St. Maximilian Kolbe relic to visit  New Bedford church July 8-10

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Conventual Franciscan Friar, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Our Lady of the Angels Province has scheduled a pilgrimage of a relic throughout its province’s U.S. and Canadian territory. 

A reliquary will visit Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, 235 North Front Street in New Bedford, from July 8-10.

The reliquary is one of four that was created in 1971 (11 years prior to his canonization — thus marked as “B. Max. Kolbe” as he was then only elevated to Blessed) to hold a portion of his beard that in 1938 was shaved after Friar Maximilian received permission from his minister provincial. 

The program of events for the visitation of the pilgrimage is:

Friday evening (July 8) arrival of the relic is at 6 p.m., with a prayer service and veneration. A movie on the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe will follow the prayer service in the church hall.

Following Masses on July 9 (7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) for two hours and again on July 10 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. there will be an opportunity to view and venerate the relic.

The visitation of the pilgrimage of the St. Maximilian Kolbe Relic will conclude with a prayer service at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. 

The reliquary contains many symbols from the life of St. Maximilian: the base is in the shape of his birthplace of Poland, covered in the “thorns” of occupation by the Third Reich. Out of those thorns, however, burst forth a lily of purity and a tulip of martyrdom — symbols of love triumphing over hate. The strands of the saint’s beard are housed in a glass case entwined with the Franciscan knotted cord representing his vocation to the order and the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

St. Maximilian first grew out his long beard to enhance his missionary work in Japan where the beard helped to earn the respect of the people he served. Upon his return to Poland, under the National Socialism, the beard instead provoked not only his own persecution but the persecution of his fellow friars, “Beards provoke the enemy who rapidly is approaching our friary. Our Franciscan habits also will provoke him. I can part with my beard. I can’t sacrifice my habit,” he said.

After having shaved Maximilian’s beard, one of the friars placed it in a pouch. Strands of the beard still are preserved in the Niepokalanow archives (Claude R. Foster, “Mary’s Knight,” Marytown Press 2013, p. 586).

From some of those strands, four identical reliquaries were created, one of which will be venerated during this pilgrimage.

In 1941, St. Maximilian demonstrated heroic charity by giving his life in place of a fellow prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek, a husband and father who was one of 10 men chosen to suffer death by starvation after being subjected to hours of standing in the hot summer sun, in the Auschwitz (Poland) concentration camp during World War II as consequence for one prisoner’s successful escape. Franciszek’s cry of despair, “What will become of my family?” moved St. Maximilian to step forward and ask to be taken instead.

Canonized Oct. 10, 1982, St. Maximilian Kolbe was declared the “Patron saint of our difficult century,” and a Martyr of Charity by Pope St. John Paul II.

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