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WARSAW (ChurchMilitant.com) - Poland's "Primate of the Millennium" is now on the path to beatification.
On Tuesday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis has signed a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Cdl. Stefan Wyszyński (1901–1981), bestowing on him the title "Venerable."
"I am very grateful to Pope Francis and to all who worked on the preparation of the beatification materials for the process. We are waiting for the conclusion of the process that will show his figure in a fuller light and his merits for the Church and for Poland," said Abp. Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish Bishops' Conference.
Stefan Wyszyński was born in 1901 when Poland was still a restive region at the edge of the Russian Empire.
While still an adolescent, he entered Higher Seminary — the nation's first, founded in 1569 — in the western city of Włocławek.
Ordained in 1924, he was assigned to Włocławek's Basilica Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.
Wyszyński celebrated his first Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving at Jasna Góra, site of the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa (the "Black Madonna"), patroness and guardian of Poland.
During World War II, the pious priest was hunted by the Nazis and forced to go underground.
He survived the war, and in 1946, Wyszyński was named bishop of Lublin.
Two years later, Pope Pius XII appointed him archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw and the Primate of Poland.
By then, Soviet-sponsored Communists had seized power in Poland. By the early 1950s, aping their overlords in Moscow, Polish Communists had adopted a Stalinist program of repression against the Church.
In November 1952, Wyszyński was named cardinal but was prevented by the government from traveling to Rome for his investiture.
The next year, he was accused of allowing priests to engage in anti-Communist activities; placed under house arrest, Wyszyński was effectively locked away for three years.
Released in 1956, the cardinal set about preparing Poland for the millennial celebration of the baptism of Poland, for which he later became known as the "Primate of the Millennium."
In his "Vows of the Polish Nation of Jasna Góra" (penned during his imprisonment), he called for "a great moral revival," urging his countrymen to deepen their faith in the Cross and to the Gospel and rallying them to remember the inseparability of Polish and Christian tradition — the nation's shared system of values.
In 1961, in the largest public gathering since the Communists took power, 100,000 Poles converged on St. Anne's Church in Warsaw to hear Cdl. Wyszyński speak on renewing Poland's soul.
He dedicated Warsaw, the nation's capital and largest city, to Our Lady of Częstochowa.
The cardinal then declared to the assembly that the state was usurping the God-given rights of men. But rather than incite revolution, he led the people in prayer.
Wyszyński called them to pray for their persecutors, proclaiming, "With full hearts, we forgive our enemies — we forgive the enemies of God!" The crowd responded, crying out, "We forgive!"
Though the address lasted only a few minutes, it was significant. As historian Paul Radzilowski explains, the incident essentially marked "the beginning of what would prove a nearly decade-long struggle between Wyszyński and the Communist state over things as basic as the right of the Church alone to define the contents of seminary and religious education and the ability of sisters to teach it."
"In this contest," he writes, "the regime would use propaganda, law, control of education and the media, local ordinances, taxation, intimidation, harassment and occasionally violence, to undermine the role of the Church in Polish society and Wyszyński in particular."
"Yet none of it worked," Radzilowski adds, "and the stature of Wyszyński and the Polish Church grew both at home and abroad."
Wyszyński was an active participant — and noted conservative — during the Second Vatican Council.
"Together with the rest of the Polish episcopate," Radzilowski writes, "he helped to ensure that the Marian element was strong in the Vatican II constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, with special emphasis on her role as Mother of the Church."
The cardinal's wider influence is reflected in the pastoral approach of Cdl. Karol Wojtyła of Krakow, Wyszyński's junior colleague in the Polish episcopate in the lead-up to his 1978 election to the papacy:
The future pope indeed learned much from Wyszyński. ... For instance, the use of mass pilgrimage to build Catholic identity and win the youth away from secular models of culture, the careful respect for the national and folk dimensions of piety, and the need to engage the world, but cautiously and prudently — all mark ways in which John Paul II was in continuity with Wyszyński.
As Primate of Poland, Wyszyński played a leading role in Wojtyła's election to the chair of Peter.
Wyszyński died three years into Pope St. John Paul II's pontificate. Two years later, in view of his merits, Church officials in Poland initiated the process of beatification.
Over the next two decades, they compiled more than three dozen books of files on his life and transferred them to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
On December 12, the Congregation issued a positive opinion of Cdl. Wyszyński's heroic virtues, setting the stage for Pope Francis' declaration Monday.
Now, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will analyze any miraculous claims credited to Venerable Wyszyński's intercession. If a genuine miracle is identified, beatification will follow.
In the meantime, Poland's faithful are praying their "Primate of the Millennium" will join the ranks of the country's cultus, to stand alongside St. Maria Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe OFM Conv., St. Albert Chmielowski and Pope St. John Paul II, among a host of others.