A SPOKESMAN OF MERCY
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
‘My family, my children!’ – this desperate cry of Franciszek Gajowniczek, sentenced to starving to death by a German bandit in the Auschwitz camp, was thumping in the ears and heart of Fr. Maksymilian Kolbe. He was standing with other prisoners from the Auschwitz camp and was experiencing the tragedy of existence. After a while he stepped forward out of line of lagerfuhrer Karl Fritzch and humbly asked for a swap – he decided to give in death for his co-brother.
In the Holy Year of Mercy, which we are just experiencing, we should notice this unusual Pole, a man of great intelligence, and, first of all, of deep faith and love to Immaculate Mary. ‘I will see Her soon’ – was the favourite song of Fr. Maksymilian – brothers in Niepokalanów told me in 1956, when after the secondary school leaving exam I was in Niepokalanów, so as to look thoroughly at the work of Fr. Kolbe for a few weeks. It was nearly 15 years after death of Fr. Maksymilian, when I met his mentees there, young brothers whom he had taken into the Order. Similarly as him, they had a lot of energy, eagerness for work and they were characterized by religiousness to Mary. They were speaking with delight about their great guardian and superior. At that time nobody had not spoken about his canonization process yet. In his monastery cell, on the wardrobe door, his cassock was still hanging , and in a jar there was his beard, which he had shaven in the beginning of the war, not to distinguish himself from others too much. In the mid of the night, at that time, I also visited a graveyard of the Religious Order in Niepokalanów, which was a great experience for me. At midnight, in the light of the moon, we were praying with the brothers for monks buried there…
After many years I return to those days and recall myself those excellent, saint brothers, whom I met then: br. Hieronim, br. Iwo, br. Alfred, br. Felicjan, Fr. Florian Koziura, Fr. Władysław Domański. They told me about kindness of Fr. Maksymilian, that when they had used to come to him with requests, he first discreetly asked the Blessed Mary what she thought about it and then he gave an answer to his brothers. Br. Iwo Achtelik, a Silesian man, speaking German, also recalled how the Germans had arrived to take his father to Auschwitz for the second time.
On 17 October 1971, there was beatification and on 10 October 1982 – canonization of Fr. Maksymilian, the martyr. Today pope Francis speaks a lot about human mercy towards another man. Can there be a better example of mercy? The man should follow merciful God. ‘Be merciful, like your Father is merciful’ – says Christ (Lucas, 6.36).
In the tragic situation which took place in the Auschwitz camp, Fr. Maksymilian behaved heroically. It was an unusual defence of human dignity. What was the 47-year-old monk thinking when he was making his decision? This saint Franciscan had everything received through a prayer and thought out. First of all, he was a devoted son of the Blessed Mother and it allowed him to make courageous and mature commitments.
During his pilgrimage to Poland, pope Francis visited Auschwitz and he was praying in the prison cell of Fr. Maksymilian who could testify mercy of the highest rank with not only his word but also his life. So, may Fr. Maksymilian Kolbe become our saint patron of the Year of Mercy.