Friday, August 9, 2013

Degrees of separation

     A Carmelite nun by the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on this date in 1942.  She had been arrested in Echt, Netherlands earlier that year.  She was arrested by the Nazi's because she was Jewish by birth, a woman of note and an intellectual.  In her youth she saw the horrors of war and leaned toward atheism.  But as she studied and became recognized as a noted philosopher and an observer of man's inhumanity to man, she was drawn to faith, and specifically to the Catholic faith.  She was baptized into the Church in 1922, and after a period of strengthening her spiritual walk and defending the role of women in the world community, she entered the Carmelite Order in 1933.  Moved from Germany to Echt to escape the Nazi's, she finally entered into eternal life on this day seventy one years ago, and was declared a saint in 1998.  Today is her feast day.
     Just over a year before, in the same terrible place known as Auschwitz, a young Franciscan priest from Poland by the name of Father Maxillian Kolbe, was put to death by lethal injection because of his faith and his kindness in taking the place of a fellow prisoner who was chosen for death.  Father Kolbe died on August 15th of 1941, and his feast is celebrated on August 14th each year.  Born in Poland in 1894, he was ordained a O.F.M. Conventual Franciscan and spent time in both Rome, Poland and Japan.  He was involved in the communication mission, publishing papers and pamphlets, and spreading a devotion to Mary.  For six years, from 1930 to 1936, he ministered in Nagasaki, Japan with great success.  Arrested by the Nazi's for a number of reasons, including his publishing, his faith, and being a Catholic Pole, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, where he ministered to his fellow prisoners in many ways.  His taking the place of the man condemned to die was not surprising to those who knew him.  His body was cremated the day he died.  He was declared a saint of the Church.

     Both of these great saints of our time died a year apart in Auschwitz during a dreadful time in human history, within the midst of a terrible war.   But they are not the only ones who died in those years, whether in a camp or in battle or in great moments of inhumanity.   Coming full circle, three years to the day after Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the gas chambers, about 70,000 others, mostly civilians, died in the dropping of the second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki where Father Maxillian Kolbe ministered to those same Japanese people just a few years earlier.  That bombing happened on this date - August 9, 1945.   We do not seem to handle conflict well as a society, but maybe that is because we don't embrace the presence of God and the peace of Christ in our hearts.  Pray that we eventually learn our lesson.

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