Saint Maximilian Kolbe is one of the 20th century martyrs commemorated in statues erected above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey by the Dean and Chapter in 1998.
He was a Polish Franciscan priest sent to the German Death Camp of Auschwitz for hiding Jews during the WWII.
After 3 prisoners disappeared from the camp, the commandant picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts.
Kolbe volunteered to take the place of another prisoner with a wife and children – Franciszek Gajowniczek. What an amazing example of Christian charity.
After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and on August 14th 1941 the Franciscan priest was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
He was canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on 10th October 1982.
Franciszek Gajowniczek survived the war. Every year on August 14th he went back to Auschwitz. He spent the next five decades paying homage to Father Kolbe, honouring the man who died on his behalf.
A first ever Polish-English service to mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of St Maximilian Kolbe was held at the Westminster Abbey on Sunday 13th January 2019. The service, held in English and Polish, was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, who said in his Bidding:
“For the past twenty years, St Maximilian Kolbe has been remembered and honoured here at Westminster Abbey in a particular way. His statue stands above the Great West Door on the West Front of the Abbey, one of ten Christian martyrs of the 20th century memorialised here from all traditions and from all parts of the world.
Today, on the 125th anniversary of his birth, we give thanks for his life as a Christian and as a Franciscan friar, for his faithful service of almighty God, and above all for the manner of his death, in which after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ he gave his life in order to save the life of another man, a family man, in the concentration camp at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland.
We pray for the Church and people of Poland, for the Polish community in this country, for the United Kingdom, and the countries of the European Union. And we pray that never again may there be war between the nations of Europe and we pray for peace: peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in our nations, and peace in the world”.
You can read more about the celebrations here.