IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesOSWIECIM, Poland (CNS) -- Sitting with head bowed and eyes
closed, Pope Francis paid silent tribute to the victims of one of the worst
atrocities of the 20th century.
The pope arrived July 29 at the Auschwitz-BirkenauNazi death camp in Oswiecim,
an area now blanketed by green fields and empty barracks lined by barbed wire
fences, remnants of a horror that remains embedded in history.
Used by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945, the camp was the Nazi's largest and
consisted of three parts: Auschwitz I, where many were imprisoned and murdered;
the Birkenau extermination camp -- also known as Auschwitz II -- and Auschwitz III (Auschwitz-Monowitz), an area of auxiliary
camps that included several factories.
In 1942, Auschwitz became the site of the mass extermination
of over 1 million Jews, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and
thousands of Polish citizens of different nationalities.
Among those killed were St. Maximilian Kolbe, a
Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, and Edith Stein, a Jewish philosopher
who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Crossing the gate inscribed with the infamous motto "Arbeit macht frei"
("Work sets you free") the pope quietly sat on a small bench
for 10 minutes with his head bowed, occasionally glancing somberly around before
closing his eyes in silent prayer.
He stood up, and slowly walked up to the wooden post of one
of the barracks, reverently touching and kissing it.
The pope then made his way to Block 11 to greet a dozen
survivors of the camp, including a 101-year-old violinist, who survived by
being in the camp orchestra. Pope Francis greeted each survivor individually,
gently grabbing their hands and kissing their cheeks.
Among the survivors was Naftali Furst of Bratislava, Slovakia, who was
deported to Auschwitz and was evacuated to Buchenwald in January 1945 before
Furst, who now lives in Israel, gave the pope a photograph
showing him and other inmates imprisoned in the Auschwitz barracks.
Pope Francis also signed a book for Furst before he made his
way toward the "death wall" where thousands of prisoners were lined
up and shot in the back of the head before their bodies were sent to the
Candle in hand, the pope lit an oil lamp in front of the
wall, before praying and laying his hand on the wall. He then turned around and
entered the barracks of Block 11.
Also known as "the death block" because the Nazis
used it to inflict torture, it houses the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe spent
his final hours, starved and dehydrated before being given a lethal injection
of carbolic acid.
Pope Francis entered the darkened cell, illuminated by a
faint light from the corridor, revealing a candle, an engraved plaque marking
the site of the Franciscan friar's death, and countless words -- even a cross --
etched on the walls by those who spent their final moments in the starvation
Once again Pope Francis sat in silence with his head bowed. Alone
in the cell for eight minutes, he occasionally looked up to contemplate his
Outside the cell, he signed the visitors' book, writing a
simple message: "Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive so much
Pope Francis then made his way to the Holocaust memorial at
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, driven in an electric cart on a path parallel to the
railroad tracks that carried countless men, women and children to their doom.
It now leads to a monument that honors their memory.
To the left of the memorial lay the ruins of one of four
crematoriums used to incinerate the bodies of those who died of disease or
starvation or who were executed in the two gas chambers housed within the
The pope approached the memorial to the victims, lined with
23 plaques, each inscribed with a message in a different language:
"Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity,
where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children,
mainly Jews from various countries of Europe."
Passing each plaque, Pope Francis reached the end of the
monument where he set a candle in a large glass bowl and once again stood in
silence, clasping his hands together over his chest in prayer.
While he prayed, the voice of Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Joseph
Schudrich echoed Psalm 130 in Hebrew throughout the camp. The psalm begins with
a cry to God: "From the
depths I have cried out to you, O Lord."
The event ended with the pope greeting 25 people honored as
"righteous among the nations," a recognition of non-Jews who risked
their lives to save Jews from the Nazi extermination.
Among those present for the solemn occasion was Rabbi
Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope from Buenos Aires.
Speaking to journalists July 28, Rabbi Skorka recalled a
telephone conversation with Pope Francis in which he asked about the visit to
"The pope told me, "I am going to behave the same
way I did in Armenia -- the places where people were killed -- I will remain
silent,'" he said.
"From a theological point of view and from a biblical
point of view, this attitude means a lot," the rabbi said.
- - -
Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesCZESTOCHOWA,
Poland (CNS) -- God
chose to manifest his power not by amazing feats of greatness but rather
through small acts of humility, choosing to enter the world as a child born of a woman,
Pope Francis said.
The Lord's "humble love" is reflected
Poland's history, particularly through "meek and powerful heralds of
mercy," such as St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska, the pope said July 28 at a Mass outside the Marian
shrine of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa.
these 'channels' of his love, the Lord has granted priceless gifts to the whole
church and to all
mankind," the pope said.
Mass marked the 1,050th
anniversary of the baptism
of Poland, which celebrates the Christianization of the country following the
baptism of Mieszko I,
the first ruler of the Polish state.
Prior to leaving Krakow for Czestochowa,
the pope visited the convent of the Sisters of the Presentation and stopped at
a nearby hospital to visit Cardinal
Franciszek Macharski, retired archbishop of Krakow.
89-year-old cardinal, who is in "serious condition," succeeded St.
John Paul II as archbishop of Krakow following his election as pope in 1978.
With thick clouds gathered over the
Jasna Gora Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Pope Francis arrived by car
rather than helicopter, as planned. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican
spokesman, said officials had told the Vatican it might not be safe for the
helicopter to land.
In Czestochowa, hundreds of thousands
of Poles lined the street leading up to the shrine, which houses the famed icon
of the Black Madonna, traditionally held to have been painted by
St. Luke the Evangelist.
John Paul had a special devotion to the famed image. After his election, the
Polish pope visited the shrine on June 4, 1979, and entrusted his pontificate
waving banners and flags anxiously awaited the arrival of Pope Francis who,
like his predecessor and many Poles, shares a deep connection and reverence to
and Evelina, two local pilgrims, journeyed with their families to the shrine
hoping to catch a glimpse of "Papa Franciszek."
is the first time I will see the pope; I have never been to a World Youth Day
before," Viola told Catholic News Service.
is very important for us to see and hear the pope, even if it was a long
journey here to Jasna Gora," Evelina said.
also stressed that young people in Poland like herself are hoping for a "special word" and
that the pope "tells us what we can do for our church."
people of Poland need the pope to show us what we can do with our lives and
which roads can lead us to (a better) future," Evelina told CNS, adding
that young people are also hoping to learn "how we can live here in Poland
with people from other countries."
in the popemobile at the shrine, the pope made his way to the monastery that
houses the image of the Black Madonna.
the pope was welcomed by Father
Arnold Chrapkowski, superior general of the monks of St. Paul the First Hermit, the
image of Mary was slowly revealed with the fanfare of drums and trumpets.
pope stood still, gazing at the Black Madonna in silence for several minutes before carrying a gold rose to
the altar below the image. He was then presented with a gold chalice and
a replica of the image, which he reverently touched and kissed.
Beginning the outdoor Mass, Pope
Francis missed a step as he was blessing the altar and an image of Mary with
incense. He stumbled and fell, but quickly was helped to his feet and continued
the liturgy without problem.At a news conference that evening, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, papal spokesman, said the pope had tripped on loose carpeting and had later insisted there was no need for hospital treatment.
In his homily, the
pope reflected on the coming of God into human history not by a "triumphal
entrance or striking epiphany" but rather in "the simplest of
contrary to our expectations and perhaps even our desires, the kingdom of God,
now as then, 'does not come in a way that attracts attention,' but rather in
littleness, in humility," the pope said.
the day's Gospel reading, in which Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding
feast in Cana, the pope said that Christ's humility is again exemplified in
"a simple miracle" that "brings joy to the wedding of a young
and completely anonymous couple."
the "tragically human" attraction to power and grandeur, God
manifests himself and saves humankind "by making himself little, near and
real," the pope said.
are called to reflect God's closeness by "radiating goodness through the
transparency of our lives," he said.
history, he stressed, is marked by occasions in which God has taken them by the
hand and "accompanied you in so many situations."
is what we, too, in the church are constantly called to do: to listen, to get
involved and be neighbors, sharing in people's joys and struggles, so that the
Gospel can spread ever more consistently and fruitfully," the pope said.
Francis also noted that Poland's history is a testament to God's real presence,
the "contagious power of faith" and devotion to Mary.
there is any human glory, any merit of our own in the fullness of time, it is
she. Mary is that space, preserved free from sin, where God chose to mirror
himself. She is the stairway God took to descend and draw near to us. She is
the clearest sign of the fullness of time," he said.
she did in Cana, the pope continued, Mary offers her presence and counsel in
order to "avoid hasty decisions and grumbling in our communities."
each one of us be able to make an interior passage, a Passover of the heart,
toward the divine 'style' incarnated by Mary. May we do everything in
littleness and accompany others at close hand, with a simple and open
heart," Pope Francis said.
- - -Contributing to this story was Jonathan Luxmoore.- - -
Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesKRAKOW,
Poland (CNS) -- The youthful face of God's mercy can change the hearts of people
who have lost hope, Pope Francis said.
young person who is touched by Christ is "capable of truly great things,"
the pope told thousands of young men and women July 28 at the welcoming
ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow.
the church -- and I would add, the world -- looks to you and wants to learn
from you, to be reassured that the father's mercy has an ever-youthful face and
constantly invites us to be part of his kingdom," the pope said.
at Blonia Park in his popemobile, Pope Francis was enveloped in a sea of red,
yellow and blue as pilgrims donned brightly colored ponchos to shield them from
his seat on the main stage, the pope was welcomed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz
of Krakow and six young men and women representing Europe, Asia, North America,
South America, Africa and Australia.
presenting the pope with a custom pilgrim's backpack, a group of young
performers from around the world entertained the pope and the crowd by dancing
traditional dances. The dances ranged from a young Indian woman swaying to the
tune of sitar to a couple masterfully dancing to tango music.
the Gospel reading, the pope thanked the youth for their presence, greeting
them warmly saying, "At last, we are together."
them to cheer for St. John Paul II, the pope thanked his predecessor for
initiating World Youth Day.
heaven, he is with us, and he sees all of you: So many young people from such a
variety of nations, cultures and languages, but with one goal: that of
rejoicing that Jesus is in our midst," he said.
pope noted the festive atmosphere of World Youth Day and praised the "enthusiasm,
dedication, zeal and energy" of the young men and women who make God's
love palpable to the world.
while extolling the virtues of a young, merciful heart, the pope also lamented
young people "who seem to have opted for 'early retirement.'"
worries me to see young people who have 'thrown in the towel' before the game
has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk
around glumly as if life has no meaning," he said.
down, he added, "young people like this are bored and are boring."
celebration in Poland, the pope continued, offers an opportunity for young men
and women to help each other and "not be robbed of the best of ourselves."
Francis encouraged the youths to look to Jesus to receive a "true passion
for life" and to "give the very best of ourselves."
you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can
give you a lasting sense of life and fulfillment? Which one do you want: empty
thrills or the power of grace? To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there
is a way. It cannot be sold, it cannot be bought, it is not a thing, nor an
object. It is a person: His name is Jesus Christ," the pope said.
also invited them to dedicate their time in Poland to listening to Jesus and to
each other in order to live a full life and to embark "on the adventure of
we are, Lord! Send us to share your merciful love," Pope Francis prayed. "We
want to affirm that our lives are fulfilled when they are shaped by mercy, for
that is the better part and it will never be taken from us."- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob RollerBy Dennis SadowskiKRAKOW,
Poland (CNS) -- Tara Gouldring never thought of herself as a missionary to
18-year-old from Birmingham, England, decided it's not such a strange idea after
hearing Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, during a morning catechetical
session July 28 during World Youth Day.
"It's inspiring to see God's
mercy in so many ways and how I can bring it into my life and how (to) love people
even though they do you wrong," Gouldring told Catholic News Service.
"You can start with prayer for
people who need help and hope to help more from there," she said.
Bishop Caggiano's talk at Sacred
Heart of Jesus Church focused on the idea that anyone can become a missionary
of mercy by showing compassion, love and a caring attitude toward anyone who is
He took the 150 young people in the
church, most from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, back to the days before
he became a priest. He was a sales representative for a major publisher in New
York City, and on his way to work every morning he saw a homeless man in a
plaza along the Avenue of the Americas. For weeks, he said, he ignored the man.
"I was so self-absorbed it took
me two months to realize this was a man there. I would literally step over him,"
the bishop said.
Soon, he began giving the man $1
"I thought I was giving him
what he needed. I thought I was doing something good. I thought I was an OK
Catholic," he said.
Today, he realizes he was being far
"My friends, that may be good
enough for the world, but that's not good enough for Jesus Christ. That is not
what we are being called to do. We are being called to more than that,"
Bishop Caggiano explained.
Then, dressed in the traditional
bishop's cassock, waist sash and zucchetto, he got down on his knees and acted
out how he should have responded.
"You get down on your knees and
put your hands under them and you bring them close to you and you lift them up,"
he said. "And the smell of the sheep is when your heart and their heart
are so close that they touch."
Acting with mercy can occur toward
anyone at any time, as long as it is done to follow the example of Jesus, he
said, suggesting that World Youth Day 2016 can be the start of merciful actions
on the part of everyone attending the six-day celebration of faith.
"Is it easy? No. Is it going to
be something you and I will fail at? Yes. Are we going to learn from failure?
Yes, because Christ will love us," Bishop Caggiano said.
The bishop, who was the U.S. bishops'
episcopal liaison for World Youth Day, called on each member of the audience to
become a missionary of mercy one person at a time.
Bridget Phiri, 20, of Wolverhampton,
England, said she saw herself in Bishop Caggiano's story of giving money to the
homeless man in New York.
"Instead of just handing people
money, I should get up and give them a hug and make them feel like they're a
person too, like they're accepted in society. Something more physical than just
giving them some coins and walking by," she said.
"I think I need to re-evaluate
how I look at things now and how I act toward people who are homeless or less
fortunate," Phiri said.
It comes down to letting God flow
through each person's action, concluded Toby Duckworth, 21, of Streetly,
England, who will enter the Venerable English College in Rome as a seminarian
"The challenge is to go beyond
what the world sees as mercy. To go beyond even what we as human beings think
is merciful. To me that is constant challenge, always, everywhere,"
Duckworth told CNS.
Returning home to England and elsewhere,
pilgrims will find it difficult to go beyond their normal circles, he
acknowledged. But such work is never easy. The challenge is "be Jesus to
others," he said.- - -Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob RollerBy Dennis SadowskiOSWIECIM, Poland (CNS) -- Walking
into the site of the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Stephanie Dalton felt a chill up and down her
She called it the spirit of those who died at the hands of the Nazis more
than 70 years ago.
"You could tell the people's presence (was) still there," she said
after her group from the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, walked through the camp
July 25 as part of their World Youth Day pilgrimage.
Dalton, 19, a member of Sts. Simon and Jude
Parish, spoke to Catholic News Service during a break after touring the
camp and the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau
extermination camp where nearly 1 million people were killed in secret during
World War II.
Looking at forested areas at Birkenau, Dalton said she could see the people
who were held "in the beauty" after arriving by train in crammed
boxcars as their fate was being determined by the Nazis.
"They didn't know what was going to happen," she said in a solemn
The Brooklyn contingent totals about 600. Forty of them filled a bus and
joined thousands of others from around the world at the camps a day before the
official opening of World Youth Day.
At Auschwitz, visitors walked in silence under the famous gate with the
slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free.) Only the footsteps
of the pilgrims on the dry, rocky ground could be heard.
For some of the Brooklynites, the silence echoed what it may have been like
for the Jews, Roma and others identified for extermination as they left the
trains and walked to their death.
Wadley Fleurime, 18, a native of
Haiti and a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary
Church, compared the pain of losing friends in his homeland's 2010
earthquake to how families must have felt when they lost loved ones and friends
"It breaks my heart that something like this could happen, because I
know what the heartbreak is like," he said.
Patricia, 22, and Gabriella Ruiz, 19,
sisters who belong to Mary Queen of Heaven Church, said after leaving
Auschwitz they found it difficult to comprehend the killing that occurred
onsite. They expect to share what they saw and learned with parishioners at
"It was crazy that we were walking in the same place that they harmed
people," Gabriella Ruiz said. Her sister described her experience as "surreal."
The sisters want to research the Holocaust more deeply so that they can support
their experience with additional facts and photos.
"We can say we saw it with our own eyes," Patricia Ruiz said.
Several contingents from France stopped at various locations at the
expansive Birkenau site to pray and sing hymns of atonement for the sins of
Dominick Costantino, 24, vocation program
coordinator for the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was walking with
a young Polish woman, Monika Hulewicz,
discussing the history of the camps.
"It's very sad that humans could have done this to other humans,"
Costantino said. "It's amazing (that) you're walking in the suffering. In
the silence you hear the stumbling, the falling, the crying of the people."
Hulewicz, 23, said it is imperative for Poles to tell the story of the
carnage at the camps.
"It is very important for us to show that this is not just Polish
heritage, but that this is the heritage of the whole world," she said. "It
is a big, big reminder of how we can avoid doing it in the future."
At the crumbling bricks of a dynamited Birkenau crematorium, Adrianna Garcia, 26, a member of St. Peter Prince of the Apostles Parish in San
Antonio, stopped to discuss with a friend what she was seeing. She said
that studying the Holocaust in school was far different than seeing the camps
where mass executions were carried out.
"You honestly don't get the full picture until walking the grounds,"
As a fifth-grader in a Catholic school, Garcia had a Jewish teacher who
would tell stories about the Holocaust. "Her stories can't compare to
seeing this," Garcia told CNS. "She would take us to the San Antonio
Jewish museum, but you can't compare it."
She said the pilgrims who visit the concentration camps must take home the
stories home and encourage others to make the same trip if they can. She said
she already had been sharing what she saw on social media.
"It's important not to leave it in the storytelling. Stories come and
stories go. But if you live it, you can help others understand it," she
- - -
Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.
- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.