Saint of the Week: Maximilian Kolbe

I have chosen the saint for this week to be St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is one of the 20th-century martyrs honoured above the entrance to Westminster Abbey in London.  Yesterday, August 14, was his feast day (it was also my brother’s birthday, so this is also partly to honour him as well as St. Maximilian).

Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was a Franciscan priest who demonstrated the spirit of St. Francis in harbouring Polish Jews during the Holocaust and fighting the Nazis on the radio.  These activities got him arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz.

In July of 1941, when one of the men of Kolbe’s barracks disappeared, the guards decided to transfer a sampling of men from his barracks to be starved to death.  One of the men who was selected to go made great lamentation, speaking of his family.

Kolbe took the man’s place.

Kolbe survived over three weeks with neither food nor water.  During this time, he led his fellow prisoners in prayers and songs.  Eventually, the guards murdered Kolbe with an injection of carbolic acid.

The man whom he saved, Franciszek Gajowniczek, lived to be released from Auschwitz and be reunited with his wife.

I am reminded of the words of our Lord and Saviour, “Great love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Let us all pray that we may have the faith and self-sacrifice of St. Maximilian Kolbe this day.

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