Faced with this question, the little boy was a little upset. Obviously, he took it as a harsh rebuke and so he went to cry right in that little church near his home.
And it was precisely here that the vision of the Immaculata bearing two crowns took place: She, the Virgin, offered him the choice between the two crowns that she was holding: one red, for martyrdom; the other white, for purity and chastity. Kolbe accepted both. Obviously, he didn’t know what he was doing, what he had chosen. Through this episode, the mother understood what the life of her son would be like. “She kept all these things in her heart,” just like the Virgin with Christ. Only at the time of the canonization process would she tell everything.
Let’s make a jump in time and place: 1917, Rome. Maximilian is in the Eternal City at the San Bonaventura College, near the Imperial Forums. It is at this college that a historic event takes place that will determine the life of Maximilian Kolbe: the founding of the Militia of the Immaculata.
Yes, the Militia was born in Rome. In the city of Sts. Peter and Paul, Kolbe arrived in 1912. He was very young — only 18 years old. This is a singular moment for the Church as there was the unification of Italy; many people still openly demonstrated against the Church. Kolbe went through this period with great suffering. It is at this point that a question arises in him: what can I, a young friar, do for the Church? Thus on Oct. 16, 1917, the Militia of the Immaculata was born — trying to spread devotion to Mary by any means to oppose those who are against the faith and the Church. A brilliant idea!
What about Rome and the young Kolbe? There are, in fact, two other places in Rome that were important for the young St. Maximilian.
The first is the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. Here, on April 28, 1918, the fourth Sunday after Easter, the hands of the cardinal vicar Basilio Pompilj were extended over the head of Friar Maximilian: Kolbe became a priest. But another place, deeply linked to the Virgin, is also present in Maximilian’s life: It’s the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte.
Here, the day after his ordination, he celebrated his first Mass. In fact, he had written in a letter: “The conversion of Ratisbonne in that church, thanks to the vision of the Virgin Mary, and the influence that the miraculous medal had on him have always fascinated me. All members of the Militia of the Immaculata wear the Miraculous Medal. The conversion of Ratisbonne through this medal and the vision of the Virgin Mary are connected with this church. This is the appropriate place for my first Mass.”
On the back of the keepsake of this Mass it is written: “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me to this point?” (2 Sam 7:18). “My God and my all.” Remembrance of the first Mass celebrated by Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan at the altar where Mary the Immaculate deigned to appear in Ratisbonne. Allow me to praise you, Holy Virgin. Give me strength against your enemies. Rome, April 29, 1918.”
And these two places are followed by a third: St. Peter’s Basilica.
This is the place chosen by St. Maximilian for his second Mass. To the question posed by Father Giuseppe Maria Pal, co-founder of the Militia, “Where will you celebrate your second Mass, Father Maximilian?” Kolbe replied without delay:
“In the basilica, on the tomb of the martyr St. Peter and first vicar of the Lord. The intention of my second Mass will be for the grace of the apostolate of martyrdom.” And on Aug. 14, 1941, he made a gift of his life for his brothers through martyrdom.
(Story continues below)
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This story was first published by ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.