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Pope Francis recalls ‘the souls’ at Auschwitz

Pope Francis visits former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim
Pope Francis meets concentration camp survivors in the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. Courtesy of REUTERS/David W Cerny

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis condemned the horror of Auschwitz on Wednesday (Aug. 3), saying he felt the “presence of all the souls who passed through” the concentration camp that he visited during his trip to Poland last week.

Speaking at his first weekly public audience at the Vatican since June, the pope reflected on his visit to the notorious Nazi concentration camp near Krakow where more than a million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II.

He said his decision to remain silent while visiting and praying inside the camp was “more eloquent than any spoken word could have been.”

“I felt the presence of all the souls who passed through that place,” the pope told a large crowd inside a Vatican audience hall.

“I felt the compassion, the mercy of God, which a few holy souls were able to bring into that abyss. In that great silence, I prayed for all the victims of violence and war.”

Francis also said he realized the importance of remembering past events and ensuring “the seed of hatred and violence not be allowed to take root in the furrows of history.”

Francis visited the camp last week while he was in Poland for World Youth Day and had emotional encounters with 10 camp survivors, whom he embraced.

Around 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at the complex of death camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim, near Krakow, during World War II. Today the main sites, Auschwitz and Birkenau, showcase the horror of the Nazi genocide and draw visitors from around the world.

Pope Francis walks through a gate with the words "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Kacper Pempel. Editors: This photo may only be used with RNS-POPE-AUSCHWITZ, published July 29, 2016.

Pope Francis walks through a gate with the words “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free) at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Kacper Pempel. Editors: This photo may only be used with RNS-POPE-AUSCHWITZ, published July 29, 2016.

During his visit, the pope left a simple message in the guest book: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”

Departing from his prepared text Wednesday, Pope Francis went on to recall the countless people who are suffering in the world today due to war.

“Looking upon that cruelty, in that concentration camp, I thought immediately of the cruelties of today, which are similar: not as concentrated as in that place, but everywhere in the world; this world that is sick with cruelty, pain, war, hatred, sadness.”

Francis’ visit to Poland also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the historic visit of St. John Paul II after the fall of Soviet communism that had dominated John Paul’s homeland for decades.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

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