14 August 2012

Media man, missionary, Franciscan, priest, martyr: St Maximilian Kolbe

Had he been living today there is no doubt that St Maximilian Kolbe would have been using the internet to share the gospel with 'this digital continent', the expression Pope Benedict used in his message for the 43rd World Communications Day in 2009. He directly challenged young people:

It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent'. Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the 'Good News' of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people. Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. Our faith can respond to these expectations: may you become its heralds! The Pope accompanies you with his prayers and his blessing.

In his message for the following year Pope Benedict directly challenged priests:

Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

St Maximilian Kolbe OFMConv (8 January 1894 - 14 August 1941)

Fr Maximilian Kolbe OFMConv would have entirely approved, since newspapers, magazines and the radio were central to his apostolate in pre-War Poland. He also used the media when he spent some years in Japan.

He would have approved even more these words of Pope Benedict in the same message:

Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a 'soul' to the fabric of communications that makes up the 'Web'.

St Maximilian's pioneering use of the mass media is largely overlooked because of his extraordinary martyrdom in Auschwitz when he offered to die in place of a married Polish soldier whom he didn't even know, one of ten chosen to be executed by starvation in retaliation for the escape of three prisoners. His offer was accepted. It is known that he led the others in prayer, constantly giving them hope, and that after two weeks (different sources give different lengths of time) he was the only one still alive. At that stage he was executed by lethal injection, on the eve of the Assumption. It was fitting that he die on that day as he had an extraordinary devotion to our Blessed Mother under the title 'Mary Immaculate'.

Stained glass, Conventual Franciscan Church, Szombathely, Hungary


O God, who filled the Priest and Martyr Saint Maximilian Kolbe
with a burning love for the Immaculate Virgin Mary
and with zeal for souls and love of neighbour,
graciously grant, through his intercession,
that, striving for your glory by eagerly serving others,
we may be conformed, even until death, to your Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

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