A Polish priest who was murdered in 1984 by secret policemen working for the then ruling communist authorities was beatified last weekend by the Vatican, a step that puts him on course for eventual sainthood. The news meant a lot to me because, although I’m not Catholic, I came to know the priest well when I lived and worked in Warsaw as a young reporter in the 1980s.
His name was Jerzy Popieluszko, and he was famous throughout Poland for the anti-communist ”masses for the homeland” that he used to hold at his church, St Stanislaw Kostka, in the Warsaw suburb of Zoliborz. No Sunday evening was complete without a visit to the church to hear the singing of patriotic hymns and the voice of Popieluszko denouncing the latest injustices of the communist regime. Thousands upon thousands of Poles used to attend these masses, filling the streets all around the church. I and other Western reporters used to slip into the vestry to make sure we could hear every word of his sermons.
When I wrote stories about Popieluszko for my employers, the Reuters news agency, the editors would sometimes ask me to file a note for English-speaking readers giving guidance on how to pronounce his name. I came up with something like ” YEAH-zhy Pop-yeah-WHOOSH-koh”.