national and Christian  unity and solidarity. Such assemblies helped to act together for the country. An important role played the common singing. Our religious songs and hymns poured out in the troubled hearts strength, some internal power. It was of course an opportunity to pray God for benediction for our country.

Mr P. O. – The Masses for the country, especially celebrated by Fr Popieluszko, made the communist authorities crazy and furious. The official propagation accused the priests, especially those who were active in the Solidarity, to inspire hatred et to be involved into the politics. Such accusations were accompanied by many kinds of threats. Did they threaten you too? Have you been conscious of a danger?

Fr R.W. – Generally I was aware of danger. I have been convoked many times to the police station. In January 1984 I received a anonymous letter: somebody warned me to be careful – while driving car -  on the lorries  with snow plough; apparently my enemies wanted to smash me with such a machine. It is clear in Polish climate it would be easy to explain such event as an accident on the road.

Mr P. O. – Did you change the tune of your sermons after the death of Fr Popieluszko?

Fr R. W. – A little bit perhaps, but not in the sense of ceasing. Of course, I was aware that there was a danger to be attacked, even killed. Just after the killing of Fr Popieluszko the Primate of Poland published a communiqué in which he demanded that the activity of this priest martyr would be continued over the country. We understood that we should not stop, but in the contrary, we should increase our efforts, we should pray and inspire our people to many sorts of activities in benefit of our country. As catholic priests we did not encourage our citizens to any violence or military fight. We wanted to show the Christian attitude in such circumstances, we looked for good examples in our history and literature, of course the whole teaching given in that time was based on the Holy Scripture and  on the Christian doctrine, we used to find quotations from the writing of the Cardinal Wyszynski. We wanted to remember our faithful that we were using the whole heritage of the past et this obliges us to work for the liberty of the country and to live and act with Christian dignity. In that time we received the sermons of Father Popieluszko, we made quotations from them and he became an authority for us all. In this sense, we were not involved in any politics and in the same time we contributed a lot to the liberty of our country.

Mr P. O. – What was the position of the Polish government of that time, especially after introducing of the time of war by Jaruzelski? Did they want to make pressing on the Church and on the priests to stop preaching in the patriotic sense and to stop to celebrate the Masses for the country?

Fr R.W. – The communist authorities used to accuse the priests to make politics. Some time they interrogated people, they threaded the students to expel them from their schools or universities, they were doing many other things. According to the Institute of National Memory, there were about 500 priests who openly continued the activity of Father Popieluszko. Of course, the communist authorities wanted to stop all that,   but all what they did  was without effect.

Mr P. O. – What do you think now, after twenty years, of all that: especially of the big number of persons taking part in the Masses for the country? Do you think that today such an engagement would be possible? How do you see the fruits of all the prayers and manifestation in the spirit of faith of that time?

Fr R. W. – The big number of persons taking part in the Masse for the country was a phenomenon of that time. There was a necessity to be together because the situation was difficult. Now there is no need for such assemblies.  What concerns the fruits… surely, the seed of that time is not lost. A lot of people who used to come to the church in that time, now live their faith and educate their children in the same spirit. Many persons  working for the liberty in that time, now work for the prosperity of the country in many places, in administration for example. So the seed is growing.

Mr P. O. – Now we have the III-rd  Commonwealth of Poland. Do you think does the country need once again some Masses for the country? If it does, what should be their message?

Fr R. W. – There is no doubt, every country need a prayer. Surely, in Poland  the Masses for the country like in the former period are not to be organized. But of course, we ought to keep in memory that Poland  is our common duty, that everyone has some work to do. We have to better understand that some obligations towards the country issue from the Divine Providence. Now in the time of looking for new ways of serving the country, we should find inspiration in the faith and – as usual – we need the God’s benediction.

Mr P. O. – As you now in the modern Europe, the values like patriotism or honesty in public life seem to be out of date. How is it in Poland?

Fr R. W. – After my opinion, the general situation in Poland has not changed. It is still the same country, there are still the same people. It true that the many things have changed and consequently appeared now tasks and new challenge. There are some people who are lost in the modern world, who make jokes of any value, but such cases  are always  exceptional. For most Polish people, Poland remains still a common house and common obligation.

Mr P.O. – Are you going to say that the contemporary Polish society is not demoralised in comparison to the time of Solidarity?

Fr R.W. – I do not think that the Polish society is demoralised. There are some lost people, it is true. The medias form a not very good image because they inform about crimes and scandals. There are of course some negative events, but I think there are some centres  which want to create a negative image of Poland. What we ascertain: in the church there are always a lot of people, just like before, the catechesis is done in every public school, in the country there are lot of catholic groups, movements and organisations. Generally, there is no reason to speak about a demoralisation of the society.

Mr P. O. – Now, to end our very nice conversation, can you say that is the aim of your visit in France?

Fr R. W. – I came to Paris to take part in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the death of Father Popieluszko. I wanted to exercise a similar activity in the time of Solidarity and now I am happy to be in Paris,  in the city where this anniversary is so solemnly celebrated, with participation of public and ecclesiastic authorities.

Mr P. O. – What do you think about the performance  “Do the country of abundance” realised by the group  Tabor of Polish Catholic Mission in Paris?

Fr R. W. – I did enjoy it. I was impressed by the Prophet who represented the Primate of Poland and by the White Father – the Pope John Paul II; he has no military power, but he has authority over millions  persons in the world. The scene on the round table was full of meaning: everyone wanted to take something for himself from the commonwealth. Surely, the author of the spectacle must known very well  the situation in Poland. I did appreciate the end of the performance: the actors and the people in the  theatre sing together  : Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.


Głos Katolicki nr 39 (7.11.2004)