“The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.” ~St. Maximilian Kolbe
This quote fascinated and perplexed me the moment I chanced upon it. I agree with the saint that the “not my problem” mentality is probably the most vicious problem we face as a society. Think about it: if every person chose to use his or her gifts and talents to the fullest and stopped ignoring the barrage of global challenges we face, many problems would be solved.
Even more fascinating than this quote is the man who issued it. So fascinating, in fact, that I was inspired to pick up a few books about his life and legacy. Maximilian Kolbe was not your average Catholic priest. He was a true champion of service who volunteered his time and talents up to the moment of his death in the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.
Life began for young Kolbe in a fiercely Catholic and patriotic Polish family. By all accounts, Kolbe was a bright child. He joined the priesthood and went on to achieve two doctorates, his first (in Philosophy) at age 21! He was a priest ahead of his time in many ways, as he obtained a printing press and started a local newspaper with his religious community he founded called “Niepokalanow” (which translates, “the city of Mary,” as in the mother of Jesus Christ, to whom the saint was greatly devoted). Maximilian Kolbe even spent time on a mission in Japan serving, teaching, and founding a religious community of Franciscans there.
Incredibly, Kolbe accomplished these feats while battling severe tuberculosis throughout his life. His work was often thwarted by his illness. Despite this, St. Maximilian was known for these key traits: loving without limits of race, religion, gender, etc., always smiling, being obedient, and above all possessing great humility. He “exerted himself enormously for human souls,” according to colleague Janina Kowalska. (A Man for Others, p. 39).
Unfortunately, World War II brought the Nazis to Niepokalanow, and Father Kolbe was picked up as a “dangerous person.” The Nazis persecuted the religious with intense brutality. Kolbe was eventually destined to don the striped outfit and bear the impossible conditions of Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, survivors report that Kolbe calmed and comforted them, and frequently gave his portion of meager rations to others. A doctor in the camp, Rudolph Diem, recalled, “In view of the general animal instinct of self-preservation so evident in everyone else, his desire to sacrifice himself for others surprised and intrigued me” (p. 151). “He dispensed love and nothing but love” remarked one Jewish boy, revealing Kolbe’s ability to create fellowship with people from any background (p. 153). He brought rays of hope, but bore much affliction from age and his continuous lung disease.
Auschwitz had a rule: if one prisoner escaped, 10 of the 600 from the escapee’s block would be forced to endure a slow, painful death in the starvation bunker.
On July 31, 1941 a prisoner from Block 14, Kolbe’s Block, escaped.
The Nazi Kommandant chose 10 poor souls, and one, Francis Gajowniczek, cried aloud for his wife and children. Suddenly and unexpectedly, prisoner 16670 pushed through the lines of men and respectfully requested to take the man’s place. In perfect German, he addressed the cruel commander, who unbelievably consented.
Maximilian Kolbe’s good deed shone in the dark moment; he took the worst torture imaginable for a fellow prisoner he hardly even knew.
Interpreter Bruno Borgowiec, who was assigned to the starvation bunker, reported details from Kolbe’s brief experience. Singing and prayer could be heard from the underground bunker; even the SS admired his courage and strength.
Maximilian Kolbe was one of the last to die; in fact, he had to be injected with carbolic acid because he lasted so long. He died August 14, 1941.
Francis Gajowniczek survived and lived 54 more years. He told Maximilian Kolbe’s story all his life.
As the Catholic church made him a saint, Polish Cardinal Wyszynski stated, “Whereas people trust in material resources like tanks, planes, and armies, Kolbe shows that only one thing is necessary to gain peace and unity for the world, the practice of love” (182).
As one of the millions of victims of the holocaust, pervasive “indifference” proved fatal to Maximilian Kolbe. The apathy can be seen in our society today as well. Bottom line is, there’s so much more to life than school, work, social media. Aimless, mundane life is awful. Be the next Maximilian Kolbe; live with purpose and turn to service! Do something. Kolbe gave his life to the service of others, and in the end with compassion for a stranger. For what would you give your life?
What are you being indifferent to right now that you could change for good? Why do we honor suffering and sacrifice? What champion of service inspires you and why?
Royal, Robert. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History. New York: Crossroad, 2000. Print.
Treece, Patricia. A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz, in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.
I entered the small classroom at the Mosqueda Center to this cheer twice a week. Momentarily I was back in Fiji, hearing the excited voices of those children and the love and cultural exchange we’d shared. Instead I found myself at Reading and Beyond, an after-school literacy-and-more program for elementary students of Fresno. I volunteered with this community benefit organization for my Child and Family Studies service-learning class. My job as a volunteer was to support a hired tutor as she taught a small group of students. Little did I know a simple requirement for a service-learning course would turn into a semester plus a summer of fun!
- Kids can’t handle too many instructions at once. Perfecting effective teaching and classroom management strategies are now on my to-do list and will prepare me for my future as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
- Praise means the world to children. You can see them glowing after you give them a compliment or commend them on a job well done. Even something as simple as remembering their name can excite them!
- Likewise, children have hearts of gold. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Teacher, you’re pretty!” or “You’re fun!” Grown-ups don’t uplift one another as much as they should.
- Competition excites some, but it can shut other kids down. Children lose motivation and interest in activities in which they feel they can’t succeed. So, I made a point to rub in the teamwork aspect. I learned to be the collaboration-promoter and enthusiastic cheerleader, especially at sports time.
- Helping children overcome unfavorable behavior is pretty rewarding. For one child who refused to participate, I hand-over-hand led him in doing the task at hand: a simple art project. I just wanted him to follow directions. Afterwards, I expected him to hate me for all eternity. But instead we became friends and he respected me. That was very eye-opening.
It’s curious sometimes just how quickly interesting people can come and go in one’s life, and even more compelling how service can provide a framework for these exchanges. This is how I felt upon meeting Mr. Philip Levine.
It was early and gray the morning of January 23, 2015. I was fresh off my Fiji trip with that new joy for service in my soul. I was determined to share some of it as I went from room to room taking meal orders in my classy volunteer garb. Every time I volunteer at St. Agnes I meet at least one person who likes to stop and share advice or stories between meal-planning, and this day, it was Philip Levine. He seemed to be just an average patient, but he intrigued me somehow.
After we’d planned his simple meal, we somehow got on the subject of travel, or perhaps culture first, I can’t remember. I told him a bit about serving in Fiji, and he nonchalantly mentioned all the places he’s been (which were so many I can hardly recall them now). I’m 100% Portuguese, and so he told me tales of the beauty of Portugal, and highly recommended that I travel there. He collaborated with a Portuguese man on a book of poetry once. “You’re a POET?!” I exclaimed, a little too excitedly, “where can I buy some of your works?” (His heart would begin to beat too hard at intervals, and he’d have to stop, breathe, and rest for a few minutes, the pulsing in his neck was visible and very rapid, but I was patient. I felt that I brought a bit too much energy.) He said no need, and he gave me one of his books on the spot! It was titled “News of the World.” He continued his story, but throughout, casually mentioned prizes, professorships, etc., as I marveled at his achievements and humility. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Fresno State, to name a few contributions. I was so inspired. I cracked open the book, and found a voice for the average soul, and in some particular ones, the Fresno soul. I asked him to sign it, and he did, although it was a visible struggle. I thanked him, and we chatted a bit more, but soon I could see he needed rest and I needed to curb my curiosity. I bid him good bye and get well.
Sometimes, you walk out of a hospital room subconsciously accepting that you will probably never see a person again, whether by healing and return to the daily grind or by the final departure. Other times, it hits you.
It wasn’t until after he passed a few weeks ago that I learned just how influential Mr. Levine really was to Fresno State and the realm of poetry. How fortunate I was to chance to meet the man! He used his gift to turn our Fresno experience into art–a service indeed. He enjoyed jazz music, and collaborated with Dr. Benjamin Boone, a professor with a wonderful commitment to service-learning, in setting some of his works to music. The project is just about done, you can listen to some tracks here. Dr. Boone described him as “spontaneous,” and said Levine “had a confidence in his work–in art–in our project that was refreshing.” I would have loved to have Levine as a professor here at Fresno State.
Service has brought me to bizarre places, introduced me to incredible people, and filled my life with so much meaning. This is just one instance of amazing learning and a fun connection I was given through first my excitement surrounding service abroad, and my actual presence as a St. Agnes volunteer. I won’t soon forget my fortunately-timed meeting with Philip Levine and his quiet, confident love of poetry that is such a beautiful contribution to our community.
Have you ever made an unforgettable connection at a service opportunity? Who has inspired you?
Eyes flutter open. You see a cloud of white mesh all around. You feel thoroughly sticky and quite katakata (hot), but these are sensations you’ve come to embrace. You close your eyes once more, reflecting on your last memories before falling asleep: Fijian lullabies from the nearby community hall with the ocean gently singing along. Your stomach tells you that you drank too much grog last night, but you don’t care. Rays of light beckon you through the cracks in the door and wooden window shades, as the sun whispers, “come look.” So, snatching your sulu (wraparound skirt) and journal, you hop over sleeping girls and exit the little house to sparkling waves, white sand, sea breeze, and a glorious sunrise. You know in just a little while the village will wake up and you’ll hear friendly voices saying Yadra sia, good morning. What will the day hold?
Perhaps horseback riding, crafting with joyful children, dancing, sawing wood, nailing cabinets, going to the sea, jumping off a rope swing, painting the community center, snorkeling, finding spidery starfish, whistling to hermit crabs, weaving mats, cracking open a coconut by means of machete, singing with a famous band, reflecting with a teammate, showering in a waterfall, napping in a hammock on the beach, hauling rocks from a river to make an irrigation trough, frying up some ro-ro (my favorite Fijian food) or delicious fresh fish, starting a spontaneous limbo game, eating the most succulent pineapple of your life from Balei’s garden, singing and praying in church, drinking round after round of grog (water strained through ground yaqona root which provides a tongue-numbing sensation and a deep calm), and gazing at a sky full of stars before climbing under your net to sleep.
“Fiji is a life.”
This brief song lyric, written by my friend Inoke from the band, embodies our experience on the Fiji Service-Learning Adventure 2015 all too well. Beyond the exciting activities that fellow Fresno State students, a few faculty, and I experienced in Naboutini, Fiji was an exhilarating embrace from the villagers and an immersion in their beautiful culture of patience, overwhelming love of neighbor, and kindheartedness. There was an absence of the anxieties of our materialistic, time-obsessed world, replaced by a genuine concern for the well-being of the community. I will never forget the new “life” and perspective these Fijians gave me during my time in the village.
The trip did require, admittedly, quite a bit of endurance and perseverance against the heat, humidity, unfriendly insects and adjustments to a new way of life (diet, etc.). But I quickly found unfaltering joy amidst any slight discomfort, and proceeded to create incredible bonds with teammates and villagers alike.
It was incredible to discover that the most beautiful things on earth to one person can be commonplace to another. My breath was stolen at the wonders we saw while snorkeling, but our friend Jim just nonchalantly handed me sea cucumbers and bright blue starfish and couldn’t begin to fathom my wonder at his backyard coral reef. Also, Mere, our Fijian mother, must have thought we were overly dramatic during our cool, refreshing waterfall showers. The once-in-a-lifetime experience for us was her washing machine. She looked so beautiful, perched on a rock, scrubbing and rinsing her many sulus.
The lesson I took from my experience that I am bringing to Fresno is this: kindness must be a culture rather than a series of acts. The vastly different culture of Fiji stole my heart and broadened my perspective. From here forward in all aspects of my life and especially when serving others, I plan to be more intentional with my words and deeds and willing to make new connections.
The villagers showered me with love and incredible generosity and changed my life, but the question remains: how did I impact them? I brought guitar strings, water colors, crayons, and construction paper with some donations I was given beforehand, and they were received with gratitude. Many beautiful memories came from using these supplies. However, I feel like our team’s presence and willingness to serve meant the most. I loved the villagers back to my best ability. I loved their home, culture, music, lighthearted personalities, and traditions, and I carry that love in my heart still.
My Fiji experience has developed my heart for international service and broadened my worldview in the best way. I look forward to giving more love and employing the lessons I learned in future service endeavors.
Interested in international service? Check out Madventurer–we had smooth sailing with this incredible, inspiring organization. Also, for students, keep an eye on the Division of Continuing and Global Education for upcoming opportunities, or contact the Richter Center to answer any questions regarding volunteering, community engagement, and service-learning.
Life is short; the world is a vast place. How will you step outside your comfort zone to share your time and talents? What need do you see here at home that you can fill? Would you consider international service?
I have always been fascinated about the idea of volunteering in a hospital, and this summer I decided to do something about it! One of our former Ambassadors, Daniel, submitted a blog post about the wonders of a long-term service project and really inspired me to commit to this one. I chose to apply to the volunteer program at St. Agnes Medical Center here in Fresno. Because three of my younger brothers were born there, St. Agnes has always been a magical place to me, reminding me of warm sisterly memories and new life! I have a few close friends who volunteer there or have volunteered there in the past. Also, as a Speech-Language Pathology major, I may choose to work in the hospital setting someday, so gaining experience would be beneficial.
After receiving my fancy badge, I chose the section of the hospital where I would like to volunteer. I began in Nutrition Services, where I use a tablet to collect menu orders from patients.The fabulous diet clerks Wanda and Debbie direct me to the section of the hospital that needs to be addressed, and I cheerily go room-to-room taking orders. I have found that I absolutely LOVE the patient contact. I get the whole range of patients, from the older gentlemen discussing the healing powers of apple pie, to awesome women who have just popped out babies and need to renew their energy! Countless times, I have long talks with patients, giving them a chance to visit (or vent), and gaining invaluable advice.
Every Friday, a group of Fresno State students from our new chapter of the Food Recovery Network is given an incredible, not-so-secret mission: help combat hunger in Fresno! They split up and strategically collect food that, under normal conditions, would have been thrown away. This is yummy cuisine that has been prepared, but never served, from restaurants and vendors around Fresno. There is a time frame in which the students may recover the food from various locations (including, but not limited to produce from a local farmer’s market, DiCicco’s, Dusty Buns, and Fresno State’s University Dining Hall). Once all the food has been collected, they then reconvene at St. Paul’s Catholic Newman Center, and are charged with the next portion of their mission: to prepare a meal from the delicious victuals they’ve recovered. A team of committed volunteers from the Newman Center and the Fresno State students creates a menu and cooks up a storm! In the end, anyone is welcome to a free hot meal, at 6:30 pm Friday night, in the cafeteria at the Newman Center.
Join us for Spring into Service on March 22, 2014 from 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM!
With triumphant Make a Difference Day and Serving Fresno Day behind us, we at the Richter Center joyfully look forward to the next one-day service opportunity, Spring into Service Day!
Volunteers can choose from one of these awesome locations/ projects:
- Planting and beautification of the group activity area at Woodward Park with Fresno PARCS
- Repainting basketball courts, revitalization projects at El Dorado Park with Associated Students, Inc.
Fresno has a lot of critics, but with some positive attitudes and a little teamwork we can change that negativity! We of this under-appreciated Central Valley city are blessed with splendid sunshine, vibrant urban developments, rich and abundant fields of agriculture, and so much more. Everything we could ever need is right here. Most of us don’t have to worry about our next meal or finding shelter from day to day. We have a successful university full of bright minds just waiting to change the world. Fresno is home to amazing, dedicated, down-to-earth people, and we shouldn’t doubt its potential for a second. All it takes to recognize its beauty is a little optimism. I can assure you that community service is one of the best ways to guarantee this much-needed positive outlook.
Granted, there’s always room for improvement, and that’s just what Spring into Service is all about! The general consensus from our previous one-day service events was that although it was early on a Saturday morning, each and every one of us left our service project with feelings of accomplishment and camaraderie. We each became excited to watch our web of outreach unfold! Our goal at the Richter Center is to regenerate these positive vibes on March 22nd.
Let’s work together to spread an awesome message about our community! Let’s revitalize Fresno! Spring into Service Day will be a springboard for the Spring into Service Lifestyle: where we’ll work every day to make our home even better!
Join us! You are officially invited!
Visit the Richter Center website to register by March 19th; space is limited.
Which Spring into Service site are you most interested in and why? What do you hope to gain by participating in Spring into Service?
Serving children is unbelievably rewarding. Their innocent, curious outlook on life is contagious. Whether teaching them something new or just spending time with them, it is my experience that they look up to college students and seek our approval earnestly. Sadly, many children aren’t getting the love and attention they deserve, for one reason or another. I believe that many of society’s problems could be addressed solely by properly nurturing our community’s children.
I challenge you to give back to the next generation as a mentor for children everywhere. It is beyond excellent to go out of your way to work with little ones often, but first it is important to live your life in a way that would inspire them.
Lead by example. Be someone to look up to.
When you are ready to set aside time to serve children, look at opportunities with an open mind and heart. In the numerous settings where I’ve worked with kids, all of them (even the slightly troubled ones) are capable of being good because that is their natural way. They just need someone to show them politeness and uplift them in their goodness. Your care and attention could be just what they need to succeed!
Don’t know where to start? There are many ways to make an impact in children’s lives. Take a look at the few suggestions below, or reach out in your own way!
-Serve as a tutor or mentor
-Donate to local food pantries to feed hungry children and their families
-Volunteer at the SMILE Center at the Bulldog Pantry on Saturday mornings
-Organize or donate to clothing, book, backpack, school supply, and toy drives any time of year
-Be ultra-adventurous and volunteer abroad!
-Work with Fresno PARCs to renovate local parks for children
Identify your unique gifts, and then freely share them with the younger generation. I firmly believe that you will receive as much benefit as they do.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Some thought-provoking questions:
Who inspired you as a child?
Do you have a favorite childhood memory or experience that you could recreate for another person?
What is one lesson you learned as a child that changed your perspective in an unforgettable way?
How can you give to the next generation?