Day 4: World Youth Day 2016

Friday, July 29, 2016

World Youth Day 2016 continues in Krakow, Poland, and runs through Sunday, July 31. We're providing daily coverage all week long. Here's a round-up of a powerful day, where the Holy Father visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and then the Children's University Hospital in Krakow. He then led the Way of the Cross with the young people in Krakow's Blonia Park.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Francis visits in silence and writes in the Book of Honor, "Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty"

The Vatican Press Office reports:

This morning, after celebrating Mass privately in the chapel of the archbishopric of Krakow, Pope Francis transferred by car to the city of Oswiecim, whose history is marked principally by the tragic events of the Second World War. In Oswiecim the Nazis built the largest extermination camp in the history of humanity: Auschwitz-Birkenau, where between 1940 and 1945 more than 1,100,000 people were murdered. Today, with more than 45,000 residents, Oswiecim is the centre of many peace initiatives, a meeting-place for people of different nationalities and religions. In 1998 it received from the secretary-general of the United Nations the title of "Peace Advocate".

During the period in which the camp was active, the Nazis sent to Auschwitz Polish political prisoners in particular, mostly representatives of the country's cultural élite, a total of 150,000. As time passed they also began to sent prisoners of other nationalities and in spring 1942, there began the mass extermination of Jews. More than one million European Jews and 23,000 Sinti and Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of citizens of other nationalities lost their lives there. The martyrs of Auschwitz include the Polish priest St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe (1894-1941), the Carmelite nun of Jewish origin St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein.

The date of the liberation of Auschwitz, 27 January, was designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations in 2005. After the liberation of the country, on 2 July 1947, the Polish parliament approved the conservation of the site of the concentration camp, instituting the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1979, upon request by Poland, it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Upon arrival the Pope was received by Bishop Román Pindel of Bielsko-Zywiec, and by the mayor of the city. He travelled by car to the entrance of the Museum, where he was awaited by its director. Francis entered the camp on foot through arch at the entrance, and proceeded by electric car to Block 11, possibly the most symbolic place in Auschwitz, which includes the "Death Wall" where the Nazis shot prisoners before moving their bodies to the crematorium. In the autumn of 1943, when the shootings were transferred to the crematorium of Birkenau, the wall of executions was dismantled, but in 1946 the former prisoners of the camp rebuilt it.

Francis paused to pray in silence in Roll Call Square, where prisoners were hanged and where St. Maximilian Kolbe offered his life in exchange for that of another prisoner. At the entrance to Block 11, he was received by the prime minister of Poland, Beata Maria Szydlo, and went on to meet, one by one, ten of the camp's survivors, the last of whom gave him a candle which he used to light the lamp he had taken as a personal gift to the camp.

After being received at the doors of the "hunger cell", the location of the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe, by the Superior General and Provincial of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual, he entered alone into cell 18 of the underground part of Block 11, where the Polish priest died. Hunger was one of the many forms of death penalty that existed in Auschwitz. The prisoners, chosen from the block or working group from which a prisoner had escaped, were condemned to a slow death in the camp's hunger cells. There is now a commemorative plaque and a candle, given by St. John Paul II, in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Upon leaving, the Pope signed the Book of Honour with the following words: "Lord, have mercy on your people, Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty" Franciscus, 29.7.2016.

At 10.30 Francis arrived at the camp of Birkenau, the largest camp in the complex situated in Oswiecim. The Nazis began its construction in autumn 1941, ousting the inhabitants of the village of Brzezinka and destroying their houses. In Birkenau the majority of the extermination structures were built: four crematoria with gas chambers, two provisional gas chambers, and around three hundred barracks to house the prisoners destined for work or condemned to a slow death. There were around 100,000 prisoners in 1944.

The Pope travelled alongside the railway by electric car, up to the Monument to the Victims of Nations, inaugurated in 1967 between Crematoria II and III. The monument is a high platform on various levels and the shape of its component elements recalls tombs and gravestones, while the highest symbolises the chimney of the crematorium. Before the monument there is a series of commemorative slabs with a phrase in the 23 languages used by the prisoners, which reads, "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".

Upon arrival at the Monument, the Pope was received by the Polish Prime Minister and the museum's director, in the presence of a thousand people, and walked alongside the commemorative plaques, after which he prayed in silence and set down a lighted candle. At the end he met 25 Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who saved Jews from Nazi persecution. Finally, a rabbi recited Psalm 130 in Hebrew, which was then read in Polish by one of the survivors. At the end of his visit to Birkenau, the Holy Father returned to Krakow.

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Our thanks to Rome Reports for the following video:

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Visit to the Children's University Hospital
At the children's hospital in Krakow, the Holy Father blessed and gave an address to some 50 young patients and their parents. The Holy Father said:

Dear brothers and sisters,

A special part of my visit to Kraków is this meeting with the little patients of this hospital. I greet all of you and I thank the Prime Minister for his kind words. I would like to draw near to all children who are sick, to stand at their bedside, and embrace them. I would like to listen to everyone here, even if for only a moment, and to be still before questions that have no easy answers. And to pray.

The Gospel often shows us the Lord Jesus meeting the sick, embracing them and seeking them out. Jesus is always attentive to them. He looks at them in the same way that a mother looks at her sick child, and he is moved by compassion for them.

How I would wish that we Christians could be as close to the sick as Jesus was, in silence, with a caress, with prayer. Sadly, our society is tainted by the culture of waste, which is the opposite of the culture of acceptance. And the victims of the culture of waste are those who are weakest and most frail; and this is indeed cruel. How beautiful it is instead to see that in this hospital the smallest and most needy are welcomed and cared for. Thank you for this sign of love that you offer us! This is the sign of true civility, human and Christian: to make those who are most disadvantaged the centre of social and political concern.

Sometimes families feel alone in providing this care. What can be done From this place, so full of concrete signs of love, I would like to say: Let us multiply the works of the culture of acceptance, works inspired by Christian love, love for Jesus crucified, for the flesh of Christ. To serve with love and tenderness persons who need our help makes all of us grow in humanity. It opens before us the way to eternal life. Those who engage in works of mercy have no fear of death.

I encourage all those who have made the Gospel call to "visit the sick" a personal life decision: physicians, nurses, healthcare workers, chaplains and volunteers. May the Lord help you to do your work well, here as in every other hospital in the world. May he reward you by giving you inner peace and a heart always capable of tenderness.

Thank you for this encounter! I carry you with me in affection and prayer. And please, do not forget to pray for me.

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The Way of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross in Krakow this afternoon were themed around the works of mercy.

The Holy Father's address:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:35-36).

These words of Jesus answer the question that arises so often in our minds and hearts: "Where is God?" Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees? Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war? Where is God, when cruel diseases break the bonds of life and affection? Or when children are exploited and demeaned, and they too suffer from grave illness? Where is God, amid the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit? These are questions that humanly speaking have no answer. We can only look to Jesus and ask him. And Jesus' answer is this: "God is in them." Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, "one body".

Jesus himself chose to identify with these our brothers and sisters enduring pain and anguish by agreeing to tread the "way of sorrows" that led to Calvary. By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into to the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity. By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times. Tonight Jesus, and we with him, embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war. We greet them and we welcome them with fraternal affection and friendship.

By following Jesus along the Way of the Cross, we have once again realized the importance of imitating him through the fourteen works of mercy. These help us to be open to God's mercy, to implore the grace to appreciate that without mercy we can do nothing; without mercy, neither I nor you nor any of us can do a thing. Let us first consider the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison, and burying the dead. Freely we have received, so freely let us give. We are called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized, to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants. There we find our God; there we touch the Lord.

Jesus himself told us this when he explained the criterion on which we will be judged: whenever we do these things to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do them to him (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

After the corporal works of mercy come the spiritual works: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, consoling the afflicted, pardoning offences, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for the living and the dead. In welcoming the outcast who suffer physically and welcoming sinners who suffer spiritually, our credibility as Christians is at stake.

Humanity today needs men and women, and especially young people like yourselves, who do not wish to live their lives "halfway", young people ready to spend their lives freely in service to those of their brothers and sisters who are poorest and most vulnerable, in imitation of Christ who gave himself completely for our salvation. In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one's own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service. Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose. By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ.

This evening, dear friends, the Lord once more asks you to be in the forefront of serving others. He wants to make of you a concrete response to the needs and sufferings of humanity. He wants you to be signs of his merciful love for our time! To enable you to carry out this mission, he shows you the way of personal commitment and self-sacrifice. It is the Way of the Cross. The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life. It is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude, because it
fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus.

The Way of the Cross is the way of God's own life, his "style", which Jesus brings even to the pathways of a society at times divided, unjust and corrupt. The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ's resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life. It is the way of hope, the way of the future. Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity.

Dear young people, on that Good Friday many disciples went back crestfallen to their homes. Others chose to go out to the country to forget the cross. I ask you: How do you want to go back this evening to your own homes, to the places where you are staying? How do you want to go back this evening to be alone with your thoughts? Each of you has to answer the challenge that this question sets before you.

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Here's a video of the event (our thanks to CTV):

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