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Pope Francis visits Auschwitz, begs God forgive cruelty

(AGI) Auschwitz, July 29 - Pope Francis made a historic visit to the former conc...

Pope Francis visits Auschwitz, begs God forgive cruelty
papa Francesco, Auschwitz, Polonia (afp) 

(AGI) Auschwitz, July 29 - Pope Francis made a historic visit to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz on Friday, crossing the gates alone and walking down its streets before stopping to pray in solitude. Clasping his hands in solemn prayer, His Holiness remained seated on a bench for over 15 minutes in front of a gallows where rebellious prisoners were once hung as a warning to others. He closed his eyes during the interminable minutes of prayer, silence, and contemplation of the evil enclosed within the walls of history's largest concentration camp. One million men, women, children, and elderly were killed at Auschwitz during the Second World War. Pope Francis then gazed in silence at the notorious Block 11 - known as the "death block" among the camp's prisoners - before boarding an electric car to meet 11 survivors. One of them was a pianist of international renown who will turn 101 on Saturday. The last of the survivors gifted Pope Francis with a candle, which the Pope placed on a silver plated lamp with a wooden walnut base inspired by the camp's now eroded barbed wire. His Holiness then prayed in front of the execution wall. After being greeted by the Minister General and Minister Provincial of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual, he proceeded to visit Cell No. 18 beneath Block 11, where Polish friar St. Maximilian Kolbe was imprisoned after volunteering to die in place of another prisoner. In the semidarkness of the barren room, His Holiness knelt in prayer for a few minutes before the commemorative plaque for St. Kolbe, who was beatified by Paul XI and proclaimed a saint by John Paul II in 1982. The Pope wrote "Lord have mercy on your people, Lord forgive us for such cruelty" in the Auschwitz guest book. He then visited the Birkenau camp, the main camp Auschwitz I, the Auschwitz III labour camp in Monowitz, and 45 other smaller camps, before walking to the gate on which the words "Arbeit macht frei" (work sets you free) still appear. Stepping into his automobile once again, His Holiness then traveled to Birkenau to meet with a hundred members of Righteous Among the Nations (a title given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews during the Holocaust). He also lit a lamp in the camp's square and left a letter on the pedestal of the 23 plaques remembering the victims of the Nazis' wickedness, which are written in the languages of all the camp's prisoners, including Romanes, the language of the Romani people. Pope Francis, the heroes of Righteous Among the Nations and their families then listened to the De Profundis sung by Poland's Chief Rabbi. (AGI). .