Posted by: fvbcdm | August 14, 2013

Feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (14 August 2013)

Today we celebrate Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a man who was born in the same year as my mother and who died as a martyr of charity as I was preparing to enter high school.  I feel especially close to him, too, because I have knelt at the door of the starvation bunker in which he died and laid my rosary on its floor. Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan priest who was remarkably gifted in journalism, and started a number of publications concerning Catholic devotion to the Mother of Jesus.  He did that both in his native Poland and in Japan, where he was sent as a missionary. When he returned to Poland, the Nazis had overrun the country and he was forbidden to engage in religious journalism.  He ignored the prohibition and continued his work.  He was arrested and sent to the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.  There was a policy there, that if any prisoner escaped, ten others, chosen at random, would be killed in reprisal. One man did escape, and so ten others were herded into a starvation bunker in the basement of one of the barracks. As this was happening, one of the men chosen to die pleaded with the guards to spare him, since he had a wife and children at home and he hoped to go back to them.  They were totally merciless and went on with their work of getting the ten men into a very small subterranean cell where they were to be locked without food and drink until they died. Saint Maximilian Kolbe heard the man pleading for his life, and asked permission to substitute himself for the condemned married man. Permission was given since the Nazis had a special hatred for priests, and so Maximilian Kolbe joined the other nine in the starvation bunker.  After about two weeks in the cold, dark, death chamber, the guards found all the men dead except the priest who still clung to life.  To hasten his death, they injected carbolic acid into his veins and so he died in agony as the burning acid made its way through his emaciated body.

One unforgettable day, my travel group and I were in Poland and we visited three spots in one day: the great Polish shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the town of Wadowice, where Pope John Paul II was born and raised, and then the infamous extermination camp of Auschwitz.  It was like going from heaven to hell in one day.

In the starvation bunker where Kolbe died, Pope John Paul II had left a Paschal candle in memory of the saint’s beautiful life and death, and of the pope’s visit there.  Last week we celebrated Saint Edith Stein, the Carmelite nun who died almost exactly one year later in Auschwitz and has also been canonized.  So that place of death and horror has become, by God’s grace, a place of heroism and a shrine to those who laid down their lives for Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.


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