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Maximilian Kolbe: Polish saint who replaced a prisoner on Auschwitz death row

During this upcoming World Youth Day, Pope Francis will momentarily get away from the crowds to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp, where St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish saint who was canonized in 1982, died 75 years ago.   

Kolbe was a Franciscan friar who founded the Militia Immaculata, an evangelization movement with more than 3 million members in 48 countries. However, St. Maximilian Kolbe is most famous for an incredible and unexpected gesture. Whilst imprisoned at Auschwitz, he asked to die in place of another man who would have left his wife and children behind.   

FR. RAFFAELE DI MURO
International President of Militia Immaculata
"This gesture was absolutely unthinkable. A request like this, coming from a prisoner, took the authorities by surprise. That is why this gesture strikes everyone, not only Catholics and Christians, but in general, everyone who approaches this figure. They are fascinated, stricken at how he died, even though there is much more to Maximilian Kolbe. Throughout his entire life he was a great apostle."

Indeed, Maximilian had an eventful life. He founded a monastery in Poland known as the City of the Immaculate, which he transformed into a anti-Nazi publishing house during World War II. Later, he transformed it into a refugee shelter, something that resonates today, given the current situation of the world.  

FR. RAFFAELE DI MURO
International President of Militia Immaculatae
"Maximilian knew that something needed to change in this structure, it could no longer be a house dedicated to press and radio, it should be a shelter for refugees that needed a safe haven, so I would say that was his prophecy. He transformed a publishing house into a shelter."

In this current Jubilee year, with a special focus on the Corporal Acts of Mercy, the Pope wants to highlight Kolbe's sacrifice to the world.   

FR. RAFFAELE DI MURO
International President of Militia Immaculatae
"I think the Pope wants to send a strong message by going there. It is a warning for the world. 'Let's be careful, so Auschwitz does not happen again'. But he will go there carefully, with great respect for what happened and love for the victims, with an attitude of reflection, and great personal pain."

Other popes, including John Paul II, have visited the cell where Saint Maximilian Kolbe spent his last days. The Pope will visit Auschwitz on Friday morning, July 29.