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Friday, December 9, 2016
Pope visits Auschwitz: 'may the Living God' never let this happen again'
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 Yesterday afternoon, Benedict XVI travelled by car from the archbishop's palace in Krakow to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, on the last stage of his apostolic trip to Poland. The Pope walked into the Auschwitz concentration camp, passing under the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work makes you free) written over the gate. Once inside he was welcomed by the director of the Auschwitz Museum and by other civil and religious authorities. He visited the courtyard surrounding the Wall of Death, where prisoners used to be summarily executed, and met with former inmates. He also visited the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe died, in the cellar of block 11. The Holy Father then travelled by car to the centre for dialogue and prayer, a Catholic institution established near the camp, upon which he bestowed his apostolic blessing. Returning to his car, he journeyed three kilometres to the camp of Birkenau. Upon arriving there, the Pope first paused before the 22 bronze slabs that symbolically commemorate the victims of the Holocaust in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. He also met with representatives of other religions and with a group of concentration camp survivors of various nationalities. The Pope prayed for the victims and listened to the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer of mourning, before delivering his address: "To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible - and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany," said Benedict XVI. "In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did You remain silent? How could You tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again." The Pope recalled the visit of John Paul II, who "came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. 'Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,' he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations." "John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of John Paul II and as a son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation's honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power." "How many questions arise in this place!" the Holy Father cried. "Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? ... How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, ... This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age ... suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness." "We cannot peer into God's mysterious plan - we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No - when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: ... Do not forget mankind, Your creature!" "Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God's name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him." "The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. ... Some [of the] inscriptions [here] are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. ... If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God Who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world." "Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people. ... There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold aim: by setting people free from one dictatorship, they were to submit them to another, that of Stalin and the communist system." The inscription in German serves as a reminder that "the Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as ... the refuse of the nation." "Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instil hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil. They want to make us feel the sentiments expressed in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: 'my nature is not to join in hate but to join in love'." Source: VIS
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