For the most part, we have sat silently, acquiescing to such a radical agenda.
In the not too distant future, each of us may have to make the same type of choice my Lay Dominican brother, Roman Gorski, had to make some years ago in his native Poland – forfeit his physical comfort, and freedom or lose his soul.
He has given me permission to share his story, not to bring attention to himself but in hopes it will serve as a clarion call to all Catholics and Christians in this nation – be ready to suffer for your Faith.
Although lengthier than most of the work I have shared on this blog, the article is well-worth your time.
Strengthened by Faith by Mr. Roman Gorski, O.P.
|(Image Source: From the House Tops)|
[This firsthand account by Roman Gorski, who lived in Poland at the same time as Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, tells of his struggle to keep the Faith in an atheistic regime.]
On October 16, 1978, I was in a streetcar in my college town of Lublin, Poland, when a stranger entered the car and announced: "Have you heard the news? Cardinal Wojtyla from Krakow is our new Pope." It was shocking news and hard for me to believe. When I arrived at my college dorm, my colleagues were also excitedly talking about the new Pope. Why did this news make us so happy? Why was it so important to us? In Poland, for all practical purposes, it was challenging to keep the Faith and now the person in the highest position in the Church comes from our country. It was like a miracle from Heaven, and a sign for all Catholics that God is still in charge, no matter how powerful governments may appear.
I grew up in a very patriotic Catholic family. To understand Poland it is essential to know that Church and politics cannot be separated there like in other countries. Members of my family fought against the Russians in the 1863 insurrection. My grandmother's twin brothers joined the battle against the Russian Army in the First World War and again in 1919 against the Bolsheviks. One of the twins died in combat, killed by the Soviets. Only nineteen years later, in September, 1939, we faced another war when Poland was attacked by Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. Our allies, France and England, abandoned us in the fight. During the German occupation, in the Second World War my father and grandfather joined the Resistance fighters, only to be forsaken by the so-called Big Powers that they had defended, and our country was given over to Soviet domination.
The Soviets established a repressive, Godless system, which lasted almost 50 years, ending in 1989. During this period many Polish patriots were killed or arrested. The Church was persecuted. The press, radio, TV, and publications were all censored. The word "God" was removed from school textbooks and public life. The regime wanted "to put God in the closet," but no matter how they tried, the Communists could not take Him out of our lives and our souls. They knew this and they were afraid to close all of the churches in Poland until they "converted us" to their atheistic ideology. They wanted to "own us," but we were not for sale!
I first faced Communist indoctrination in elementary school where some of the teachers constantly glorified Communism, the Soviet Union, and made negative statements about anything that was Polish or Christian. Any manifestation of Catholic Poland, like the Boy Scouts marching in uniform, was ridiculed and punished, trying to intimidate us. The pressure increased in high school and we were strongly encouraged to advance ourselves by becoming members of the Communist Youth Organization. Every May I and in November on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, students were forced to join in the Communist Parades, but my classmates and I boycotted those events as much as possible.
In 1972, I was admitted into the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Maria-Curie Sklodowska (UMCS) in Lublin and during this time, as part of a student exchange program, I went to the Soviet Union. We where sent to a labor camp in a country village, where we spent four weeks building an elementary school. This was part of Poland before the Second World War, Thanks to the Yalta agreement Poland lost seven eastern provinces to the Soviet Union. The exchange program was the government's show case lo the West how good the Communists were and to win their monetary support. In the village we worked together with Soviet students from a technical college and were taught masonry by local professionals. The summer was very hot and the bricks were heavy so one day we took off our shirts to work. When we did this, our co-workers noticed our chains with religious rnedals and crosses around our necks. The Soviet leaders were upset with this simple witness of our faith. It wasn't that they did not believe, but they actually hated God and did not want to be reminded of Him.
The next thing we knew an atheistic lector from Minsk came to address us. The purpose of his visit was to convince us that religion was the "opium of masses" and that it conflicted with the "great political system" of Communism. Although he thought he was pretty clever, his talk was very naïve and primitive. It was hard for us to imagine an adult living with an ideology so void of substance. During his diatribe, he complained that foreigners would often smuggle Bibles into the USSR unnecessarily. He bragged that the Soviet government publishes a better Bible for Soviet citizens, leaving out anything that conflicts with the Communist ideology, which in his eyes is an improvement on the Gospels. As an example he quoted Saint Matthew, "...birds in the sky do not work but collect food for free..." This was a bad idea for the Soviet people, he said, because if they took this as an example they would stop working. We found his reasoning so shallow that we responded with jokes, making light of it. When my colleagues and I returned to Poland after the camp in the Soviet Union, I was expelled from college on the basis of my unpolitical behavior in that country. Several weeks later I was drafted into the military and spent the next two years of my life in the Air Force.
In this environment two types of indoctrination began. One was negative and one positive. The negative was a blackout of religion, denying us any occasion to practice our Faith. For example, during "boot camp" I was not allowed to go off the base and because of that, I could not attend Sunday Mass. If a military chaplain was on base the Communists kept him away from us, telling them, we were "under training" or on duty. The positive propaganda was the concerted effort of political officers who tried to infect us with classes in their ideology. For the most part they did not succeed. We were very resistant to Communist propaganda, because we loved our Faith and centered our lives on it. In return, God gave us the wisdom to see through snares set before us. The military service made me stronger not only physically, but also mentally. When I left I was required to re-take the test to enter college again.
The worst evil of atheistic Communism is the material aspect. In a repressive regime like the one in Poland, to deny God and your Faith and embrace the tenets of Communism would bring you great material advantage and comfort. You could get a better job, better housing, higher social status. But to most Poles, it was out of the question, Pole = Catholic and they could not be separated. So the workers struggled in these adverse conditions until they could not take it any longer. In 1976 strikes and demonstrations in the city of Radom were pacified by the brutality of riot militia and Secret Police and many workers were arrested.
Polish intellectuals organized legal assistance for them while the Church provided spiritual and material support. Many dissident groups were born in academic communities, working independently at first, defending those who had been persecuted. They published information about the abuses of the government, news from abroad, prohibited books and magazines, breaking the official government control and censorship laws. During this time I joined these underground activities by contacting underground publishers. I wanted to get my hands on and distribute those "illegal" publications in order to educate students and seminarians so they could spread their knowledge of the truth to other students and parishioners. One of those books was an encyclical Redemptor Hominis by our Polish Pope, "Truth" was a subversive word.
I also organized a small, underground library and managed the circulation of independent materials, beyond the control of government censorship. It is hard to imagine citizens being treated like children and being told what they can believe. It is the basic human right of freedom to be able to think for yourself, without being punished.
When Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, hope and happiness filled our hearts. Many people, who had been afraid of the Communist Secret Police before, were gaining courage from the words of John Paul II: "...Do not be afraid." Life was taking a very different and more positive perspective. We started believing that Communism would eventually collapse. People began to organize protests complaining about the lack of food, supplies, and freedom due to corruption. We even began to fight for permits to build new churches. We can never doubt that God will defeat evil in the end, for He is all-powerful.
The courage gained had its price to pay. One day after my friend's father was put in prison, she and I were going from church to church in her county to have Masses said for him, and she was also arrested. I barely escaped. When we went to court to defend her father, a few days later, we were attacked and beaten by the riot police and many of us were arrested. The Communists kept us in jail for 48 hours and ordered us to pay a fine. Because the government ran the university I attended, an investigation was opened against me. Due to this I was unable to present my master's thesis as scheduled. All this happened just a few weeks before SOLIDARITY was born. It seemed like the last hours of evil were filled with fury in a death struggle.
After college, I started working in my hometown as the state archivist and later as a researcher. My colleague and I had established a SOLIDARITY Union in our division of the state archive. This came as a shock to the director who was not a Communist, but had been collaborating with the Secret Police. Local Communist Party Committee and the police ordered her to fire us. This is the type of persecution that was experienced by Catholics in Poland. It was hard to resist for some when they had to support families. But trust in God never failed us and, thanks to lawyers supporting SOLIDARITY, we were eventually given our jobs back. This injustice made us stronger in our conviction to fight the system. We began publishing a bulletin to keep everyone informed on Solidarity. In 1981, I left my position as state archivist to teach history in a local high school, where I was under constant surveillance. The math teacher and a school administrator were both former members of the Secret Police and militia; therefore my teaching career was very short! Within three month, just before midnight on December 12, 1981, a riot police officer with the assistance of two Secret Police agents broke a window in my house, to arrest me. I was sent to prison for anti- Communist and anti-Soviet activities along with over five thousand Solidarity activists and opposition members. I spent one year in prison without a court sentence at the same time martial law was declared in Poland. During that terrible time the Communists tried to convince me and my colleagues to cooperate with them. At first they used psychological pressure, and then force. The majority of us were able to resist these methods.
At home I had left behind my terrified wife Ewa, and our little daughter, Klaudia, along with my elderly parents. How could I endure this when a little cooperation would bring me freedom? My Faith meant more to me than my life and I refused to be part of freedom brought at the price of my soul. During the year I was sent to three different prisons. At one a priest from the local parish tried to come to see us, but his request was denied. Several times I was forcefully requested to sign a document of collaboration with the government, or threatened with a prison term of unknown length. If released, I was told I would not be able to get a job. I prayed and trusted in the Mercy of God and was finally released, my family and I were strongly advised by the Secret Police to move to the United States, which we did.
If you have never lived under a regime like this, it is hard to imagine. It is impossible to survive if you do not have the Faith. What is a man if he sees himself only as a material object with no spiritual dimension? He has no convictions and no real love, only gratification for momentary achievements and pleasures. He is far from experiencing the true freedom he thinks he has through political power, because freedom comes from within, not without. Truth is the source of freedom and Jesus is the Truth. I am glad I had the opportunity to show my convictions and suffer in the name of Christ.
(This article was first published in From the House Tops, a quarterly magazine published and distributed by The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (www.saintbenedict.com) and is reprinted here with the permission of its author.)