Poland: Benedict XVI’s journey

Source: FSSPX News

From May 25 to 28, the pope went to Warsaw, Czestochowa, Krakow, Wadowice, Kalwaria, Zebrzydowska and Auschwitz. A year after the death of John Paul II, Benedict XVI followed in the footsteps of his Polish predecessor.

Thursday, May 25: the pope presided over an ecumenical meeting in Warsaw in the Evangelical church of the Holy Trinity (confession of Augsbourg). After readings alternating with songs, a prayer was read by the representatives of the seven confessions gathered within the Polish Ecumenical Council, and followed by the recitation of the Our Father.

"I see in this celebration", the pope told the participants, "one of the stages toward the accomplishment of the first resolution I took at the beginning of my pontificate, i.e. to consider the return to a full and visible unity between Christians as a priority of my ministry." Benedict XVI invited the various Churches to collaborate for ecumenical charitable initiatives. He expressed the desire that "the practice of fraternal charity may bring us closer to one another and make our testimony to Christ more credible for the world."

Observing that an increasing number of "young people coming from different traditions, religions and Christian confessions" were deciding to found a family", Benedict XVI invited the Churches to establish a "common Christian doctrine on marriage and the family". The choice of a mixed marriage may, according to the pope, become "a practical laboratory for unity".

However, "it will not be possible to "bring about" unity only by our own devices", added Benedict XVI, for unity is received "as a gift of the Holy Ghost". "This is why our ecumenical aspirations must be permeated with prayer, mutual forgiveness and holiness of life in each one of us".

Recalling the visit of John Paul II in this same Church of Warsaw for an ecumenical meeting in 1991, Benedict XVI, took stock of the situation: "Since that meeting, many things have changed". "God has granted us the grace to take many steps towards mutual understanding and rapprochement" thanks to encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the "ecumenical meeting of the Great Jubilee", the resuming of the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox,  and the agreements between Rome and particular Churches. "We note much progress (…), added the Sovereign Pontiff, and yet we are expecting something more".


Friday, May 26: Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on the Jozeph Pilsudski square in Warsaw. Before the ceremony the pope addressed the hundreds of thousands of faithful present in Polish and was in turn acclaimed with the cries of "Thank you, Holy Father!".

During the homily the pope exhorted the Polish faithful and the president of the Polish Republic, Lech Kaczynski, who was present: "We must not yield to the temptation of relativism or of the subjective and selective interpretation of Sacred Scriptures." "The whole truth alone can open us to adherence to Christ who died and rose again for our salvation."

"Today still, as in the past centuries, there are people or environments which, neglecting the age-long Tradition, would like to falsify the word of Christ, and remove from the Gospel the truths which, according to them, are too troublesome for modern man", explained Benedict XVI. Thus we seek "to give the impression that all is relativistic", "that the truths of the faith might depend upon historical situation and human evaluation". "But the Church cannot silence the Spirit of truth".

Benedict XVI recalled that, together with the bishops, he was responsible for "the truth of the Gospel", a responsibility which was shared by "all Christians". "Every Christian is bound to continually confront his own convictions with the teaching of the Gospel, of the Tradition of the Church, in a commitment to remain faithful to the word of Christ, even when it is demanding and difficult to understand from a human point of view", stated the pope.

To live with Christ, continued Benedict XVI, "means to be ready to renounce everything which may be a negation of his love" and to "remain strong in the faith". Expounding on the theme of his visit to Poland, taken from the First Epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor : 16, 3), the Holy Father invited the faithful to pass on the heritage received from past generations, as well as "the heritage of the thought and the service of this great Pole that pope John Paul II was."


May 26, late afternoon: Benedict XVI went to the Marian shrine of Czestochowa to pray and meet religious men and women, seminarians, and representatives of the movements of consecrated life.

After having prayed before the icon of the Black Blessed Virgin in the chapel of the Paulinian Fathers, the pope presided over a period of Eucharistic adoration in the sanctuary, in the presence of over 300.000 faithful. At the end of this adoration, before the chant of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, the pope addressed the faithful in the following terms: "Evangelical wisdom must be brought into the cultural and working world, into the world of the media and of politics, into the world of family life and of social life". This wisdom of the Gospel must be "read in the works of the great saints and verified in our own lives".

"We must take care of, and be committed to the development of our faith, so that it may really impregnate all our attitudes, thoughts, actions, and intentions", explained Benedict XVI. Indeed, "faith has its place not only in our moods and religious experiences, but before all in our thoughts, and actions, in our daily work, in the battle against ourselves, in community life, and in the apostolate, because it enables our life to be pervaded with the power of God Himself".

To the new ecclesial movements, the Holy Father declared: "My wish is that you may always be more numerous to serve the cause of the kingdom of God in today’s world".

"Form your minds and hearts with the help of the works of great masters and of the witnesses to the faith, remembering that the schools of spirituality must not remain a treasure trove locked up in convents and libraries".


Saturday, May 27: Upon his arrival in Krakow, Benedict XVI went to the Blonia field around 5:30pm to meet about one million young people. He was received by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow: "Most Holy Father, the youth of Poland greet you". They came "with stones upon which they have written their names". After readings and testimonies given by some young people, the pope pronounced his discourse, he read the beginning and the end of it in Polish.

After having recalled the words of St Peter – Christ is "a living stone rejected by men" -, Benedict XVI affirmed that the "rejection of Jesus by men (…) continued throughout the history of humanity down to our own time". "You do not need to have a very shrewd mind to see the many manifestations of this rejection of Jesus, and also here where God allowed you to grow up", explained the pope. So he incited the young to build their lives upon the "rock" which is Christ and not to give up in the face of "contrarieties".

"Jesus is often ignored, mocked and proclaimed king of times past, but certainly not of the present time. Christ is relegated to the closet in which are locked up issues and people about which you must not speak aloud and in public". "Do not be afraid to lean upon Christ", said Benedict XVI to the young. "Do not be afraid to build your life in the Church and with the Church" for there is but "one rock upon which it is worth it to build your house".

"My dear young friends, the fear of not being successful may sometimes curb even the most beautiful dreams", I ask you to bear "witness to hope, the hope of those who do no fear to build the house of their own lives, for they know they can depend upon a foundation which will never crumble: Jesus Christ Our Lord", declared Benedict XVI.


Sunday, May 28: Around 9:00 am, Benedict XVI arrived at the Blonia field in the popemobile, and celebrated Mass in the presence of 2.000 Polish priests, 150 bishops, many cardinals and over a million faithful.

"I beg of you (…)", asked Benedict XVI, "to share with the other peoples in Europe and in the world the treasure of the faith, also out of consideration for memory of your fellow citizen, who, as successor of St Peter, did this with extraordinary strength and effectiveness". Then the pope exhorted the faithful to "courageously bear testimony to the Gospel in today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the sick, those who are abandoned, despairing, those who are thirsting for liberty, truth, and peace". "The Christians are called upon", he added, "to keep their minds fixed upon heaven, to direct attention, thoughts and hearts towards the unspeakable mystery of God".

After the Mass, Benedict XVI addressed the young: "Yesterday you gave me as a present the book of declarations: ’I don’t take any, I am free from drugs’". "I ask you as a father to be faithful to these words", he enjoined upon them, for "it is a matter of your life and liberty". "Do not fall under the yoke of this world’s illusions", concluded the Holy Father.


Sunday, late afternoon: Benedict XVI went to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau for the final stage of his journey. After silent prayer in the cell where St Maximilian Kolbe died, the pope pronounced a discourse in Italian.

Benedict XVI confided that "to speak in this place of horror, where crimes unparalleled in history had been accumulated against God and man" was "almost impossible" and that it was "especially difficult and unbearable for a Christian, for a pope who comes from Germany". "In such a place, words hardly come to mind, and, finally, you are stunned and can only remain silent – a silence which is an inner cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all that?", exclaimed the pope. The silence which is imposed by "the innumerable crowd of those who suffered and were put to death (…) nevertheless becomes afterwards a loud plea for pardon and reconciliation, a cry to the living God that he may never again permit such a thing", continued the sovereign pontiff. And addressing God: "Wake up! Do not forget man, your creature", exclaimed the Holy Father. And he added, these camps are places "of memory and, at the same time, of the Shoah".

The pope declared that by means of this journey he desired the grace of reconciliation also "for all those, who, in this time in history are suffering in a new way under the power of hatred and under the violence fomented by hatred".

Referring to the 22 tombstones for the victims, he recalled that the "potentates of the 3rd Reich wanted to crush the Jewish people entirely, to eradicate it from the peoples of the earth" and that with the annihilation of this people, they meant to kill the God of Abraham. "With the destruction of Israel, in the last analysis, they also wanted to root out the foundation of the Christian faith, and replace it once and for all by faith (…) in man’s domination".

The German tombstone gave Benedict XVI the opportunity to mention Edith Stein (1891-1942), St Therese Benedict of the Cross, a German Jewess converted to Christianity. "As Christian and Jewish, she accepted to die together with her people and for it". We thank the Germans who were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau "as witnesses to truth and to the good". "We thank these persons, because they did not submit to the power of evil", continued the pope.


Reactions to the discourse pronounced by the pope in the concentration camps

In Italy, on the day after May 28, the pope’s visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau was front page news in the papers. Most of the dailies quoted the pope for their headlines: "Where was God during those days?", "Auschwitz: Why did God remain silent?" "Pope about the Germans: ’used and deceived by a group of criminals’" with a photo of Benedict XVI at the entrance of the camp with the inscription "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes you free).

The Corriere della Sera put questions to Claudio Morpurgo, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, who declared his "perplexity". "There is an interesting passage on God’s silence (…) but the problem is not so much to wonder where God was, but where men were". Likewise, Giuseppe Laras, president of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly said: "If the pope turns Auschwitz into a theological problem, we run the risk of diverting the attention from what happened: the problem is with men and their responsibilities".

To Il Giornale, the great Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, answered that "the fact that the sovereign pontiff did speak of the Shoah (…) is obviously something very important. ’Shoah’ is a word which means a ’tempest that destroys everything in its wake’, and it is quite different from the word Holocaust, which means ’sacrifice’ and thus has a biased connotation". "It was a grand discourse at the beginning and at the end, but problematic as to the content", he added. "I am not at all convinced by the interpretation offered concerning the responsibility of the German people, as if it were itself a victim and not among the persecutors".

Marco Politi, journalist for the daily La Repubblica, recalled that "Benedict XVI went to Auschwitz and Birkenau as a son of the German people" and "openly [confessed] that he felt the full weight of it." Nevertheless, according to the journalist, "certain words of the pope in Auschwitz open the way for questions". For, "the pope never speaks of anti-Semitism, (…) can we forget this? Up to what point can the pope leave between parentheses the Christian anti-Judaism which fostered the anti-Jewish hatred leading ultimately to the ’final solution’". "To describe the German people as having been manipulated by a band of criminals also raises a problem", he continued. Indeed, "whether you want it or not, this will end by being understood as a form of de-responsibilization", explained Marco Politi.

To the question: "Was the pope too understanding in regard to the German people of that time?" Il Messaggero answered that the issue was "too involved for a pilgrimage of prayer". According to the daily, the pope held "a discourse of a dramatic tone, after the manner of the prophets and psalmists".

La Stampa affirmed that the pope had finished writing his discourse just a few hours before pronouncing it, and it specified that the passage on the "place of memory, which is at the same time the place of the Shoah" was added after the text had been printed.

"The pope’s words may disappoint", declared L’Unità, he speaks of the Shoah, the extermination of the Jews, the final solution, (…) but this is only one of the many points in his discourse. Benedict XVI "focuses on the present", commented the Communist daily, and on ’all those who suffer in a new way under the power of hatred and violence’".

In the United States, the New York Times in its May 29 edition, relates the words of Rabbi David Rosen, one of the top members of the American Jewish Committee: "The relationships between Jews and Catholics are no longer based on a vision of the past".