Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
The notorious death camp of Auschwitz received prisoner number 166670 on February 17, 1941. The new inmate was Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan Priest who, along with other Franciscans, was publishing anti-Nazi publications. Fr. Kolbe was a highly educated priest, receiving degrees in Rome from the Gregorian University where he earned a doctorate in Theology. His career included an extended stay in Asia where he was instrumental in establishing monasteries in Japan. In 1936 he returned to Poland for reasons of ill health but the vigor of his activity would hardly indicate diminishment. His work with publications earned the wrath of the Gestapo and subsequent imprisonment in Auschwitz. Set against this work in media and organization was a deep love of the Blessed Mother, a devotion which he invigorated in all the places he lived including his prison cell. It was this same devotion that nourished his strength to take the place of one of 10 Polish prisoners condemned to a slow death by starvation, the death camp’s solution to discouraging any more escaping prisoners.
The example of Maximilian Kolbe serves as a radical reminder of the consequences of faith. Perhaps we are not called to martyrdom, but we may be called to witness our faith in ways that make us uncomfortable. It would be incorrect to recognize the life of Maximillian Kolbe without paying tribute to the woman who inspired him to say yes to God, the Blessed Mother. In response to her yes, St. Maximillian Kolbe said yes to the challenge that made him the model of love and sacrifice in the face of the horrors of the 20th century.