SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE 
Foreword: Father Maximilian Kolbe [1894-1941], a Conventual Franciscan Priest, died at the age of 47 in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland, offering his life in place of a condemned prisoner, the father of a large family.
He was declared Blessed in October 1971. Now, less than 90 years after his birth, the addition of his name in October 1982 to the list of canonized Saints gives to the Church of our times a model of fearless faith in Christ, of dedication to Mary the Mother of God and a love capable of bringing about true peace with God and among men.
FEAST DAY: AUGUST 14
FATHER KOLBE had another gigantic dream. He courageously explained it to his Superiors: “We have created a ‘City of Mary Immaculate’ where we work for the Kingdom of God. I think that we should do something similar in every country. Modern inventions should serve commerce, industry and sport but, first and foremost, the Kingdom of God”.
His Superiors thought the matter over. It seemed to be a project which was more fanciful than real; at the least it was very ambitious, but they replied: “If you think you can do it, go ahead!”
Four set foot in Japan
May 1930. Father Kolbe has left Niepokalanow in good hands and has arrived in Japan. Mary’s statue and the Bishop, Msgr. Hayasaka, welcomed him on the steps of the Cathedral in Nagasaki.
Before leaving for the Far East, he visited Rome and Assisi. He knelt beside the graves of two of his former fellow students with whom he had founded the “Army of Mary Immaculate”. God had called them first. Then he visited Lourdes to meet Our Lady where she had appeared to a very poor girl of the Pyrenees. He went to Turin and stopped to pray in the very places hallowed by Don Bosco, a giant of charity, who had begun a world-wide work on behalf of youth and who had worn himself out in ceaseless activity. He also went to Lisieux, too the Silent Convent where a young girl, Thérèse on fire with the love of God, had been a missionary; she helped her brothers not with words and actions but by living out every day the three difficult words in her programme: love, suffer, smile. These were all people who had advanced the Kingdom of God in different ways and in different circumstances.
When he landed in Japan, Father Kolbe had in his pocket a letter from the Superior General of his Order. It contained both a permission and a prohibition – these were to be the parameters of his work. He had permission to begin a new Citadel wherever he thought fit, possibly wherever there was a nucleus of Christians. He was prohibited from seeking money within the Order. He had to do the best he could with money collected on the spot. Father Kolbe did do his best. That very month of May a rich Catholic gave him a small modern press for printing in Japanese characters. Father Maximilian wrote his articles in Latin, a cleric and a seminary professor translated them into Japanese. On May 25 the first number of “The Knight” appeared; its Japanese name was “Mugenzia No Seibo Na Kiski”. 10,000 copies were printed.
With the approval of Msgr. Hayasaka, Father Kolbe climbed the hills overlooking the city in which in search of 5 hectares of vacant land. He found them, he bought them and he began building a new Citadel. A year later the essential buildings of the Citadel had been completed. It was inaugurated during the feast of the cherry blossoms; those amazing Japanese cherries which flower splendidly for only one week and produce rare small fruit.
Kimonos and guns
The Japan of those years was a mixture of delicate and rustling kimonos and of threatening guns. The military had a very strong hold on the country and aspired to establish a large Japanese Empire in Asia. They strove to inculcate a proud nationalistic spirit amongst all including the children.
This Japan, which looked upon every foreigner with mistrust, was quite favorable to the work of Father Kolbe and his magazine. In a short time it became the most widely circulated Catholic publication in Japan.
Volunteers began to come to the Citadel which, as at Niepokalanow had a chapel, a printing room, an electricity generator and a large meeting room. They were mainly Christians, but there were also some pagans. They were prepared to undertake laboring tasks, to help with the distribution of the review and also with the translations. Some asked for instruction in the faith, and later for baptism. Some were soon to ask to receive the habit of St. Francis.
Father Kolbe studied Japanese assiduously, and began first to speak the language and then to write it. The friars and his friends distributed the review on trams, in shops, in hospitals, in schools. Even the bonzes read it with interest. The circulation went up and up: twenty, thirty, fifty thousand copies.
But Father Kolbe’s health again began to decline in a rather frightening manner. He had to give up all work.
Two or three months to live
A high fever and spitting of blood once more. The old sickness had returned. The Japanese doctors feared for his life. They advised that he return to Europe and undergo long and drastic treatment. Father Kolbe departed.
The doctors at Zakopane shook their heads when they saw him. They told him quite emphatically that he had only three months to live. Father Maximilian went to stay with his mother and in the calm atmosphere of her house he slowly recovered. Three months passed, thirty months. His health returned. “The doctors know everything”, smiled Father Kolbe, “but someone up there knows much more”.
He recommended work at Niepokalanow. His native air did him good. The reappointed him director of the Citadel, and he succeeded in raising the circulation of “The Knight” to a million copies. Then he had another grand idea – an apostolate by correspondence. He invited anyone with problems, difficulties or doubts to write to him. Soon he was getting 2,000 letters a day. In the first year there were more than a half a million. The all received an answer.
The sad period of Nazism
Meanwhile the Brown Shirts had been on the march for many years in Germany. The sad period of Nazism had begun. A frenzied man spoke into the microphones at German Radio stations: his name was Adolf Hitler. He looked at Poland with the practiced eye of a violent thief and proclaimed to the world that this territory was vitally needed for the expansion which destiny had decreed for the “privileged race”, the German race.
In Poland they said that he was only bluffing. But on August 23, 1939, Stalin of Russia and Hitler of Germany signed a non-aggression pact. There was a secret clause in that pact: Poland would be divided between Russia and Germany by a line drawn down the middle from north to south.
September 1, 1939. German armored divisions under the command of General Guderian penetrated deep into the heart of Poland. Two thousand aircraft of the Luftwaffe bombed Warsaw and railway junctions, practically paralyzing the life of the nation. France and England, which had both signed a pact of mutual assistance with Poland, declared war within the space of 48 hours. But they could do nothing against Hitler’s well oiled war machine. Poland was brought to its knees in four weeks.
At the start of the tragedy, Father Kolbe summoned together the thousand inhabitants of Niepokalanow and told them: “This is the moment of trial. We must disperse. Those who can should return to their families. The others will leave this very day for the monasteries in the east; they will be much safer there”.
He remained, with fifty of his brother Franciscans. [To be continued]
Source: Fr. Teresio Bosco SDB, SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, Melbourne: A.C.T.S. PUBLICATIONS, 1982, pages 16-19.
Jakarta, August 14, 2012
A Christian Pilgrim