Christmas in the "City of the Immaculate" turns out to be a joyous celebration in the midst of World War II.
Note: This is part of a new serial fiction series focusing on the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, following the life of a fictional character as he encounters the saint. New chapters are released every Sunday! For previous chapter(s), click here.
It was Christmas Eve.
Normally it would have been a quiet day in the City of the Immaculate, with most of the friars spending time in prayer, preparing their soul for the coming of Jesus on Christmas Day.
The scene today was like nothing else Piotr had ever experienced.
Instead of cleaning the chapel and locating all of their Christmas decorations, he was in the kitchen busily trying to make more cookies for all the children camped outside the monastery.
There was a very strange mix of temporary residents living at Niepokalanów. It had even grown since last week, numbering a total of 3,000 people!
This included men, women, children and even a handful of Nazi soldiers. Among them were Jews, Germans and Poles, all of whom were affected in some way by the ongoing war in Poland. For this Christmas, Niepokalanów was home for them.
Piotr was stressed out, sweating from all the activity and constantly worried he would run out of flour. He would have given up hours ago if it wasn’t for Father Maximilian.
Father Maximilian insisted that each child, Jew or Christian, Catholic or Protestant, receive a bag of goodies on Christmas Eve. They were working every day this week to meet that goal, baking cookies and other candies for the couple hundred children encamped with their families around Niepokalanów.
As Piotr put another batch of cookies in the oven, Father Maximilian walked through the door with a big smile on his face.
“Piotr! The children are going to be so happy tonight! I can not wait to give them the many gifts we have been able to bake for them!”
Slightly annoyed, Piotr dampened the mood with a startling observation.
“Father Maximilian, I do not think we will be able to cook enough baked goods for the children. The flour is almost gone and we still have nearly one hundred gift bags left. What are we going to do? Will we have to break the cookies to ensure every child has at least a tiny morsel?”
Piotr’s words did not seem to faze Father Maximilian, who laughed and slapped Piotr on the back, maintaining a jolly disposition.
“Do not worry, Piotr! Has the Immaculata ever let us down? I will walk to the nearest village and see what I can find. No child will be disappointed this Christmas!”
As Father Maximilian left the kitchen, as cheery as can be, Piotr shook his head. I simply do not understand him! This Christmas is like none other, with nearly 3,000 extra people at the monastery! Who does he think he is? St. Nicholas? The Star-Man? The Little Angel? They are the ones who hand out presents throughout Poland! Father Maximilian is trying to be all of them at once!
A few hours later Father Maximilian barged into the kitchen with a big sack over his shoulder.
“Piotr! Look what a generous family gave me today! Will this flour help you back the last cookies?”
Piotr sighed, “Yes, Father, that will do.”
Evening came and many of the Polish children who were living there were outside looking for the first Christmas star. Once it was found, the Christmas Eve festivities could begin.
Piotr thought about the tradition they normally observed of leaving an open space at the table for a poor person, or a wanderer who didn’t have a home for Christmas.
They didn’t have to worry about that this year!
Piotr couldn’t believe how joyful Father Maximilian was when it came time to deliver the baked goods to all the families. He insisted that he would hand deliver the bags to each child. This required him putting all of the individual bags into a large bag that he hung around his shoulder. With his long beard and cheery disposition, he nearly looked like St. Nicholas! If he hadn’t been so skinny the children may have mistaken him for the beloved saint!
Piotr followed Father Maximilian around, helping him distribute everything they had prepared. After visiting the German camp, he reached the Jewish families. Even though they were not interested in celebrating Christmas, the families gladly accepted the kind gesture. Father Maximilian spoke to one of the men in the group, explaining how he wanted to do something special for all the Jewish families.
“I know we do not share the same faith in the Messiah, but we do believe in the same God. We are brothers, you an I! I would like to organize a different celebration for your people.”
“What do you have in mind? Your generosity has already brought much joy to us. We have been taken from our homes and do not know where the Nazis are taking us.”
“After we celebrate Christmas, I will come again and talk with you. I know we were not able to help you celebrate Hanukkah this year, but I think we can organize a similar celebration of prayer and jubilation.”
The Jewish man became stern with Father Maximilian.
“How can we celebrate? Are we not prisoners? Slaves again, like in Egypt? Will God deliver us this time?”
Father Maximilian closed his eyes for a moment. Piotr knew what he was doing. He always did this when he needed inspiration from the Immaculata.
“My dear brother, I may not be able to change your situation, or free you from your slavery. But I can help you praise God for the gift of life. We can pray together for peace on New Year’s Day and for your protection. Will you join me?”
The Jewish man relaxed a little and nodded his head.
“I will. I can see you deeply care for our people. Thank you for that.”
Later that evening Father Maximilian celebrated Midnight Mass in a cramped chapel. Besides the friars, many of the Germans came and even a Nazi soldier stood outside with his head uncovered, praying along with the strange congregation.
Tears were streaming down many of the people’s faces as they let go of their anxiety and allowed God to enter into their hearts.
At the end of Mass, Piotr kept on repeating the word of Father Maximilian that he spoke during the homily. It touched his own heart and was a great light in the darkness that surrounded them.
“Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
Come back next Sunday for the next chapter!