Immediately after the death of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, the faithful started to consider him a martyr1. A martyr for the truth, because he died for his faith in Jesus Christ. Throughout his life, he preached the truth about evil taking place in Poland, but mostly testified the saving role of Jesus Christ who said: “I am the truth (John 14-6)”. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. (John 8-32). This was the freedom Father Popiełuszko wished for the faithful and the whole of Poland.
Death caused by opponents of the Gospel is considered by the Church a perfect way for showing attachment to Christ: it expiates sins and opens the way to heaven. Since the beginning of Christianity, martyrs have been worshipped and considered role models apart from so-called holy believers (persons of heroic Christian virtues, even though they did not suffer the death of a martyr). It was believed that prayer may be an effective way to seek the special grace of God.
With time, the procedure became more and more complex to proclaim a person a saint, consequently, admit them to the public worship, until it reached the form of beatification and canonization process. As a result of a beatification process, the candidate to become a saint, called God’s servant, is proclaimed blessed, and is publicly worshipped in the local church. The canonization process grants the title Saint to the person who is accepted to the canon of the saints of the whole universal Church.
A few days after the funeral of Father Popiełuszko, Cardinal Józef Glemp, the Primate of Poland, started receiving requests to commence a beatification process. Pursuant to the ecclesiastic provisions, the process cannot start earlier than five years after death. During this time, it is necessary to confirm development of the private worship of the deceased. The political situation in Poland prevented the process at the diocese stage from being commenced immediately after the normal period of time stipulated by provisions of law.
It was only in 1995 that the Commission for Preparing Beatification Process of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was created, and two years later the diocese stage started, which was to establish whether the priest indeed suffered martyr death in the name of God, and whether the murderers were motivated by hostility towards Christ. Furthermore, it was during the process that Father Popiełuszko’s teaching was studied. It was analyzed whether it was not conflicting with the Church's teaching, and whether the God’s servant confirmed his teaching by his life attitude.
In the second stage, i.e. Romanian, of the beatification process, documents translated into Italian were sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saint in the Vatican. Its aim was to prepare documentation on martyrdom. This document called Positio super martyrio was solemnly handed over to Pope Benedict XVI in October 2008.
Thus, the third and final stage of the process began in which theologians and cardinals discussed the Father Jerzy’s candidacy for sainthood. This phase ended, when on 19 December 2009 Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree on martyrdom of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. On June 6, at Piłsudski Square will take place the solemn beatification. The grave of Fr. Jerzy will remain in front of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, still, as the main place of his worship. Relics of Fr. Jerzy will be brought to the Pantheon of the Great Poles in the Temple of Providence on the day of his beatification, and he will join other Polish saints such as Wojciech, Stanisław and Father Maksymilian Kolbe.
1 Polish word “martyr” emphasizes passion to be suffered for fidelity to God. In the ancient Christian tradition, a person who died for faith was called a witness (from Latin "martyr") and the death caused by a persecutor of the Church – a testimony (martyrium).
E.K. Czaczkowska, T. Wiścicki, Ksiądz Jerzy Popiełuszko. Życie – śmierć – beatyfikacja, p. 349–399.
M. Kindziuk, Świadek prawdy. Życie i śmierć księdza Jerzego Popiełuszki, Częstochowa 2004, p. 345–357.
H. Misztal, Prawo kanonizacyjne według ustawodawstwa Jana Pawła II, Lublin–Sandomierz 1997, p. 36–37.