Tuesday 17 November 2015

Pope John Paul II's Speech at Israel's Holocaust Memorial

Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Israel in March of 2000 to pay tribute to the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust from 1938 to 1945.  At Yad Vashem, he laid a wreath and lit a flame in memory of the victims.  Pope John Paul II was a seminary student in Poland when the Hitler's Wehrmacht was invading country after country, rounding up Jews and throwing them in concentration camps.  Fifty survivors, including thirteen who were from the Pope's hometown of Wadowice, Poland, were present at the memorial ceremony.  Sadly, Pope John Paul II did not go so far as to apologize on behalf of Pope Pius XII (and the Vatican) who did not speak out against the Holocaust, even though he knew about the death camps.  Here is an excerpt from Pope John Paul II's speech:

"The words of the ancient Psalm, rise from our hearts:  "I have been like a broken vessel.  I hear the whispering of many -- terror on every side -- as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.  But I trust in you, O Lord:  I say, you are my God. (Psalm 31:13-15)

In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence.  Silence in which to remember.  Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back.  Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.  

My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the war.  I remember my Jewish friends, 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 human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust.  More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.  

Here, as at Auschwitz, and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart rending laments of so many.  Men, women and children, cry out to the depths of the horror that they knew.  How can we fail to heed their cry?  No one can ignore or forget what happened.  No one can diminish its scale.  

We wish to remember.  But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for millions of victims of Naziism.  

How could man have such utter contempt for man?  Because he had reached the point of utter contempt for God.  Only a godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people.  

The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of the Holocaust, and from the testimony of the survivors.  Here at Yad Vashem the memory lives on and burns itself into our souls.  It makes us cry out:  "I hear the whispering of many -- terror on every side -- but I trust in you, O Lord, I say:  You are my God."

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