Using Your God-Given Talents and Resources to Witness to Christ
“John was sent from God … He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
Thousands of French Jews during World War II owe their lives to a dry cleaner’s teenage apprentice.
Adolfo Kaminsky was 18. Barely escaping internment in a French concentration camp, his father had arranged for his family to adopt false identities and go underground. He sent Adolfo to pick up their new papers from a member of the French resistance. When the resistance member learned that Adolfo had worked at a dry cleaner’s, he asked Adolfo if he knew how to “bleach” ink. Adolfo said he did: with lactic acid. Adolfo showed him how to erase the permanent blue ink that marked official documents with the word “Jew.”
And so began the career of one of the greatest forgers in France during the war. Kaminsky forged perfect identity cards, passports, food ration cards, and birth and marriage certificates. Kaminsky went on to form a team of forgers who created a lab right under the nose of the Nazis in a narrow attic in Paris. The neighbors thought they were all painters.
Kaminsky proved to be a genius at using everyday items to create documents that fooled even the most suspicious Nazi official: sewing machines to make “official” looking perforations, salvaged metal to fabricate perfect rubber stamps and watermarks. But there was little joy in it for Kaminsky and his colleagues: “The smallest error and you send someone to prison or death. It’s a great responsibility. It’s heavy. It’s not at all a pleasure.”
It is estimated that Adolfo Kaminsky’s forgeries saved the lives of as many as 14,000 Jewish men, women and children. After the war, Kaminsky spent the next 30 years forging documents for those fleeing every major conflict of the mid-20th century, from the Algerian war of independence to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
Adolfo Kaminsky never took any payment for his forgeries. He earned a modest living as a photographer. Now 92 years old, Kaminsky is only now telling his story, at his daughter’s urging. He says what drove him was his hatred of oppression and injustice against the innocent. He is humbled and happy his work brought freedom and life to so many:
“I saved lives because I cannot deal with unnecessary deaths. All humans are equal, whatever their origins, their beliefs, their skin color. There are no superiors, no inferiors . . .
“I did what I had to do when I had to … and I was lucky to be able to do it.”
Today’s Gospel by St. John the Apostle and Evangelist begins by speaking of St. John the Baptist, who makes his initial appearance at a precise point in history to bear direct witness before man to Jesus Christ.
All of the Old Testament was a preparation for the coming of Christ. The patriarchs and prophets announced, in different ways, the salvation the Messiah would bring. But St. John the Baptist, the greatest of those born of woman, was actually able to point out the Messiah personally; his testimony marked the culmination of all the previous Old Testament prophecies.
So important is St. John the Baptist’s mission to bear witness to Jesus Christ that the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke all start their account of Jesus’ public ministry with St. John the Baptist’s testimony. In addition, the speeches of St. Peter and St. Paul recorded in the Acts of the Apostles also refer to the Baptist’s testimony. And, the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist mentions it as many as seven times. We know, of course, that today’s gospel writer, St. John the Apostle was a disciple of St. John the Baptist before becoming a disciple of Jesus, and that it was in fact St. John the Baptist who pointed St. John the apostle to the way to Christ.
The New Testament shows us the importance of St. John the Baptist’s mission, especially his own awareness that he is merely the immediate forerunner of the Messiah, whose sandals he is unworthy to untie. The Baptist stresses his role as witness to Christ and his mission as preparer of the way for the Messiah. St. John the Baptist’s testimony remains undiminished by time. He still invites people, like you and I, in every generation to point out Jesus, the true Light, to others by being witnesses for Him in the course of their ordinary daily lives.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, A young man uses what he learned working at a dry cleaner to “make straight” a horribly crooked path; he risks his life to use his skill to “cry out” against the “desert” of injustice and oppression destroying his country and killing his people. We are all called to this kind of important and “prophetic” work: to use whatever skills and resources we possess to bring faith and hope into prisons of despair, to bring joy and peace into deserts of sadness, and to bring love and mercy into hearts and spirits of stone.
Mary, Queen of Prophets, pray for us!