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POLISH CATHOLICS TAKE 1ST STEP TO MAKE FORMER LEADER A SAINT

Polish Roman Catholic bishops Saturday opened a beatification process of the late Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, described as an unyielding fighter for human rights and one of the greatest leaders of the nation.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who succeeded Wyszynski as the head of the powerful Catholic Church eight years ago, told several hundred people in St. John's Cathedral the beatification process - the first step toward sainthood - was opened at the request of the nation."Following his death, requests were filed by the faithful to begin the beatification," Glemp said.

Bishop Jan Czerniak, who cooperated with Wyszynski for years, recalled his struggle for human rights in the Stalinist era.

"He was a courageous spokesman of freedom and fighter for human rights," he said. "He is considered as one of the greatest leaders in the history of Poland."

Wyszynski was cardinal and primate of Poland since 1948 until his death in 1981. He led the church through periods of persecutions and cautious coexistence with communism.

Wyszynski was imprisoned from 1953 to 1956 on the order of the Communist Party leader Boleslaw Bierut and emerged as a national hero. Following the release he agreed to meet Wladyslaw Gomulka, a new party leader, to defuse the anti-communist sentiments in the nation.

He initiated improved relations with West Germany by writing a letter in 1967 to German bishops asking them in a spirit of a Christian for "forgiveness" despite the fact that 6 million Polish citizens died at the hands of Nazis during World War II.

Communist authorities charged him with meddling with the politics and put a ban on his trips abroad.