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Murdered anti-Communist priest Jerzy Popieluszko beatified

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Jerzy Popieluszko, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest and opposition activist murdered by Poland's Communist secret police 25 years ago, was beatified during a solemn service at Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square on Sunday.


AFP - Close to 150,000 faithful flooded into Warsaw Sunday for the beatification of Jerzy Popieluszko, a Roman Catholic priest and opposition activist murdered 25 years ago by Poland's communist secret police.

Archbishop Angelo Amato, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, represented Pope Benedict XVI at the beatification mass also attended by some 100 bishops, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Jerzy Buzek, the head of the European Parliament.

Benedict was not in Warsaw for the beatification but, speaking after a mass in mainly Orthodox Cyprus where he has been on a landmark visit, the head of the Roman Catholic Church paid tribute to Popieluszko.

"May his example and his intercession fire the enthusiasm of the priesthood and fill the faithful with love," Benedict said, speaking in Polish.

"His passionate service and his martyrdom are a special token of the victory of good over evil," he added.

The open-air ceremonies began mid-morning in brilliant sunshine in Warsaw's sprawling Pilsudski Square, a highly symbolic venue where in 1979 the freshly-elected Polish-born John Paul II celebrated a historic mass during his first pilgrimage as pope to then communist Poland.

Banners above the open-air altar were adorned with a huge sky blue dove symbolising the Holy Ghost, while another was inscribed with Popieluszko's trademark teaching: "Overcome evil with good".

"Father Jerzy is a hero. He knew his life was at risk, yet he didn't fear death and he didn't stop speaking out against all the wrongs of the regime. He refused to be silent," Anna Zwierzynski, 58, attending the Sunday beatification ceremonies told AFP.

After the two-hour-long beatification mass, Popieluszko's relics were to be carried in procession through Warsaw and laid to rest at the Temple of Divine Providence, an imposing church in the suburb of Wilanow, some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from Pilsudski Square.

"I cried when my son left this earth, and now it is with joy that I greet his beatification," Popieluszko's mother, Marianna Popieluszko, who recently turned 100, told reporters prior to the beatification ceremonies.

Asked what the secret is to raising a son like Father Popieluszko, she replied: "Love people, Love God, with all your heart."

In 2001, under John Paul II, the Vatican opened Popieluszko's beatification process which could lead to his eventual canonisation as a saint, while in 2008 Benedict XVI agreed to fast-track the murdered priest's case.

A vocal supporter of the anti-communist Solidarity trade union who served at the church of St. Stanislaw Kostka in the Warsaw suburb of Zoliborz, Popieluszko was 37 when he was brutally murdered by the communist secret police and has already been recognised as a martyr.

On October 19, 1984, Popieluszko was kidnapped by three secret police officers after celebrating his last mass in Bydgoszcz, central Poland.

The priest was tortured to death before his body was thrown into the Vistula river, 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Warsaw.

Identified thanks to the priest's chauffeur, the three secret police officers directly responsible for his murder were jailed for between 14 and 25 years.

No high-ranking official was found guilty however. Two secret service generals were tried but acquitted due to lack of evidence.

As chaplain of the anti-communist Solidarity trade union, Popieluszko symbolised the peaceful struggle of the Solidarity opposition against Poland's communist-era totalitarian regime.

Celebrated after the December 1981 imposition of the martial law crackdown against the Solidarity opposition by Poland's then leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Popieluszko's Masses for the Homeland drew thousands, to the chagrin of communist authorities.

Preaching only peaceful resistance against the communist regime he urged the faithful to "overcome evil with good".


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