As we are about to celebrate the 103rd anniversary of the founding of the Militia of the Immaculate by our Franciscan confrère, St. Maximilian Kolbe, I am happily recalling the M.I. Initiative carried out over the last sixteen months in the Franciscan parishes of Our Lady of the Angels Province. Although Covid-19 has interrupted the tour, I was able to visit 22 of our 39 parishes to promote consecration to the Immaculate and enrollment in the M.I. My heart still swells with joy when I think of the enthusiastic congregations who warmly embraced the Initiative and, then, the thousands who decided to make the act of total consecration to Mary and enroll in the M.I.
In contemplating the anniversary of the M.I during this pandemic, I could not help but think back to the 1918-1920 flu pandemic which, like Covid-19, was also driven by a respiratory virus. One of the worst pandemics in human history, its four waves infected 500 million people, a third of the world’s population at the time. Sadly, according to the estimates, the virus took the lives of between 17 and 50 million people. St. Maximilian was ordained a Franciscan priest in Rome on April 28, 1918, during the pandemic’s first wave, and he celebrated his first Christmas as a priest in Rome just as the second and worst wave of the pandemic ended. He returned to Poland in July of 1919 just after the third wave and he was teaching in Krakow during the pandemic’s fourth and final wave in 1920. According to the statistics, the pandemic claimed 466,000 victims in Italy and between 200,000 and 300,00 in Poland. Nevertheless, upon examining St. Maximilian’s letters and other writings, I could not find any references or reflections on the tragic losses caused by the pandemic. This was all the more surprising given that, since his 1917 diagnosis, St. Maximilian was suffering from tuberculosis, an underlying condition whose side effects include difficulty breathing.
At the same time, however, we cannot lose sight of St. Maximilian’s intense focus and sense of mission already animated by an ardent love of the Lord and His Blessed Mother. Having founded the M.I. in 1917 to combat the evils present in the world, St. Maximilian intended by the consecration or entrustment to the Immaculate that he and, indeed, all M.I. members would offer themselves totally to the Blessed Mother as instruments in Her hands to bring about the salvation of all and thereby lead them ever closer to the source of Love, the Sacred Heart. Although St. Maximilian’s writings do not contain direct references to the 1918 flu pandemic, it is curious that, when Father Maximilian celebrated Christmas Mass that year, he noted in the Mass register the following intention: Pro amore usque ad victimam (For love even unto victimhood). By “victimhood” Father Maximilian may well have intended the lengths to which he was committed to sacrifice for the work of the Immaculate but I believe it is also possible that St. Maximilian thought for a moment, “If, in pursuit of Love, I fall victim, even as a result of the pandemic, then so be it.” Thus, his apostolic zeal was already heroic, standing him in good stead for his battle with the evil of Nazism he would later experience in Poland and, especially, at Auschwitz.
As we celebrate the 103rd anniversary of the M.I., I send you all my warmest greetings of peace and every good. May St. Maximilian pray for us, through the Immaculate, to Our Lord for the grace that the Covid-19 pandemic cease, that the sick regain their health and that those who have died may rest in peace.
~Fr. Jobe Abbass, OFM Conv.
Our Lady of the Angels Province M.I. Assistant