On May 19-21, 2024, a formation meeting was conducted for the spokesmen of men’s religious institutes. The meeting took place at the St. Maximilian Center in Harmęże, near Auschwitz, Poland. The Center is a place where Conventual Franciscans collaborate with the Father Kolbe Missionary Sisters of the Immaculata.

The spokesmen discussed a number of topics including current issues regarding the Church in Poland and present-day challenges.
A special guest of the meeting was Bartosz BARTYZEL, the spokesman and press office director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He shared his knowledge and experience with the participants.
In particular, the spokesmen learned about, and reflected on, the history of three priceless mementos that are kept in the Conventual Franciscan church in Harmęże.
Chronologically, the first memento was the image of the Immaculate Mother of God of Lviv, before whom Rajmund KOLBE (later Maximilian) made a promise, as he noted in one of his writings: “In the minor seminary, where we attended Mass in the choir, with my face to the ground, I promised the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, whose image overlooked the altar, that I would fight for her. But how? I did not know.”
The second memento was a statuette entitled: “The Immaculate Mother of God behind Barbed Wire,” carved by Bolesław KUPIEC while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz along with his five brothers. The figurine had a clandestinely delivered letter placed inside it. On one side of the paper it read: “I entrust this letter to the care of the Mother of God and may she continue to keep us under her protection.” On the other side, it read: “We beg assistance for our parents who have been left helpless, since all six of their sons have been imprisoned. One of their sons made this figurine. Address: Kupcowie, Poronin near Zakopane, 7 Kasprowicza Street.”
The third memento was an exhibition by artist Marian KOŁODZIEJ entitled, “Negatives of Memory: Labyrinths,” It depicted the hell of the Auschwitz extermination camp and the heroic victory that St. Maximilian M. KOLBE achieved there.
The spokesmen also visited St. Maximilian’s death cell in Auschwitz, where they stopped to pray to the martyr for peace and reconciliation.
This was the fourth meeting for spokesmen of men’s religious institutes held by the press office of the Bishops’ Conference on the Holocaust. The previous meetings were took place at the friaries in Leżajsk, Wambierzyce and Kodeń, Poland. The next meeting is scheduled for 2025, in Krynica Morska, Poland.

Friar Jan M. SZEWEK
Photo: BP KEP