(JNS.org) Pope Francis made a historic and solemn visit to the Auschwitz-Burkenau Nazi concentration camp on Friday where more than 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were put to death during the Holocaust.
Prior to visiting the camp, Pope Francis said that he did not plan to give any speeches while there, explaining that he preferred to enter alone and pray.
“I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds -- only the few people necessary,” Francis explained, Vatican Radio reported. “Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”
The pontiff, who was in Poland to celebrate World Youth Day - an international gathering of Catholic youth – toured the vast complex of barracks, workshops, gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, while also meeting with a dozen survivors of the camp.
Francis visited the underground cell where Franciscan monk Maksymilian Kolbe was held after trading his life to save a Polish man who had been forced to die from starvation.
Pope Francis also left a message in Auschwitz’s commemorative book, writing in Spanish: "Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty.”
The pontiff was joined in his visit by Jewish leaders, including the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, who recited Psalm 130 and the Mourner’s Kaddish at the site, and Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Inter-religious Affairs.
"The visit was an important reminder for the world of the depths of inhumanity that are possible and of how Jewish history uniquely testifies to this,” Rosen said, Reuters reported.
"What also was unique was that the only public words heard here were Psalm 130 and Kaddish emphasizing the unique Jewish significance of this site," Rosen added. "Three times is a chazakah in Jewish tradition. Now three Popes in a row have visited Auschwitz and it will perforce now be a required station on any papal itinerary."