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Page 4, 30th October 1948

30th October 1948
Page 4
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Page 4, 30th October 1948 — AUGUST, CARDINAL HLOND

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Spokesman for the Polish Nation WHEN Cardinal Hlond died in Warsaw, on the Friday of last week, not only Poland but all the nations of Eastern Europe which lie today beneath the police-regimes imposed from Moscow lost their most powerful spokesman. If in the moral order there is only the Catholic Church that can offer a formulated alternative to the new and resented ideology, in the natural order there is no other institution that has survived, or could survive, the imposed revolution. There is no other framework within which the Polish nation, so steeped in a Catholic history, can assert its individuality and its autonomy ; no other institution that is too deeply rooted, in the past and in the present, for the successive harbingers of totalitarianism to destroy. Political leaders may have to choose between silence, flight, or death ; soldiers may have to choose between exile and impotence ; but the Catholic Church remained, and still remains, to speak with a strong and a clear voice. "Since the days of St. Peter," wrote Cardinal Hlond in a Pastoral Letter in May, 1947, "the Church has not been subjected to a persecution such as that to which she is subjected today." As in Poland, so also in Hungary ; all other voices have been silenced, but the voice of Cardinal Mindszenty is still heard. Yet in Poland, Cardinal Hlond, with Cardinal Sapieha, had in some respects a less arduous mission ; the anonymous envoys of an alien creed were more afraid to challenge him, and more than a hundred millions will feel his death as a new and personal loss.

August Hlond was born under Austrian rule, on July 5th, 1881, in Biezeckowice, in Upper Silesia, the son of a railway worker and second of twelve children. At the age of twelve, just five years after the death of St. John Bosco, he went to Turin to study for the priesthood in the Salesian Congregation. From there he proceeded to Rome fo. his doctorate in philosophy before returning to Poland to finish his theology. He was ordained in Cracow, in the church of the Visitation nuns, on September 23rd, 1905. As a young priest he was active in the establishment of the Salesian Congregation in Cracow, in Przemysl, and also in Oswiecim, the scene later on of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, where so many Polish priests and laity suffered, and where the Salesians are now conducting an orphanage, turning the scene of so much wickedness to the purposes of charity.

In 1909 Fr. Hlond was sent to Vienna, where he remained for thirteen years, first as headmaster of a boys' secondary school, and then, in 1919, as Provincial of the Salesians for Austria, Hungary and Germany. During these years he was associated with many spiritual and charitable organizations among the Polish colony in Vienna. It was here, too, after the first world war, that he first met Mgr. Ratti, the future Pope Pius XI, who was passing through on his way to Poland as Apostolic Visitor.

It fell to the new Pope in 1922 to reorganize the Church in that part of Upper Silesia which eventually went to Poland, and he nominated Fr. Hlond to be Apostolic Administrator there. When the Concordat led to the establishment of the Diocese of Katowice, it was natural that Mgr. Hlond should become its first Bishop, on December 14th, 1925. He was consecrated to this See on January 3rd, 1926, by Cardinal Kakowski, Archbishop of Warsaw. There were times during this period in his native Silesia when the German Catholics there complained that Mgr. Hlond was not treating them fairly ; and no one whose memory goes back to those years could have been party to the suggestions so ignobly made in some circles during 1940-45, and so remote from the reality now generally known, that perhaps he had private feelings of partiality for the German race. Again and again Cardinal Hlond has suffered the fate of all great men, which is to be assailed equally from opposite quarters. There was some irony in the fact that he should have had to spend the past summer, the last of his life, in fighting a Communist propaganda which appealed to national sentiment against the Church in claiming that the Church objected to Poland's possession of other lands newly recovered from Germany.

When Cardinal Dalbor, the first Primate of the restored Poland, died in 1926, Mgr. Hlond, after only six months at Katowice, was appointed to succeed him in the primatial See ; and a year later he was raised to the purple by Pius XI, as Cardinal Priest of the title of Santa Maria della pace. Even as Cardinal Primate he was always immensely active in pastoral work, as well as in writing and speaking. To reread today what he wrote in the 1930s is to be struck with his prophetic insight. In 1932, for example, he was writing by no means conventionally about the duties of Catholics in the struggle against godlessness, and saying that it is a wrong conception of Catholicism in our times which suggests that the Church should turn away from the evil realities of the day and should defend only her principles ; he strongly condemned all escapism, and all those who seek to make the Church into a sort of fortified encampment, shut off from the world "by barbed wire," in which Catholics can sit in security and defend themselves ; a defensive attitude of this kind, he insisted, is not enough. He perceived and wrote against the political evil that was to the west of Poland in those early years of the Hitler regime, as in the Pastoral on "The Life of Christ's Church" in 1935. He always had a strong sense of the apocalyptic character of the times, which comes out again and again during his utterances of these last three post-war years.

He quickly earned a reputation, both at home and abroad, as one of the members of the Sacred College whose addresses and Pastoral Letters were most widely listened to and read. Speaking a dozen languages fluently, he was well suited to international intercourse, and he took every opportunity to arouse interest in, and sympathy for, the Polish cause abroad, attending many international meetings and Catholic congresses, in both Europe and America—twice as legate a latere of Pius XI; and he never failed, in his travels, to keep in close touch with the various centres of Polish emigration. He set up in his curial offices a special pastoral section for this purpose, and founded, before the war, a "Polish Committee for the Care of Poles Abroad," gaining knowledge and experience which has had great value during these last ten tragic years.

Shortly after the outbreak of war, on September 18th, 1939, on the advice of Mgr. Cortesi, the Nuncio to Poland, and at the urgent and express request of the Polish Government of the time, Cardinal Hlond left Poland, by way of Rumania, with part of the Army. It was a difficult decision to have to take ; it was in contrast to the decisions taken later by practically all Archbishops and Bishops in the other countries which were invaded during the war ; but we do not think there will be any Polish historians to say that Cardinal Hlond was wrong. He did not leave for the sake of reaching safety ; he left in order to go to Rome, where he was able to inform the Pope fully about what was being done, in Poland, and whence, through the medium of the Vatican wireless and the Osservatore Romano, he was able to tell the terrible story to the world at large also—a world that was otherwise for the most part out of touch with these events, since Poland had been simultaneously overrun from both west and east, and the civilized world was therefore all the more susceptible to the veision of events which Nazi propaganda was disseminating. There are well-remembered passages in Summi Pontificatus, the first Encyclical Letter of the new Pope, issued in October, 1939, which reflect the impression that Cardinal Hlond made on the Holy Father's mind ; and a little book published during 1941 by Messrs. Burns Oates, The Persecution of the Catholic Church in German-Occupied Poland, containing the reports which he took to Rome, the text of Vatican wireless broadcasts of the time, and other evidence, shows well enough how valuable was the Cardinal's journey to the Polish cause.

Just before Italy entered the war, in March, 1940, Cardinal Hlond went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, remaining there until the Germans moved into this part of France, when he went to the Benedictine Abbey at Hautecombe, in Savoy. He remained there, unmolested but unable to leave, until, on February 3rd, 1944, Himmler ordered the Gestapo to take him into custody. It was the only time that the Nazis dared to lay hands on a member of the Sacred College. He was taken to Paris, and kept, for two months, in the Gestapo's headquarters at No. 11 Boulevard Flandrin, being subjected during that time to many indignities and being deprived of the opportunity to offer his Mass. Here there took place a number of interviews, in which the Cardinal was repeatedly pressed to declare himself in sympathy with the German war against the Soviet Union, as the price of his freedom. The Germans even offered to make him Regent of Poland. The propaganda value of such a declaration would have been immense, but the Cardinal remained quite unmoved by all offers of permission to return, in whatever capacity, to an occupied Poland. His secretary, Fr. Boleslaw Filipiak, who was with him in Paris, sent to THE TABLET two years ago a detailed report of one of these interviews, which was printed in our issue for October 26th, 1946. The withdrawal of all German troops from Poland was necessary, the Cardinal implacably insisted, before he could even discuss any matter whatsoever with a German officer.

When these attempts to extort his assistance had failed, Cardinal Hlond was taken by the Germans to a convent at Bar-le-Duc, where he was kept from April 3rd to August 28th, 1944, guarded by the Gestapo and by a certain French collaborator. The advance of the Allies then led the Germans to move him to another convent, at Wiedenbrtick, near Paderborn, in Westphalia, where he passed a further seven months, until he was discovered and released by American troops on Easter Sunday, 1945. General Simpson placed his private aeroplane at the Cardinal's disposal, to take him to Paris, whence another American aircraft carried him to Rome on April 25th.

Arrived in Rome, the Cardinal began at once to prepare for his return to Poland. Despite the requests of many Polish émigrés, he had resolved to go back, aware what tasks of the greatest urgency and the greatest delicacy awaited him there. He set forth the motives for his return in a letter addressed to the Poles abroad, dated July 7th, 1945, and arrived in Poznan on July 20th. He knew how many difficulties would beset him, and that he would find himself, at first, at any rate, the target of criticism from three sides— from the newly-enthroned revolutionaries who had graduated from the Lublin Committee into being a Government, from some quarters in the war-time Resistance movement who had misunderstood his absence and would now misunderstand the reasons for his return, and from some among the emigration who thought that he should have stayed abroad and so preserved his complete freedom of speech. But, just as it is by now clear that he had been indisputably right to leave in 1939 (not knowing how prolonged the exile was to be), so it is no less clear that he was now indisputably right to return. Pope Pius XII, who understood him to be a statesman in a nation where statesmanship is not always among the foremost of the national gifts, translated him from the See of Poznan to make him Archbishop of Warsaw, on March 4th, 1946; he retained the prima tial See of Gniezno ; and it was a memorable day when, on May 30th, he took possession of his new cathedral amid the acclamations of immense crowds.

Despite his contemptuous dismissal of the Gestapo, Cardinal Hlond knew well enough what sort of a Government ruled in Moscow, and knew when he returned to Poland that, ultimately, a clash between the Church and the Soviet-sponsored regime could not be avoided. Already it is easy to mark the path that has been followed between the repudiation of the Concordat in 1945 and the virulent propaganda against the Holy See during the past summer. But the Cardinal determined to use every restraint, so that no one would be able to say, when the clash came, that it had been the fault of the Church. He never compromised for a moment, or failed to speak in strong language when some particular move of the ruling authorities called for a protest. From the moment of his return to Poland he was never in contact with any of the present leaders in the Government. But he was determined to show what moderation might be _possible, to enable the Church to recover from the devastations of a war in which thousands of the Polish clergy had perished, to re-form her ranks and renew her energies, and to prepare to meet with firmness and resolution whatever fresh trials might lie ahead. The Cardinal was able, by his early return, to ensure that the vacant Sees should be filled with a minimum of delay, that the newly-recovered territories in the West should be entrusted to Polish Apostolic Administrators, as was done on August 15th, 1945, and that a Church so long isolated should be brought back into contact with the mind of the Holy See—he went twice to Rome after his return, at the end of 1946 and again early in this year.

During these past three years a series of Pastoral Letters, signed by Cardinal Hlond on behalf of the Polish Hierarchy, has stated the views of the Church under the new regime. All have been reported at some length in this journal, and most have been printed in full translation. Perhaps the most important was that of September 10th, 1946, on "The Duties of Catholics in Public Life," written as guidance for the elections which, promised at Yalta, eventually took place in January, 1947. When we printed this we were able, in these pages, to italicize the passages which the censor of the Warsaw Government had deleted. The last of these letters, read on Trinity Sunday and printed here on June 5th last, concerned the dangers and temptations to which the young in particular are exposed in Eastern Europe today ; for Cardinal Hlond, like Cardinal Mindszenty in Hungary, whose schools were being nationalized about the same time, knew well how the ideological onslaught is directed above all against the young, tne adult population of tomorrow.

Tne young in particular, and the whole Polish nation of whom sne has so long been given the title of Queen, he constantly commended to Our Lady. Cardinal Hlond always had a very special devotion to Our Lady, and one of the most moving days in his life was the feast of her Nativity two years ago, wnen, with all tne Bishops, he dedicated the Polish nation to ner Immaculate Heart, in the presence of a million pilgrims who had come, only God knows how, to Czestochowa, many of them on foot, from all parts of Poland. His death is a grievous and not easily replaceable loss, but he will be an iniermediary now tor his country before God and before her.