Real Life Tribute

So my Thanksgiving plans this year included going to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with my family since it just came out. But see, this was awkward for me because I hadn’t yet seen the first one! Or read the books! (I know, utter your groans…).

After returning home from work for the break, I decided to solve this problem of not having seen the first one in preparation for seeing Catching Fire. But first, I had to confront a very real, first-world problem. Where should I use Netflix? On the PS3? Xbox 360? Wii? 3DS? iPhone? iPad? Desktop? Laptop? Blu-Ray player? Wi-fi connected TV? Ultimately, the PS3 won.

Popped some corn… Cracked open a cold beverage (okay, twisted open)…

And then I watched The Hunger Games!

I thought it was pretty good after watching the movie! I felt hipster because I was already into archery before Katniss made it really cool. Even then, after watching the movie I really wanted to shoot my bow again!

Now, remember that I haven’t read the books so I don’t know how well the movie follows the books, and many often say that the books are always better etc etc etc…

But what intrigued me from watching the first movie was this entire concept of the “Hunger Games” whereby kids are chosen by lottery to compete in a nationally teleivised deathmatch as entertainment and remembrance of some rebellion against the Capitol from the past. And the Games are advertised as a good and necessary thing by the government. x_x

While there are so many themes and elements about the story that I could blog about, I really want to focus on just one. It’s an important one, not just to us as the movie-watchers or book-readers, but to the setting and people found in Panem as well.

#SpoilerAlert

I think the most striking thing about the story is how Katniss volunteered to be Tribute in place of her sister, Primrose, who was chosen by the lottery to represent their District 12. This was unheard of! Katniss was the first volunteer ever for District 12! And she did this out of protection and love for her sister. That is very apparent. People throughout Katniss’ journey to the Arena in preparation for the Games are struck by this. And since I saw Catching Fire, I can now also say that this act of volunteer sacrifice has inspired others throughout the various Districts. Pretty cool. I smell a rebellion coming.

We’ve seen this sort of act of love…this “take me instead!”…in Hollywood and fictional works pretty often. It’s pretty effective in conveying a deeper sense of love and evoking sentiment in the audience.

Katniss’ heroic action in volunteering herself reminded me of a fairly modern Catholic saint that I’m growing to love and appreciate more and more. It’s fascinating because it involves Nazis, torture, volunteer sacrifice and…it’s totally real!

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, ca. 1939

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest from Poland. Some highlights about his life:

  • Born in 1894
  • The Virgin Mary appeared to him before his First Communion and asked him whether he wanted the graces from a life of purity or martyrdom. He wanted both. 
  • He was ordained as a Catholic priest at the age of 24.
  • He founded the Immaculata Movement, a movement with devotion to the Virgin Mary asking for her help in the conversion of “sinners, heretics, schismatics, and so on and above all the Masons, and for the sanctification of all persons”.
  • Started a magazine called Knight of the Immaculate to fight religious indifference
  • Tuberculosis nearly killed him and left him frail for the rest of his life
  • Spent time in Japan and India to expand the Immaculata Movement
He returned to Poland in the late 1930’s. By this time, the Nazis gained power in Europe and began their persecutions of the Jews, Catholics, and anyone else who didn’t fit their ideals or who stood in their way. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was arrested during the Nazi invasion of Poland, but was later released. He was arrested again in 1941 because of his different publications that also began to contain anti-Nazi materials.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz and was branded as prisoner #16670. 
A prisoner in Fr. Kolbe’s barracks escaped from Auschwitz, and protocol called for 10 prisoners from the escaped prisoner’s barracks to be killed as retribution. Francis Gajowniczek, a Catholic Polish sergeant, was one of the 10 chosen to die. When chosen, Francis exclaimed that he had a wife and kids. 
An elderly Francis Gajowniczek

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, as an old Catholic priest, stepped forward and volunteered to take the place of Francis. The Nazis accepted the request.

Years later, Francis remembered:

I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me, a stranger. Is this some dream?

I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. … The news spread quickly all around the camp. It was the first and last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz. (qtd. in TheDivineMercy.org)

The 10 prisoners, including Fr. Maximilian, were sent to one of the camp’s blocks to be stripped naked and left to starve and die. However, Fr. Maximilian led the group in hymns and prayers, encouraging them despite their dire situation. He was also often seen kneeling and praying calmly whenever he was checked on. After a few weeks, he was the only survivor of the 10. Wanting to clear out the starvation bunker, the Nazis administered a lethal injection of carbolic acid to Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. Apparently some witnesses to the injection said he willingly offered his arm.

He died in August 1941, and his body was cremated in the ovens at Auschwitz.

While I still admire Katniss’ heroic actions and desire to give of herself to protect others, especially the vulnerable, her story is fictitious. I haven’t finished reading/watching her story, but I’m sure it comes to a glorious conclusion. However! Her story reminds me a lot of St. Maximilian Kolbe, and I couldn’t help but to share his story.

What’s compelling to me about Fr. Maximilian Kolbe is that he volunteered his life for someone he didn’t really know. A stranger. For Katniss, it makes sense because she did so for her dear sister. Given a similar situation, would I even do that? Am I willing to offer my life in someone else’s place, especially for those that I love? Do I even desire to willingly offer my life for the betterment of someone else’s? While I will most likely not be called to die on purpose in a major way, what are small ways I can die to myself to better love others? These are questions worth reflecting on.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was beatified in 1973 by Pope Paul VI and later canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Francis Gajowniczek was present at both ceremonies at the invitation of the respective popes.

For tribute and honor, Catholics celebrate His feast day on August 14. He is a patron saint of drug addicts, against drug addiction, of journalists, of prisoners, and for the pro-life movement.

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 13)
– JD
Resources and More Info:
St. Maximilian Kolbe / Catholic Online
Saint Maximilian Kolbe / SQPN
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe / American Catholic
Who Is St. Maximilian? / EWTN
The Ideals and Program of the Knights of the Immacula / Consecration, Militia of the Immaculata
Francis Gajowniczek / Wikipedia
‘Greater Love Than This No Man Has’, Maximilian Kolbe Exemplifies Divine Mercy In Action / The Divine Mercy

Photo of The Hunger Games movie poster from The Hunger Games Society blog
Photo of St. Maximilian Kolbe from Wikipedia
Photo of Francis Gajowniczek from Auschwitz.dk