WHEN the Synod of Bishops in,...ets in Rome this October, to discuss
among other things the role of the priest in the Church,
they will have before them I • one striking example of achievement in the figure of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. to be beatified on October 17.
Fr. Kolbe combined the traditional values of the Church with a deep knowledge
and use of twentieth-century communications media. and
ended his life of work for his Faith with a martyr-like death to save the life of a fellow man.
Born into a humble family in the Lodz region of Poland in 1894, he joined a Franciscan school in 1907 and took simple vows in 1911 at the age of 17. After studying philosophy in Krakow he went. to Rome. acquiring doctorates in both philosophy and theology from the Gregorian University. In 1917 Fr. Kolbe and six colleagues in Rome started the
Crusade of Mary Immaculate (Militia Immaculata), a relief
organisation which now numbers millions of members all over the world.
Full of ambitious plans for the Militia despite advanced TB of the lungs and an utter lack of money, Fr. Kolbe returned to war-ravaged Poland in 1919. 1 oaded down with duties as a lecturer on philosophy and Church history at the Krakow seminary, he nevertheless managed to get on with his own projects. In 1922 he started publication of the monthly journal
Knight of ui:aculate Mary,
which reached a circulation of 70,000 despite a complete lack
of funds or any serious hacking. in the same time the Militia Inunactdata had grown to a membership of about 126,000.
At last his superiors realised the value of his work and its even greater potential, and freed him from his onerous teaching duties. Forty miles from Warsaw he established a centre called Niepokalanow, where his followers helped him to print religious h o o k , magazines. and even a daily paper which became popular throughout the country, with a circulation of 137,000 in 1935.
Meanwhile, in 1930, Fr. Kolbe had moved on to establish a mission in the Far East. Assisted by four Franciscan friars, he visited Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, India and China. They 'finally settled in Nagasaki, Japan, where with help from Japanese bishops, he began publication of a paper in Japanese and carried on missionary work.
When he returned to Poland in 1936 to take up once again the direction of the Militia and his flourishing Catholic Press concern. the first rumblings of the Second World War could already he discerned.
Imprisoned by the Nazis early on for his fearless humanitarian activities. in 1941 he was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Witnesses surviving from those days have given ample testimony to the extraordinarily heroic and
saintly behaviour of . Fr. Kolbe.
In July 1941, following the escape of a single prisoner, the commandant of the camp decided to take ten prisoners from the escaped man's block and starve. them to death. One of the ten is still alive today.
Knowing that this man had a wife and eight children, Fr. Kolbe pleaded with the commandant that he should take the man's place. The commandant agreed and the ten were placed in a cell without food and water.
Of the ten. Fr. Kolbe survived and suffered the longest. After two weeks without food he was finally killed by an injection of poison. Planeloads of Catholics will attend the beatification, among them former Poles now of all nationalities, German refugees, and Japanese who remember him well from the days of his mission work.
The Family Link Club in London is organising charter flights to Rome for the weekend, and the Polish cardinals are also expected to attend. This will be the only beatification during the Synod.
SIMILARITIES rather than
differences between Catholic and Baptist rites were discussed at the Second Baptist-Catholic Dialogue held last week at Coloina College of Education in West Wickham, Kent.
The meeting also considered differing Protestant and Catholic attitudes towards the Reformation and the doctrine ,of the Communion of the Saints.
As the second the first was held last year in what participants hope will he a long series of inter-Faith meetings. the dialogue provided a chance for the 16 clergy and laity attending to explore together their common ground and their differences.
Organised by the Baptist Renewal Group and a group of Southwark Catholic clergy and laity, the event was officially approved by the ecumenical commission of the diocese.
The Catholic "team" of eight was led by Fr. Derek Vidler. curate at the Church of Our Lady Immaculate at Tolworth. Surrey, and Fr. 'Gerald Cronin of Crayford, Kent. The Baptists were led by the Rev. Eric Illakeborough, ex votive member of the Baptist Renewal Group and minister of John Bunyan Baptist Church. Kingston-on-Thames.
Stirrings in the catacombs
THE seven hills of Rome are not quite as solid as they look, and the domes of the Vatican are built over sonicthing less than a noble foundation. According to police officials the .catacombs of Rome. which riddle the city's soil for thousands of acres. conceal a flourishing car-stealing racket.
They estimate that there may he more than 6,000 stripped automobiles hidden in the ancient tunnels where the ancient Romans buried their dead.
The catacombs have never gained the fame of the pyramids which performed the same function for Egyptian nobles, but from the inside at least they are just as impressive. '1 he tunnels extend downwards as much as 300 feet. but he cause of their labyrinthine complexity, police have bufen able to explore only the fraction of tunnels nearest the surface.
Catholic authorities sealed off many of the entrances to the catacombs in the last century after about 20 schoolboys went "exploring" and were never seen again.
Only a few hundred yards of the catacombs are now open to the public, and even so. people
are allowed down only in carefully-guided groups leaving the car thieves ample room for their work in other parts of the vast maze.
Police say they drive their hauls into the tunnels through shroud-concealed entrances and then strip them of everything valuable on a virtual assembly_ line basis, leaving only gutted eare.ise, behind. Police say they recovered 83 automobiles in July alone and have so far arrested 13 men.
But. the officials say, the racket is continuing. The tunnels are so long and the entrances so many that it would take a small army to guard the entire network adequately.
Like the car thieves. police can keep from getting lost only by carefully marking their routes through the catacombs so that they can find their way out again.
One policeman Carabinieri Sgt. Antonio Zuechi. has made a virtual speciality of the catacombs. He goes down alone almost every day in a jeep, flashlight and pistol at the ready. in search of stolen cars and thieves. But he said the thieves could be working in another tunnel only a few yards away without his being able to hear anything.
Zucehi said he has recovered several ears from the tunnels before the strippers have had a chance to work on them. But the vast majority of the stolen cars--minus motors. seats, wheels and virtually everything removable are left to rot deep in the world of the dead.
New flats for old houses
WITH 400 families on its waiting list for living quarters. the Croydon-based South London Family Housing Association has hit on a new source of houses for its prospective tenants, Jack Gran, Chairman of the charitable association e Inch was formed in 1907 by local branches of the Catholic Housing Aid Society, says:
"We know that many older couples and widows whose families have grown up and moved away arc left with houses bigger than they need. Often the cost of repairs and upkeep is more than pensioneis can afford, and their lives are made miserable by worry."
So the Association is making this offer: "Sell us your house at its market value and we will let you a self-contained flat in your own area, possibly in your own home."
Griffin emphasised that there is no catch in the scheme. "We provide homes for families by converting large houses into flats." he said. "And we are always on the lookout for more houses for our work. We buy houses on 100 per cent G.L.C. mortgages, and we buy at the market price. There is no shortage of money just of houses. We housed 200 families in our first four years, but in the last 12 months we have built up our staff and now we are planning to house 200 families every year.
"We can offer any owner-occupier who sells us his house a newly-converted flat, with a brand new kitchen and bathroom. in the same area or even in the same house when the building work is finished. The rent will he fixed by the G.L.C.: there is no profit in it for us. We are a charity."
'The present staff of fifteen includes an architect who plans the conversion by hired builders of the houses into selfcontained flats. The Association with offices at 43a 1.owcr Addiscombe Road,
Croydon has been buying up houses, all over South London, from South Croydon to Brixton, and from Wandsworth across to Lewisham.
Top-level 111 tiffs
DISSENSION, charitable or -1-0 otherwise, has been with the Church since its earliest days. One of the earliest toplevel rows occurred after the first Council of the Church (that has a familiar ring) between St. Peter and St. Paul. Paul wrote that he "withstood Cephas to the face because he was to be blamed" after he declined to eat with Gentile converts.
On a lighter note there is the story of an informal theological argument between Cardinal Manning, a convert from the Church of England. and the breezy Yorkshireman, Bishop William Ullathorne, O.S.B.
Ullathorne's final riposte was : "If you'll pardon me sir, I was teaching catechism with a mitre on me 'ead when Your Eminence was an 'eretic." The Cardinal's reply has not been recorded.
No Limbo for the innocent?
DOES limbo exist? Belief in this room on the fringe of hell, inhabited by the souls of those who lived on this earth without the benefit of either baptism or Christianity, has been part of Catholic thinking since the Middle Ages.
Now, however, many theologians are questioning the concept, and dispute the widely held Catholic belief that unbaptised children do not go to heaven.
The Jesuit Fathers, once the scourge of those who doubted such dogma, are in the forefront of those questioning the old beliefs. Fr.. Jean Galot, S.J., for example, writing in the Jesuit magazine, "La Civilta Cattolica," said that such helief seems cruel and unreasonable.
"One can well think that one of the joys of the celestial cornmunity will be the presence of numerous children," he writes.
Another theologian, Archbishop Lambruschini of Perugia, says that God may well have devised a way of saving the souls of unbaptised children. Writing in the Vatican magazine, "L'Osservatore della Domenica," he said that the Church has never banned the school of thought favourable to the salvation of unbaptised children.
No official Papal announcement about Limbo has been made since the 18th century. Some historians are now saying that belief in Limbo among Catholics came from the French philosopher Ahelard, who died in 1142 under indictment of heresy. He softened the position of St. Augustine, and taught that the sinless, if unbaptised, suffered no torment, but were denied the Vision of God.
Fr. Galot .says that since Original Sin is imposed on a child against its will, it should automatically be granted salvation.
The Church still rules that babies must be baptised as soon as possible after birth. Laymen may even perform the ceremony when there is a danger of an infant dying with no priest on hand.