My name is Shermin Güner, by birth a Turk, by faith a Muslim, by profession a sculptor and an art teacher for 20 years. It was in 1983 that I first heard of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. A young Franciscan priest, in Istanbul, introduced him to me. He told me that the Friars wanted to mark the anniversary of Fr. Kolbe’s canonization, immortalizing in bronze the heroic figure of this Polish Franciscan priest and martyr who had offered himself to save the life of a family father and died of starvation in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. I was deeply moved as I listened to this last chapter of Fr. Kolbe’s life story. I thought to myself that the Friar’s idea to propose to the Christians and Muslims who visit their church the example of Fr. Maximilian’s love of neighbor even unto death was highly commendable. So I accepted the commission to reproduce in plaster the Saint’s bust, which then had to be cast in bronze. First of all, I had to know more about him. I started reading a biography of this man who, notwithstanding his ailing health, was able to accomplish so much.
The more I read, the more my interest grew, until I could not help feeling a profound religious admiration for this person who was so deeply convinced of his faith that his belief became transparent in all his actions. A very gifted person, he could have made a name of himself in the field of science. Instead, he chose to follow Christ as a religious in the footsteps of the Poverello of Assisi. His only ambition and his cherished dream were to spend his life witnessing God’s love to all men.
Another aspect that struck me very much was his openness to the different cultures and even his readiness to dialogue with other religions. A staunch Catholic who never compromise on the tenets of his Faith, totally dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel, he never shied making friends with persons of other religions and seeking their collaboration in the full respect of their conscience and personal believe. He was truly a forerunner of the inter-religious dialogue proposed and encouraged by the second Vatican Council. His relations with people of different faiths were always based on the reciprocal respect and he would never hurt the religious feelings of his interlocutors.
However much he must have wished that all men could share with him the richness of the Gospel message, to him the greatest gift he had received from God, he would never dream of imposing it by force. His apostolic zeal carried him to India and China. A dream that never materialized was that of visiting Turkey, where the presence of the Franciscans dates back to 1221. How much he would have loved to see how Turks revere and honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom they respectfully call Meryem Ana; that is, Mother Mary! Finally, the heroic act of St. Maximilian, which marks the zenith of his life here on earth, revealed to me the greatness of the command of Christ to his followers to love one another as He had loved them, laying down his life for them. In that sort of hell on earth, Fr. Kolbe witnessed that love did still have a meaning, that love was truly stronger than death, that love was the only creative force, that love alone could instill hope even where hatred reigned supreme.
This noble gesture has left an indelible mark on my soul, I felt that loving others and stretching out a helping hand to those in need is not an option; it is a duty that we cannot shrink from. I become more aware that love knows no boundaries of race, religion, color or language.
Allow me to conclude on a personal note. I have come to know Fr. Maximilian Kolbe just by chance, but from the day I came to know him, I can never part from him. I really carry his memory within me all the time. In addition, I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to make known to my own people, the Turks, this noble and heroic figure who shines out in magnificent splendor, inviting all men and women never to forget that: “Hatred destroys. Love alone creates!”
Mrs. Güner’s complete testimony has been published in AA.VV. San Massimiliano Kolbe e la Nuova Evangelizzazione – Atti del Congresso Kolbiano di Niepokalanów 1994, Centro Internazionale M.I., Roma 1999, pp. 135-138.