07/29/2016, 10.30
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Francis' silence in Auschwitz "gift of John Paul II and Benedict XVI"

by Vincenzo Faccioli Pintozzi

A group of young German pilgrims has been preparing for the World Youth Day visiting Krakow, in a sort of "Way of the Cross through history", the Nazi death camps and the places of suffering imposed by the Soviets on Poland. The Pope's visit today, "closes the wounds that we have inflicted on each other. We remember the words of Pope Benedict XVI with gratitude ".

Krakow (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis' visit to the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau "closes the wounds that Germans and Poles have inflicted on each other. The fact that the Pope is not European, even though of Italian origin, is very significant for us. Before a Polish Pope, then a German and then an Argentine, who choses silence to commemorate the victims, and could do so only through the words already spoken in this place of pain by John Paul II and Benedict XVI", says Jurgen, the "spokesman" of a small group of German pilgrims met by AsiaNews near the Mariacki central square.

The German delegation to Poland for the XXXI World Youth Day is actually quite big, maybe 15 thousand pilgrims in all, accompanied by almost 300 priests and bishops. Today, as the Pope enters the sites of the Holocaust, the World Youth Day takes on a special meaning for them: "We are grateful for the fact that every Pope who has come to Poland has wanted to honor the victims, make a gesture of reconciliation between our people and the condemnation of 'absolute evil' that the Nazis implemented. Our generation, the generation of Germans born about 20 years ago, no longer have the same sense of guilt for the sins of our fathers or our grandfathers. But it is the duty of the entire world, and therefore also of Germany, to remember what happened".

Returning from his Apostolic trip to Armenia, Francis said he would not speak during the visit to the Nazi death camp and he prayed “that God will give me the grace to cry." This choice has been praised by the rabbis of Poland, who stressed the importance of "silent prayer" at events and commemorations of the Holocaust.

Jurgen agrees: "We left for Krakow in early July, and along with five priests visited the death camps and those of Stalinist repression in this poor country. It 'was for us a kind of Way the Cross through modern history ', designed to prepare us on our way here. And in fact in front of so much pain it seems that only silence can make reparation".

However, he points out, "Pope Francis' choice is a gift of his predecessors. It would have been impossible for him to remain silent if prior to this visit St. John Paul II had not come seeking forgiveness or the fundamental words of Benedict XVI been spoken".

In 2006, during his visit to Auschwitz, the emeritus Pope said: " 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".

These words, Jurgen concludes, "are a 'compass' for us Germans to make peace with our past, to apologize for what we did, but - finally – move forward. The xenophobic and autarkic tensions that are shaking Europe also affect Germany, it would be foolish to deny them. But through our prayer, our supplication to the living God, we always find the strength to reject them".

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