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Am Johal: Pope Visits Krakow and Auschwitz

Pope Visits Krakow and Auschwitz


By Am Johal

Krakow - Pope Benedict XVI made his way to a grey and rainy Krakow where a crowd of 900,000 had gathered to greet him. Some had travelled all night and others slept in cars to get a sight of the pontiff. At six in the morning, thousands were already making their way from the streets of Krakow to the local park.

The bars had stopped serving liquor on Friday and were not going to start again until after midnight on Sunday. The food vendors were serving up coffee, kielbasa, buns and perogies as the rain poured down.

There were flags and music and the event had all the features of a massive rock concert or a nationalist rally - line-ups at the port-o-potties, outdoor food vendors, lit candles and sing-a-longs.

The Catholic Church is revered in Poland where it was seen by many as being instrumental in bringing down the previous Communist regime.

Later in the day, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. They were not scheduled as part of his trip but were arranged on the Pope's insistence. In his youth, the Pope had unwillingly been a member of the Hitler Youth in Germany.

The BBC quoted him as saying, "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?"

"Our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again."

He lit a candle in memory of those who died at Auschwitz and met with 32 survivors. Another 500 survivors attended the ceremony at Birkenau. The Pope also visited a cell which had held Catholic Priest Maximilian Kolbe who had offered to take the place of a prisoner during the Second World War.

More than a million Jews, Poles, Roma, gays and Russians were killed there.

He had warmed the hearts of the people on his trip by speaking Polish and announcing that he was hoping to speed up the sainthood of Pope John Paul II. He also made remarks about the dangers of increasing secularization in the world.

ENDS

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