On a day seemingly dedicated to suffering, Francis visited Auschwitz and Birkenau and in the afternoon will go to a children's hospital, before the Way of the Cross this evening. In silent prayer in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Meeting with some survivors and 12 "Righteous Among the Nations".
Krakow (AsiaNews) - Auschwitz, Birkenau, the University Children's Hospital, the Way of the Cross: it seems that Pope Francis has decided to dedicate this Friday of his trip to Poland to pain in the different forms it can take.
As noted by Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office Director, "in the morning the camps of Auschwitz, the pain caused by hatred, the most terrible murderous absurdity ever in the history of humanity and which demand meditation of the mystery of evil", then"the encounter with another type of suffering, the one with the sick children, with the innocent children who are suffering, ... this too is a great mystery. And finding a meaning to this suffering for them and for the people who love them is not easy. In this sense I believe that this evening's Way of the Cross on the works of corporal and spiritual mercy places us directly before the Mystery of the Cross of Christ to ask the suffering Lord to help us cope with the suffering of the world who come for many different causes. In the Cross these sufferings are all somewhat evoked and summarized. I think today is an extremely important day, especially when we are living where the worries, sufferings, attacks, deaths and conflicts there surround us all the time, that are part of our everyday horizon, of our everyday experience. "
The day began with a visit to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, which took place, as had been announced, of silence and prayer. Francis arrived at 9.15 at Auschwitz. He walked under the inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei", "Work will set you free", which served to keep the prisoners quiet as they were unloaded from the trains deporting them.
In a small electric car, the Pope traveled to the center of the camp and sat on a chair placed in front of the "Role call square" where prisoners were hanged. The Pope remained silent, absorbed in prayer for over ten minutes, then kissed one of the poles used for the killings.
The second stop was a visit to Block 11, in front of which he was welcomed by the Polish Prime Minister, Maria Beata Szydlo. In the square of the shootings the Pope met, greeted and kissed one by one 10 survivors of the concentration camps and stopped to talk briefly with each of them. The last gave him a candle that Francis brought before the wall in front of which the executions were carried out. Again a silent prayer. From there, Francis traveled to the "hunger cell", where prisoners were starved to death. Here, exactly 75 years ago, on July 29, 1941 Father Maximilian Kolbe was sentenced to death. That day the Franciscan offered his life in exchange for that of a condemned man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, who said he had a family at home waiting for him. Kolbe, who survived a few days, was killed on August 14, 1941. To the man who administered the poison injection, he said: "You do not understand anything about life" and added, "hatred is useless. Only love creates ".
In the cell, lit by a small barred window, Francis sat alone and prayed in silence. On the walls there is graffiti, among which a cross. In the cell there is a memorial plaque along with a candle left by St. John Paul II.
At the exit, in the book of honor, Francis wrote: "Senor, ten piedad de tu pueblo! Senor, perdon por tanta crueldad!", "Lord have mercy on your people! Lord forgive such cruelty! ". Then donated a light that will remain in the field.
From Auschwitz, the Pope, on board an electric car, travelled three kilometers to Birkenau, the main extermination camp, where more than a million and one hundred thousand people were killed, overwhelmingly Jews, but also prisoners of war, homosexuals, political opponents, Jehovah's witnesses and gypsies. There were four gas chambers with adjoining crematoria.
In the camp, which was huge (2.5 km long and 2 wide), there is now a monument to the victims of the nations and a number of commemorative plaques in the 23 languages used by the prisoners. On the monument is written: "For ever 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. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940 – 1945'".
A thousand people were present, the Pope stopped to pray before the monuments and laid a light and a letter and remained standing in silence listening to the singing of Psalm 130, "De Profundis", in Hebrew by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, and in Polish by a priest.
Francis greeted 12 "Righteous among Nations", people who saved individual or Jewish families during the Nazi persecution, officially recognized as such by the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem: Maria Jamro Augustyn, Anna Stupnicka Bando, Miroslawa Gruszczynska, Lucja Jurczak Witold Lisowski, Maria Nowak Bozek, Irena Krzysztalowska Sanderska - Rzonca, Alicja Schnepf Szczepaniak, Stanislaw Swierczewski, Józef Walaszczyk, Ryszard Zielinski, Tadeusz Burchacki. Also present were Sister Matylda Getter, representing the Franciscan who saved 500 children from the Warsaw ghetto, and Father Stanislaw Ruszała a parisj priest from Markowa a village where the Ulma Catholic family lived, a family that was exterminated, including the seven children, for hiding Jews, and for whom a cause for beatification has been initiated.