European Jewish Congress
Pope Francis pays sombre visit to Auschwitz
EJC in the Media
Pope Francis pays sombre visit to Auschwitz

Pope Francis embraced a group of survivors of Auschwitz and honoured the more than one million victims during a sombre visit to the notorious site.

The Argentine pontiff today followed in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors to make the pilgrimage to the site, where he also met 25 Christians who risked their lives to save Jews during the Shoah and prayed alongside Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

After walking slowly beneath the gate bearing the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”, he met 12 survivors of the death camp. One by one, he stopped, shook their hands and bent over to kiss the elderly survivors on both cheeks. One woman kissed his hand and he exchanged a few words with them. The meeting took place in front of the death wall where thousand were shot and where the pope placed a large white candle in remembrance.

He was then taken in a small car past barracks and brought to a spot in front of them, where he sat on chair, his head bent in contemplation and prayer. He wrote in the visitors’ book: “Lord, have pity on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”

Invited by the Vatican to join the delegation was Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, who said the way the pope embraced the survivors was unprecedented for a papal visit.

“What was also unique was that the only public words heard here were psalm 130 and kaddish emphasising the Jewish significance of the site,” he told the Jewish News. “The visit was an important reminder for the world of the depths of inhumanity that are possible and of how Jewish history uniquely testifies to this.” Stressing the importance in Jewish tradition of an event happening three times, he said Auschwitz should now be a accepted “station on any papal itinerary”.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “This visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau by Pope Francis is a symbolic reminder of our shared effort to ensure that this period of our history is never forgotten.”

Dr Ed Kessler, Founder of the Woolf institute in Cambridge, said: “Pope Francis listened carefully to God’s silence at Auschwitz.  His meetings with survivors demonstrated his longing to recognize one other as brothers and that while words of our prayers are different, our tears and our silence are the same.

Pope Francis also prayed in the dark underground prison cell of a Catholic saint, Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish friar who sacrificed his own life during the war to save the life of another man. A few shafts of light from a tiny window were the only light cast on the white figure of Francis, who knelt for many minutes as he prayed before he crossed himself and rose to his feet. 

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder described the Catholic Church leader as “one of the closest allies Jews have today in the fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry”, while European Jewish Congress chief Moshe Kantor said it is vital at a time of rising anti-Semitism that others follow in the pope’s footsteps.

“The slaughter of a Catholic priest this week is a reminder that people of faith must stand together against extremists who seek to kill on the basis of another’s faith, nationality or background.” 

 

Click here to read the full article in Jewish News

Monday, August 01, 2016
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