76th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe
The Franciscan priest Maximilian Maria Kolbe was killed 76 years ago in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. A solemn Mass was celebrated on the anniversary of this event at Block 11, which housed the prison camp where the clergy was murdered. Several hundred-people attended the ceremony, including former prisoners of Auschwitz. The Mass was presided over by the auxiliary bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec diocese, Piotr Greger.
– The first association of St. Maximilian leads our thoughts to the Auschwitz camp and evokes the image of his martyrdom for a fellow prisoner. This desire for martyrdom is a fact that requires no explanation or further interpretation. The point, however, is not to allow the event which occurred at the assembly ground and later at the starvation bunker to conceal the figure of Rajmund - for so he was called by his parents - and later assumed the name Maximilian in the order. Reading about his life experiences, we can say without a shadow of doubt that he was a remarkable personality. Such people are rarely born - bishop Greger said during the homily.
- He was a great apologist for the defence of the Catholic doctrine, an excellent organizer, zealous priest and respected educator, as well as an obedient clergy to his last breath. But Maximilian Kolbe is above all, an unprecedented power of the spirit, a mystic, prophet who in the face of imminent death and throughout his entire life completely trusted in the Immaculate. For us, believers, the figure of St. Maximilian should fascinate, compel us to reflect, and mobilize us to a zealous spiritual life - he added.
- The last station of Fr Maximilian’s evangelism turned out to be the Auschwitz concentration camp, where as a result of industrialized mass murder, motivated by racial hatred and demonic nationalism, many innocent people lost their lives. Here, they were murdered not for what they did, but for who they were. And in today’s contemporary world so disoriented in matters of good and evil, the word Auschwitz in spite of all is extraordinary. And it automatically evokes the problem of the mystery of human injustice - emphasized Bishop. Greger.
During the anniversary celebrations, flowers and grave candles were laid at the Wall of Death in the courtyard of Block 11, as well as on the camp assembly ground, where on 29 July 1941 Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for a fellow inmate Franciszek Gajowniczek. The church hierarchs and Franciscans prayed in cell no. 18 in the basement of Block 11, where St. Maximilian Was murdered.
Prior to the Mass, a group of pilgrims from the Franciscan Centre in Harmęże and the St. Maximilian Church in Oświęcim arrived at the former camp.
Rajmund Kolbe was born on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola. In 1910, he joined the Order of Franciscan Friars in Lviv, where he received the name Maximilian. In 1912, he began his studies in philosophy and theology in Rome, obtaining his doctorate in the sciences, and was also ordained a priest. He returned to Poland in 1919. In 1927, he founded the monastery of the Immaculate Mother of God and a publishing house near Warsaw. He was also a missionary in Japan.
On May 28, 1941, he was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Two months later he offered his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek, designated by the SS to death by starvation in reprisal for the escape of one of the prisoners. He died on 14 August 1941, murdered by an injection of phenol in the basement of the so-called Block of Death.
He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and was canonized by his Holiness Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982. In 1999, he was pronounced by the Pope as the honorary patron of blood donors. He is also the patron of the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec.
“Christian fate and religious life in KL Auschwitz” - online lesson presenting the priests and clerics, nuns, and clergy of other Christian churches imprisoned by the Germans in Auschwitz. It also describes stories of later Saints and Blesseds, including St Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). The lesson also presents various aspects of religious life led by the prisoners in the camp, while risking their lives.