Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This week the Church remembers St. Maximilian Kolbe, also known as prisoner #16770. Many might have heard about him, but I would like to share some information about his life, especially how love overcame the hatred of WWII.
Born as Rajmund Kolbe, St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, was a great saint who did much to the Church and the evangelization of the world. Before the beginning of the war, St. Maximilian had founded a religious order, created a Catholic magazine in Poland and Japan. He even had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he was a young boy who presented him two crowns if he were to accept. One was white that represents that he would persevere in purity and the other red that he would be a martyr.
Unfortunately, Poland was not only the birthplace of many saints, but it was also the place of the largest Nazi concentration camp, where over 1 million people were killed, most of whom were Jews. One of these victims was a Franciscan priest who refused to be indifferent to the suffering of so many people. St. Maximilian and his four companions took 3,000 refugees in their monastery, most of whom were Jews, about 2,000.
In 1941, the friary was shut down, and the Franciscans along with the refugees were sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. There Maximilian continued to minister to those in need, celebrating the sacraments hidden from the soldiers and supporting the faith of those imprisoned. When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry thinking about his wife and children. Unable to bear this, Fr. Kolbe stepped silently forward, took off his cap, and stood before the commandant and said, 'I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.' There is also people who say that he volunteered to die with the other men in order to minister those 10 men in such difficult moment. When they arrived in the place of their death, there are reports that their voices could be heard praying and singing praises to God. As the days passed, the voices started fading away, but always present.
Maximilian Kolbe, prisoner No. 16770 suffered more than 15 days of torment, before succumbing to a lethal injection of carbolic acid. He died at 12.30 on 14 August, 1941 at the age of 47, a martyr of charity.
Let us pray that God continue to bless us with the witness of many selfless men and women who love others as God has loved them, and that the love of God may always be stronger than any evil.
St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Pray for us.
Father Steven Clemence