14 August 2009

Media priest and martyr

Today is the feast of a remarkable media-man whose martyrdom is even more remarkable, St Maximilian Kolbe OFMConv, born in Poland in 1894 and who died on this date in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

An account of his martyrdom:

One day, a man in Father Kolbe's block had escaped. All of the men from thatblock were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand all day with no foodor drink. At the end of the day, the man that had escaped had not yet beenfound.

CommandantFritsch, the guard who was in charge of this group, told the men that ten woulddie in place of the the one that had escaped. The guard called out the names.One man, Polish Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek, begged to be spared because,worried about his family on the outside who would not survive without him whenhe finally got out.

Father Kolbe silently stepped forward and stood before Commandant Fritsch.

The commandant asked, "What does this Polish pig want?"

Father Kolbe pointed to the polish sergeant, saying, "I am a Catholic priestfrom Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife andchildren."

The commandant stood silent for a moment, then allowed the sergeant to takehis place among the other men while Father Kolbe took his place. He was thensent to the starvation chamber. The secretary and interpreter for this bunkerwas so impressed by Father Kolbe's heroic actions that he kept an exact recordof his last days, more detailed than the job required.

Eachday the guards would remove the bodies of those who had died. The sounds ofscreaming and crying were not heard from the starvation bunker. Instead, thesounds of Father Kolbe leading the Rosary and singing hymns to the Immaculatawith the other prisoners in the bunker could be heard. While the guards wereaway, the secretary would go into the bunker to speak with and console theprisoners. When Father Kolbe could no longer speak from his hunger and lack ofenergy, he would whisper his prayers.

After two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners. Only fourprisoners were left, Father Kolbe was one of them. They injected a lethal doseof cabolic acid into each prisoner. Father Kolbe, the last prisoner left to bekilled, raised his arm to the guard. On August 14, 1941, the eve of the feast ofthe Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, Father Kolbe was martyred. The next day, his body was cremated.

The saint was also a pioneer in the use of the mass media, expecially the press and radio, the latter then in its infancy. From the same website, St. Max, priest, martyr, saint:

Father Kolbe planned to start a printing house where information could be massproduced and sent to millions of people. However, he had only half of thenecessary funds. He trusted the Immaculata to help, praying that she wouldsupply them with the needed funds to complete the work and print theirpublications. During his prayer before a statue of the Blessed Mother, henoticed an envelope. On the envelope, it said, "For you, Immaculata." Inside,the exact amount needed to complete the project.

Father Kolbe and the other priests developed a monthly magazine with acirculation of over 1 million, and a daily newspaper with a circulation of230,000, as well as countless catechetical and devotional tracts. The friarsused the latest printing and administrative technologies to print and distributetheir publications.

Father Kolbe also started a radio station and planned to build a motionpicture studio. All of this was used to teach and spread the Catholic faith and to teach the whole world about the Church.

Saint Maximilian, who founded publishing houses in both Poland and Japan, where he worked for some years in the 1930s, is the patron saint of media communications. No doubt, he would be using the internet in the service of the Gospel and of Mary Immaculate if he were alive today.
There is a national shrine to the saint in Marytown, Illinois, USA.

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