This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16 -- Feast of Blessed Anicet Koplinski

Quicklime.  I remember first reading about it in one of those Tales of the Gruesome comic books.  Some villain, in a final vivid, ful-color, full-page frame, threw his victim into a pit of quicklime.  There was some bubbling in the lower corner, just where the victim's outstretched hand was coming in contact with the lime, suggesting that he'd be burned alive in a hideously painful chemical reaction that would consume his entire body.
Fr. Koplinski, a Capuchin Friar

I hadn't thought of that comic book for decades, but then I read about Father Anicet Koplinski, a Capuchin priest, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  Having experienced the generosity of the Capuchins firsthand as one of twelve children in a needy, working-class family, Anicet (meaning "Invincible," the name he was assigned upon ordination) felt the vocation to join.  Nicknamed "St. Francis of Warsaw," he made the rounds daily to collect any donations (food, clothing, fuel) that could be given to the city's neediest families.  Penances imposed on those with means (even the Cardinal, to whom he served as confessor) were often alms for the poor.

As a German national living in Poland (mixed German-Polish ancestry, born in Prussia), he strongly resented the ideas embodied in National Socialism.  During the early stages of the occupation, he used his German citizenship to provide supplies and shelter for those who were targeted by the Nazis, including Protestants and Jews.

Fr. Koplinski, a prisoner in Auschwitz
The Gestapo were none too fond of the Catholic clergy in the best of circumstances, so a Capuchin friar who helps the poor will obviously fall under suspicion.  They called Father Koplinski in for questioning, and he told them bluntly, "After what Hitler has done here in Poland, I am ashamed to be a German."  Arrested, imprisoned, shaved, and tortured, he told his captors, “I am a priest and wherever there are people I will exercise that priesthood: be those people Jews or Poles – especially if they are suffering or poor.”

Fr. Koplinski, executed on 10/16/1941.
He was sixty-six years old when he arrived at Auschwitz (you had to know he was headed there), old enough to be assigned to the Invalids ward.  He lasted about five weeks, and much of what happened will never be known.  One witness remembers that he was beaten because he could not march as fast as others.  Another recalls him being bitten by a guard dog.  If you've read any accounts of Auschwitz, you know things were never gentle there.

But we do know that his execution was on October 16.  There was an ersatz trial, of sorts, after which he and other convicts were thrown in a pit of quicklime and burned alive.

I would never want to name anyone Invincible; it seems like tempting fate.  And of course we are none of us invincible in the flesh.  But the spirit of Koplinski was certainly anicet -- right up to his observation to fellow condemned prisoners that they "must drink this chalice to the bottom."

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