It is the 19th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1984.
It was an ominous year. It was ominous because of the Cold War tensions abroad and culture wars domestically. It was ominous because of the prescience of a British author in 1948. The author was George Orwell, and he was suffering from tuberculosis, alone, on the Scottish island of Jura. Nearing the end of his life, the author and critic penned the dystopian work that would take its iconic title from that far-off-year, "1984."
And in 1984, Orwell's book was referenced in what would be one of the most iconic Super Bowl commercials. A commercial, directed by Ridley Scott (of “Alien” fame), at the cost of almost one million dollars, introduced the new Macintosh computer with a 1984 themed commercial during 1984's Super Bowl. In 1984, we were introduced to the first Discman, Tetris, Air Jordan sneakers, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
It was the year that Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide over Walter Mondale and the first female VP candidate from a major party, Geraldine Ferraro. 1984 was ominous in that it was the year that the AIDS virus was first isolated and named, and it was the first year that crack cocaine, now widely available, became a cheap and deadly alternative to powder cocaine.
The Cold War, a term invented by the Orwell, was winding down, but you might not know it in 1984. The Summer Olympics in Los Angeles were boycotted by the Soviet Union and 13 other countries. While there were global tensions between the superpowers, but both also looked to quell hotspots in their hemisphere. The United States was covertly in Central and South America while the Soviets were deep in Afghanistan's quagmire.
Within a year, Mikhail Gorbachev would become the Soviet Premiere. His relationship with Ronald Reagan would begin to lead to a new detente period, but local fires continued to burn. Internal social unrest would play an outsized role in the demise of the almost 40-year-old world order. We have talked before about the role that Poland would play. And the church in Poland played a particular role in resisting authoritarianism. You will remember that the Polish workers' movement, Solidarity, joined forces with the church. With support from the new Polish Pope, the church and workers union would become David to the USSR's Goliath.
And the USSR and Polish authorities were increasingly ruthless in their crackdown, although we know that martyrs' blood can spark a movement. And it was on this, the 19th of October in 1984, that such a martyr was made. Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was kidnapped and murdered by the secret police, who believed that his message of suffering and resistance in the name of Jesus was proving troublesome.
Popiełuszko had served in the Polish Army before going to seminary and being ordained into the priesthood in the 1970s. Popiełuszko became an unofficial chaplain for the Solidarity movement, That proved so troublesome that martial law was introduced across the country. Despite the lockdowns, Popiełuszko held monthly masses known as "Masses for the Homeland." He had been under constant surveillance and was even arrested, but his connection to the church helped his ability to remain alive and free. But in 1984, Polish authorities attempted to have the priest die in a bombing or an orchestrated car accident.
When the priest evaded these plots, he was finally caught when two undercover agents feigned breaking down in their car on the side of the road. Popiełuszko stopped to assist the men, and they proceeded to kidnap and beat him with rocks. Beating him to a pulp, they tied the stones they murdered him with to his legs and dropped him in a nearby river. The widespread outrage to the death of Jerzy Popiełuszko led to a quarter of a million people attending his funeral. Solidarity would prevail, and the Soviet puppet government had its days numbered. Today, Popiełuszko is buried near Saint Stanisław Kostka's Church in Warsaw, where he performed the “Masses for the Homeland,” for which he was martyred and for which he was also beatified by the Catholic Church in 2010. The 19th of October is today the National Day of Remembrance for Steadfast Clergy in Poland. It is also the day we remember the polish priest and martyr Jerzy Popiełuszko.
Today's reading is a poem we read in the first weeks of the Almanac and one appropriate for today. This is Les Murray's "Easter, 1984."
When we saw human dignity
healing humans in the middle of the day
we moved in on him slowly
under the incalculable gravity
of old freedom, of our own freedom,
under atmospheres of consequence, of justice
under which no one needs to thank anyone.
If this was God, we would get even.
And in the end we nailed him,
lashed, spittled, stretched him limb from limb.
We would settle with dignity
for the anguish it had caused us,
we'd send it to be abstract again,
we would set it free.
But we had raised up evolution.
It would not stop being human.
Ever afterwards, the accumulation
of freedom would end in this man
whipped, bloodied, getting the treatment.
It would look like man himself getting it.
He was freeing us, painfully, from freedom,
justice, dignity — he was discharging them
of their deadly ambiguous deposit,
remaking out of them the primal day
in which he was free not to have borne it
and we were free not to have done it,
free never to torture man again,
free to believe him risen.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Polka King, aka the Prince of Pierogi's, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.