Skip to content

Does Liberty Have Heroes Like Jerzy Popieluszko Today?

Does Liberty Have Heroes Like This Today?

Leer en Español

[Leer en Español]

Freedom in the world is in decline. Alarm bells ought to be clanging on every continent. People of peace and goodwill should be frightened into action. If you love liberty and despise oppression, you’d better start hoping we have some real heroes in our midst. I think we are going to need them.

In the House of Commons, a month before he assumed the office of British Prime Minister in 1783, William Pitt warned, “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” Those words should emblazon every billboard in Canada right now.

In Europe, a Russian tyrant who rules 11 time zones is swallowing the sovereign nation of Ukraine. In the Far East, China is crushing freedom in Hong Kong and threatening Taiwan. In Western countries from New Zealand to the U.S., politicians are eager to retain and expand the powers they grabbed in the name of public health.

The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index is not encouraging. Its 2021 edition reveals that the countries where freedom is eroding outnumber those where it’s growing. “Fully 83 percent of the global population,” the Index reports, “lives in jurisdictions that have seen a fall in human freedom since 2008. That includes decreases in overall freedom in the 10 most populous countries in the world.”

Governments are supposed to be institutions that defend freedom but historically, they have usually been freedom’s greatest enemy. Power is an evil intoxicant. Few mortals can resist being corrupted by it. One of its most disgusting manifestations is when your next-door neighbor goes from friendly police officer one day to head-smashing tool of state tyrants the next.

In Canada, where are the mass resignations of police and government officials who refuse to enforce Trudeau’s fascist directives?

When freedom is threatened, it is never saved by cowards. Do not expect safety or salvation from people so morally obtuse that they think following orders is more important than the lives, property, or freedoms of their neighbors. Courage is what’s required. Heroes willing to speak truth to power, and take whatever risk must be borne to win, must emerge. If they do not, then generations of darkness are likely. Freedom is relatively rare in history; tyranny is far more common.

Allow me to tell you about a hero for freedom. His example should be our model for these troubled times.

Who was Jerzy Popieluszko?

Jerzy Popieluszko, born in a small village in northeastern Poland in September 1947, seemed a very unlikely hero in his early years. He was short, frail, sickly, introverted, and of average intellect. At 17, he traveled to Warsaw intent upon a quiet life in the priesthood.

Jerzy Popieluszko (Author Unknown)

He would only live another 20 years, but before he died at the hands of the communist government, he was seen by the regime as the most dangerous man in Poland. To millions of others, he was a beacon of hope; his only weapons were the truth and his courage.

In 1978, Polish Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II. The news surprised the world, but it electrified Poland.

Poles turned out by the millions to welcome John Paul when he returned to Poland as Pope in 1979. They heard him declare, “Be not afraid!” and they knew what his message was. Father Jerzy took it personally. He resolved to step up his public opposition to the regime.

Poles had put up with communism since the Soviets imposed it on them after World War II. In clever and sometimes subtle language, both John Paul II in Rome and Father Jerzy in Poland told them they could and should resist.

Then in a crackdown against growing grassroots pressure for freedom, the communist regime imposed martial law in December 1981. Thousands of dissidents were jailed. Poland descended into a long, dark, eight years of renewed persecution.

Father Jerzy denounced martial law and aided the underground resistance. His sermons were routinely broadcast by Radio Free Europe, making him famous throughout the East bloc for his uncompromising stance against the communists. His church was routinely jammed as people traveled from all over the country to hear him speak every Sunday.

“It is not enough for a Christian to condemn evil, cowardice, lies, and use of force, hatred, and oppression,” he once declared. “He must at all times be a witness to and defender of justice, goodness, truth, freedom, and love. He must never tire of claiming these values as a right both for himself and others.” 

A visiting Western journalist asked Father Jerzy in 1984 how he could continue to speak so boldly without fear of retaliation. His reply was, “They will kill me. They will kill me.” But, he went on, he could not remain silent as members of his own congregation remained jailed, tortured, and were even killed for nothing more than wanting to be free.

A few months later, Father Jerzy was ambushed and kidnapped. He endured torture so fierce that one of the secret police agents who inflicted it would later remark, “I never knew a man could withstand such a beating.” His body was discovered in the Vistula River 11 days later.

Visiting Father Jerzy’s church in Warsaw, which I have done several times since 1986, never fails to move me powerfully. To tears, in fact.

When Father Jerzy’s dream of a free Poland was finally achieved in 1989, he wasn’t alive to see it. But everyone knew that this prophecy of his had come true, thanks in no small part to his own courage and sacrifice: “An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord.”

Are there Father Jerzys in our midst today? I sure hope and pray there are.

Lawrence writes a weekly op-ed for El American. He is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Atlanta, Georgia; and is the author of “Real heroes: inspiring true stories of courage, character, and conviction“ and the best-seller “Was Jesus a Socialist?“ //
Lawrence escribe un artículo de opinión semanal para El American. Es presidente emérito de la Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) en Atlanta, Georgia; y es el autor de “Héroes reales: inspirando historias reales de coraje, carácter y convicción” y el best-seller “¿Fue Jesús un socialista?”

Leave a Reply