Indeed Maximilian Kolbe was a "force" on the watch list. He founded the Militia Immaculata (MI), an evangelization movement identifying with Mary, the Immaculate. He founded "Cities of the Immaculata" in Niepokalanow, Poland outside Warsaw, and in Nagasaki, Japan.
Religious works poured from the printing presses in Niepokalanow including a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with over one million circulation. Friars and seminarians there numbered an astounding 782 already by 1936.
Of course, in 1939 Maximilian was arrested along with 50 other friars, but they were released. He was arrested again on Feb. 17, 1941. This time he would not make it out. It didn't come as a surprise because, Hamilton told me, "After the first arrest they knew."
The barber friar's decision to save the beard turned out to be providential.
After the Gestapo arrested him the second time, he was sent to Auschwitz where he volunteered to take the place of an innocent husband and father to be executed. Maximilian died a martyr on Aug. 14, 1941.
Hamilton added more details about the relic. He said a large chunk of beard was stuffed into a pickle jar. Today two main or biggest sections of it are split between Rome and Poland. Some of the strands were placed into four identical reliquaries. One is used for this pilgrimage.
Father James McCurry of the Franciscan Friars Conventual and minister provincial of the Our Lady of the Angels Province, explained the importance of relics.
"Relics remind us that saints were real human beings with hair, skin, bones and blood," he noted. "We venerate relics to connect with the real person behind them - now proclaimed by the Church to be in Heaven, from where he or she remains interested and involved in our lives."
The large silver and bronze reliquary holding the strands from Maximilian's beard in a glass case is quite unique. It's designed to include important symbols from his life too.
The base is shaped like Poland, the place of his birth and where his vocation and work first flourished. "Thorns" grow from this Poland symbolizing the occupation by the Third Reich and then the Auschwitz concentration camp too.
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But from the thorns grow a lily symbolizing purity and a tulip symbolizing martyrdom. The flowers tell how God made him blossom like a lily, while both flowers symbolize his love being victorious over hate.
The glass case holding the strands from his beard is encircled by a Franciscan cord with its tradition three knots for the three Franciscan vows. It symbolizes his vocation.
Year of Mercy Saint
In 1982 St. Pope John Paul II canonized Maximilian as a "Martyr of Charity" and "patron saint of our difficult century." St. Maximilian Kolbe is also the patron saint of prisoners, families, the pro-life movement, journalists, and chemically addicted.
How do the Franciscans of Our Lady of the Angels Province see this pilgrimage fitting into the Year of Mercy?
"St. Maximilian Kolbe died as a 'Martyr of Charity' at Auschwitz Concentration Camp 75 years ago (Aug. 14, 1941). His death bore witness to "mercy" par excellence," Father McCurry told the Register. "Its anniversary aptly coincides with the Church's Jubilee Year of Mercy."