“Indifference is the great poison of our age,” wrote St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyr of Auschwitz. In the face of great human suffering it can be tempting to become numb and to turn away. The following holy people chose instead to go to the heart of the suffering and to remain present with those who needed them most — eyes and hearts open wide until their last breath.
These saints remained anchored in concrete acts of kindness despite the violence and despair around them. By sheltering Jews, caring for neglected children, and sharing their meager food and water rations, they managed to live for a larger purpose and to bring meaning out of meaninglessness.
These saints are particularly relevant for contemporary times: most of them went through a period of atheism early on in life, and later on, all of them engaged huge questions — such as: How does one keep faith in the face of despair and how does one continue to believe in a loving God despite evidence to the contrary?
In the face of seemingly unanswerable questions, these people managed to grasp hope as the nightmare of the Holocaust progressed. Mother Maria Skobtsova remained hopeful even while watching smoke rise from the chimneys of the crematoriums. “But it is only here, immediately above the chimneys, that the billows of smoke are oppressive,” she said. “When they rise higher, they turn into light clouds before being dispersed into limitless space. In the same way, our souls, once they have torn themselves away from this sinful earth, move by means of an effortless unearthly flight into eternity, where there is life full of joy.”