POPE JOHN PAUL PAYS HOMAGE TO JEWS KILLED IN
March 23rd ( EWTNews) Pope John Paul II visited
Yah Vashem, the memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Nazi
Holocaust that is located on a hill overlooking the small village of
Ain Karem. Yah Vashem is both a memorial for the fallen during the
Holocaust (Shoah) and also a memorial for the Just.
During the visit, the Holy Father stated,
"We remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again
will evil prevail as it did for millions of innocent victims of
Nazism. We remember, but not with a desire for vengeance or as an
incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and
justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace
with justice for all, can avoid the repeating the mistakes of the
The visit to Yah Vashem was also very personal
for the Pope who grew up in the town of Wadowice near Krakow , Poland,
79 years ago. As a young seminary student, he personally witnessed the
persecution of Jews and recalled, "I remember my Jewish friends
and neighbors, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have
come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who,
stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were
murdered in the Holocaust."
The Pope was received outside the hall by the
Prime Minister of Israel Yehud Barak, the Yad Vashem council chairman
Shevah Weiss, and Board of Director’s chairman Avner Shalev. When
the Holy Father entered the hall accompanied by the Prime Minister,
all those present stood up.
As the commemoration ceremony began, the Holy
Father stood with Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He was asked to kindle
the fire of the perpetual flame in the Hall of Remembrance. Here the
Pope stood for a long moment in silence and prayer and the speaker
proclaimed, "We unite in the blessed memory of the 6 million
Jewish martyrs." Then a wreath of yellow and white flowers was
laid on a stone floor engraved with the names of death camps, in
memory of Jews who perished in the Nazi genocide – among them
childhood friends of the Pope from the small Polish town of Wadowice.
Then there was the reading of a letter written
by a Polish mother who was a Jew, asking her gentile friend to look
after her 7-year-old son in hopes of protecting him from the Nazis.
The letter read, "I am sure that you can find it in your heart to
love him. Every day I pray to God that on account of my suffering, he
will be happy in the future." Both parents and the boy were
killed. The pope stood with his head bowed as the letter was read out
loud. Afterwards, a prayer was recited for the souls of the martyrs
and the Holy Father walked across the stone floor and greeted the
survivors of the Holocaust who were standing at the side of the
memorial hall. One of the survivors began crying, and he gently patted
her arm in consolation. After the ceremony, the Pope met with six
survivors, as well as Jerzy Kluger, a survivor and childhood friend.
He also greeted some 30 former residents of Wadowice.
The Pope in addressing the distinguished guests
gathered and in paying homage to the millions of Jewish people who
were murdered in the Holocaust, asked, "How could man have such
utter contempt for man?" And answered the question saying,
"Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a
Godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole
In both the beginning and ending of the Holy
Father’s talk he quoted Psalm 31 saying, "I trust in you, O
Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’." He called to mind the
religious teachings of both Jews and Christians in that "our
spiritual experience demands that we overcome evil for good."
"As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the
Apostle Peter," the Pope assured the Jewish People that,
"the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and
love and by no political consideration, is deeply saddened by the
hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed
against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place. The
Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the
Creator inherent in every human being."
Afterwards Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak
spoke saying, "We meet today essentially because out of memory
for the Jewish people and all of humanity who were victims of the
barbarism of Nazism." He said it was hard to hope in God and that
it is impossible to overcome the pain of the past overnight. With
words of hope he stated, "’We appreciate the noble act of your
coming here to today. It is a climax of a journey that holds 2000
years of history and is almost too much to bear. It is our wish to
continue a productive dialogue to eliminate racism and
At the close of the ceremony, the Holy Father
was presented with a replica of a Bible and Bible illustrations as a
token of the appreciation for his efforts toward reconciliation.
Before leaving the hall, the Pope signed the visitor’s book.