Monday, August 18, 2014

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Often, when I think of saints, I have picturesque images of medieval religious or heroic images of early Church martyrs. But it's important to look at rather recent saints as well, to remember that saints-in-the-making are all around. St. Maximilian Kolbe was born in 1894 in Poland, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. As a child, Kolbe had a strong vision of Mary. She was holding two crowns, one white and the other red. She asked him if he was willing to accept either crown; the white stood for purity and the red for martyrdom. He responded that he would accept both. 

He became a Franciscan in 1911 and studied theology, math, and physics in Rome. He organized a movement called the Militia Immaculata (Army of Mary) which would work for the conversion of enemies of the Church through the intercession of Mary. Kolbe was ordained a priest in 1918. In 1930, he  traveled to Japan and India building monasteries. In 1936, he returned to Poland. He was arrested by the Nazis in 1939 and 1941. Following his second arrest, he was sent to Auschwitz. That July, three prisoners escaped the concentration camp. In response, ten men were chosen to be killed through starvation in an underground bunker. Kolbe offered to take the place of another man, who was a husband and father. The men suffered two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. Kolbe led songs and prayed with his fellow prisoners. He was the last remaining of the ten men, and the guards publicly killed him with an injection of carbolic acid. He was cremated on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

St. Maximilian Kolbe has been called a “martyr of charity.” His feast day is August 14. He is the patron of prisoners, drug addicts, and political prisoners.

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