Sixty-ninth Anniversary of the Death of St. Maximilian Kolbe
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Almost 2,000 people took part in ceremonies marking the sixty-ninth anniversary of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German death camp.
The observances concluded with Mass outside block 11. Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese led the concelebrants. Earlier, there were prayers in St. Maximilian’s death cell in the cellars of the block, and the laying of wreaths and lighting of candles at the Death Wall.
Bishop Rakoczy reminded those in attendance that a man died sixty-nine years ago at a spot nearby—“One of the many who died on this inhuman ground in those tragic times. He died of starvation in unspeakable torment, slowly and alone. The man who died, among so many thousands of Jews and martyrs from other nations, was a Pole and a priest. He was one of the many Polish clergy who suffered and went through the agonies of death in horrible concentration-camp conditions, not only here but also in Dachau, Stutthof, and many other Nazi camps.”
“It was here that this extraordinary death occurred, which served as confirmation of the special entitlements of the human spirit, which is more powerful than the body,” Bishop Rakoczy said in his sermon. “The triumph of love over hatred was confirmed in that death. There is no greater love than the sacrifice of one’s own life.”
“Today, on this special day, we pray for peace on earth and respect for every human person. We pray that the things that happened in this place will never be repeated either here or anywhere else on earth. We pray that the guns of war will fall silent around the world and that the peace we all long for will come to pass,” said the bishop.
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe
Born as Rajmund Kolbe in Zduńska Wola, Poland, on January 8, 1894. He took the name Maximilian when he entered the Franciscan novitiate in 1910. He took the name Maria at the time of his final vows on December 1, 1914.
He arrived in Auschwitz on May 28, 1941, and became prisoner number 16670. Following the escape of a prisoner, he offered up his life in late July to save a stranger, Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had been sentenced to death by starvation. Kolbe died on August 14 when he was given a lethal injection of phenol after all the other prisoners locked in the starvation bunker in the basement of block 11, known as the “Death Block,” had died.
Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian in 1971, and Pope John Paul II recognized his status as a saint during a canonization Mass on October 10, 1982. In 1999, the Pope made St. Maximilian the patron saint of blood donors.