Tuesday, February 27, 2007

St. Julian and Rev. Tadeusz: Two Faithful Catholic Standouts

Unlike my Barack Obama-Antichrist blogs, it is doubtful anyone across the wide world of Internet will connect the life of today's saint with the Polish priest who is in today's news. But allowing for the fact St. Julian and companions were martyred for the faith in the year 250, and that Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski is still alive having survived numerous tortures at the hands of the communists starting in 1985, I still believe they bear enough stripes in common that their message should be shared together.

After a relatively calm period for Alexandrian Christians, the brief reign of Decius (249-51) proved anything but tame as the new emperor began to capture, torture and martyr Christians as quickly as he could find them. A still existing letter from then Bishop St. Dionysius, after lamenting the fact that so many fell away from the faith in the face of torture and death, then goes on to praise those who stood firm, including the elder Julian, ". . . a man who was so old and crippled by gout that he could not stand at all." Since Julian could no longer walk, two young acquaintances were forced to carry Julian to trial. The first renounced his faith and was released, but the second companion, a man named Cronion "but nicknamed Goodfellow" remained faithful to God and his friend to the end and the two were ". . . mounted on camels, taken trough the city, and whipped while perched aloft." As the mob crowded around, the two were burnt up with quick lime, but not before a soldier named Besas, upset by the insults the people were heaping on the saints, came forth to protect. The saints' witness converted Besas, ". . . who became a gallant warrior of God . . . [who] fought like a hero in great war for the faith, and was beheaded."

Meanwhile in 1985, the communists, seeing the headway Pope John Paul II was making in Poland with the Solidarity movement, began to turn up the heat. Many priests (and some bishops) fearing the Secret Police's torture agreed to rat on their faithful Orthodox companions. Fr. Zaleski, one of the faithful young priests turned in by the traitors, was first beaten by the police in the streets, and a month later had his apartment door kicked in. On this occasion, they tied him to a chair and began to torture him in various ways, including burning a "V" (a symbol for the Solidarity movement) in his chest with cigarettes.

But the communist regime has since been toppled, and those torturous days had become distant memories for Fr. Tadeusz, at least until the surprised discovery eighteen months ago that the SB (Secret Police) files thought to be destroyed long ago, still existed. When he went to the Institute of National Remembrance to see if the file on him still existed, he was surprised to be handed one 500 pages long that included a videotape of his 1985 torture. But it was not the many beatings described in the files that was to raise eyebrows. It was the fact that the document also detailed the many priests who chose safety over torture and turned Tadeusz in.

Despite the objections of many superiors, including Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the former private secretary to John Paul II, Zaleski decided to publish his findings. Like St. Dionysius, Zaleski's book Priests in the Face of the Security Services is mostly a hymn to those who did not give in. But also like his predecessor's letter, it does contain a chapter about those who betrayed him—and Him. "There were not many informants . . . considering that the entire system was organized against the Church . . . the fact that eighty-five percent refused to be compromised—that should be considered a success," said Fr. Tadeusz. On the other hand at the suggestion that his findings be burned, "for the love of the Church and Christ," Zaleski scoffed. "The devil is the one who hides truth. This is the mistake the Church made in the pedophilia scandal . . ."

Although Zaleski's book was just released Monday, it has already caused major repercussions, including the shocking resignation of Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus just hours before his inaugural Mass. Some, like Wielgus, are admitting their communist collaboration. Most are denying it, but many are scandalized that Zaleski went against superiors and named names. In Fr. Tadeusz's defense, it should be noted that while everyone finds St. Dionysius' account of St. Julian and companions sacred now, it was not so in his day. Also, recall that even the Scribes and Pharisees praised the Old Testament prophets, while at the same time were the first to condemn the Lord Jesus. So as far as this Irish author (whom many have urged to be less Catholic in order to become more popular) is concerned, I not only stand in Solidarity with St. Julian, the man who stood tall despite the fact he could not stand, but with my Polish brother who would not budge despite many a nudge, Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski. May your book become a best-seller—and may your prayers keep my life and writing faithful as well.

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