Here’s a brief story about a woman who would have had to be considered one of the most unlikely candidates for sainthood. She was chain-smoker, twice divorced, a nun with a brilliant mind and a heart so big that she just could never love enough.
Though in those day, being part of the Roman Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church did not matter to the Nazis; Catholic was Catholic.
So, Elizaveta Pilenko was born in Latvia, inside the Russian empire, in 1891. Her parents were actually devout Orthodox and they were also quite wealthy. Elizaveta enfolded her Catholic faith easily and with open arms.
But by the time she was seven, she was already asking her mom if she could become a nun. But her father died when she was a teenager.
The girl was however, crushed, and her heart experienced a deep sorrow that left her feeling empty inside. And that made her faith crumble like stale crackers. Elizaveta then decided that God’s “nonexistence” was well known to adults but kept a secret from children.
Her childhood was over. So she went into a personal sea of nothingness called atheism. She was however, quoted as having said, “If there is no justice, then there is no God.”
In the year 1910, at the age of eighteen, she got married to Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev. Dimitri was an alcoholic and their marriage only lasted for three years.
But during this period, Elizaveta gave birth to her first child Guiana, she published a book of poetry, and started to study theology.
As she is a strong and determined woman, she was accepted into the theological academy of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.
Not quite long, she began to realize that Christ did exist.
So, in 1918, as she was kiving in the town of Anapa, she got arrested as a Bolshevik and put on trial. However, a local judge, called Daniel Skobstova, fell in love with her, got married to her, and saved her life.
Soon she became pregnant with her second child.
And the family fled to Georgia as she gave birth to another son, Yuri. Then, on moving to Yugoslavia, in 1923, she gave birth to her second daughter, Anastasia.
Not quite long, tragedy and heartache struck Elizaveta. In the year 1926, her daughter, Anastasia, died. Her marriage broke and then her second daughter, Gaiana died suddenly.
All these made Elizaveta’s life immensely. She longed to care for those who were struggling with disabilities, drug addiction, and mental illness. She was already separated from her husband for several years, so she asked her bishop for help and guidance.
Her bishop helped her get an ecclesiastical divorce. And she became a nun and her name changed to Mother Maria Skobtsova.
So, an old beat up house was found in an area of Paris where there were many Russian refugees. In this house, she could take in a hundred people.
Also, there were stables in the back which became the new church.
On May 10th, 1940. France was invaded by Hitler’s army. After one month and fifteen days, it was over. The Fall of France was then complete.
It all happened quickly. The Jewish people started coming to Mother Maria for fake baptismal certificates and for refuge.
So, Father Dmitri Klepinin who was the chaplain, would provide the “papers,” and Mother Maria would hide as many people as she could. She was even trying to sneak into a local stadium where many Jews were being held.
She would try to smuggle in food and water and one time, she managed to smuggle four children out in a garbage truck. (This is where the “Trash can” title came about).
Both Mother Maria, her son Yuri and Father Dimitri, fought the good fight as long as they could. But Father Dimitri and Yuri were first arrested by the Gestapo.
They both died when they were sent to the Dora Concentration Camp.
On the 6th of February, 1944, Yuri was executed and Father Dimitri died of pneumonia lying on a dirt floor four days later.
However, Mother Maria Skobstova was arrested on February 10, 1943 and was sent to Ravensbruck, which is the infamous concentration camp for women. She lasted until Holy Week. She was later sent to the gas chamber and she died for Christ on Holy Saturday, 1945. And the war ended shortly after that.
Both Mother Maria, Father Dimitri, and Yuri, were canonized on January 16, 2004 in the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris. And their feast day is July 20.
So, we ask them all to pray for us.