During the past weeks, Polish authorities have had to face the bitter fact that Cardinal Wyszynski holds more sway with people than Mr Edward Gierek, the country's Communist Party leader.
But it wasn't always so. Des O'Grady in Rome looks at the man who began alone.
TO UNDERSTAND Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and his importance in the Polish crisis, it is necessary to go back to Rome railway station in 1956.
Cardinal Wyszynski, who had been released from a Polish prison a short time before and who had then reached a limited agreement with the Gomulka Government, descended from the Warsaw-Rome train. There were no cardinals to meet him. But many Roman Cardinals were at the Grand Hotel reception for Prince Rainier and Grace of Monaco. The Church adamant and the Church Sycophant. Pius XII, who had never been more than "Prisoner of the Vatican", showed his disapproval of Cardinal Wyszynski's agreement with the regime by not receiving him for some. days. It is not hard to imagine that welcome made the Polish cardinal realise how isolated he was and also that some changes were due in the Vatican.
An opportunity for them came shortly after with Pius Xll's death. Some papers asked whether the 56-year-old Pole would be his successor. An unlikely proposal but it has a kind of fulfillment 20 years later when Karol Wojtyla, in some ways Wyszynski's protege, at 58 became John Paul 11. His prolonged embrace of
Wyszynski at the installation Mass in St Peter's Square was a tribute to the man who had proved a handful for both the Vatican and the Polish Cornmunist regime.
Cardinal Wyszynski has always acted as the main representative of Poland's 35 million Catholics and needs to keep the regime and the Vatican from exchanging ambassadors to prevent them going over his head. His diffidence of traditional Vatican diplomacy continues although he has Pope John Paul's , collaboration.
He has been a problem for the regime for while it speaks in terms of a rationally-planned society, he appeals to the collective unconscious with invocations to the Black Madonna. When the regime refused to allow the Black Madonna statue to travel, he told a crowd of hundreds of thousands "they've arrested the Madonna".
It cannot match him on this symbolic level nor discount him as a mere purveyor of superstition because he is capable also of scathing criticism derived from his social sciences training: in 1977, he delivered the ultimate insult by comparing work conditions in Poland to those denounced by Karl Marx in capitalism's infancy and predicting they would provoke a workers' revolution.
Nevertheless, the regime recognises he is Polish wall-towall, that he wants above all to avoid Russian intervention which has made him, in the current crisis, acknowledge workers' rights but also remind them of their duties. In a certain sense. he became the regime's last card, its best hope for mediation. For the officiallyatheist regime the implied recognition that a cardinal is more likely to be heeded than (iierek must have been a bitter pill.
His father was an organist. After seminary studies in Wloclawek, Stefan Wyszynski obtained social science and canon law degrees at Lublin Catholic University. lu 1929-30 he did research in Belgium,
France and Italy On return home, he taught social sciences at Wloclawek seminary and wrote many books. He went underground during the Second World War but continued his pastoral work. In 1946 he became Bishop of Lublin devoting particular attention to its university, the only Catholic university between West Germany and Japan. In 1948, with the Cold War extremely hot, he was appointed to his Present post as Archbishop of Warsaw and Polish Primate.
Although some Poles claim he is a sensitive person who reins in his emotions, in public, Wyszynski. who has an imposing appearance, seems as cold and tough as stainless steel. John XXIII used to say he would bend but not break. Wyszynski rarely even bends. Some years ago he seemed to bend finally in Rome to a Polish emigre prelate who always accused him of softness to Communism but insistently sought a private meeting. Cardinal Wyszynski finally invited him to lunch at a nuns' institute. When the guest launched his attack, Wyszynski told him there was never conversation at the nuns table (which was an old, ignored rule). At the end of the mute meal, he thanked the guest for his company, explaining he had to leave for an urgent appointment.
Acquaintances claim the key to the man is his intense devotion to the Madonna. He has also written poems against nuclear weapons.
A loner of such authority and age runs the danger of calcifying. But in some respects Wyszynski has opened-out in recent years. One of his limitations was that he seemed absorbed • with the Church's institutional rights. But in backing the workers during the food strikes in Radom in the late 70's he won the dissidents' confidence by showing his concern was human rights. In the current crisis, however, his over-riding concern seem to be to fend-off a Russian invasion.
He seems also to have acquired something of Pope John Paul's broader vision: in his speech to 200,000 at the Wanberzyca Shrine on August 17, he invited to unity in prayer Poles, Czechs, Moldavians, Slovaks, Moravians, Hungarians, Germans ... and others. Concelebrating with him were Cardinal Sebastian' Baggio, head of the Vatican. Congregation for Bishops,. Cardinal Frantisek Tomacek, Archbishop of Prague, the secretary of the French Episcopal Conference, Mgr Gerard Defois, 30 Polish bishops, East German and Bulgarian bishops, Fr Tivarckar Parmananda, an Indian who is one of the four main advisers to the Jesuit Superior-General.
The loner was no longer alone.
Bishops are now expected to retire at 75 hut of course Wyszynski, who is 79, is an exception. From next year, unless John Paul revokes Paul VI's rule which is quite likely, Wyszynski will no longer be eligible to participate in papal elections but anyway he probably hopes not to be around for another.
What remains is the final appointment with the keeper of the Pearly Gates. But for that appointment, unlike his arrival at Rome station in 1956, there will surely be someone there to meet him.