Nuns to Be Gone by October 1992, Says New Head of Carmelite Order

The newly elected superior general of the Carmelite order of nuns and friars predicted this week that the nuns at Auschwitz will move to their new location in October 1992, but no sooner.

“It would be unrealistic to view this transfer at an earlier date,” Father Camilo Maccise Stated in a warmly conciliatory letter to Theo Klein, former president of the European Jewish Congress and of CRIF, the representative council of French Jewish organizations.

The letter expressed his regret “for the lack of understanding and respect owed to the Jewish memory that may have been demonstrated by members of the Carmelite family.”

Klein was one of the Jewish leaders who signed an agreement with the European cardinals in Geneva on Feb. 22, 1987, establishing a three-year deadline for the relocation of the Carmelite nuns from their controversial convent on the grounds of the former death camp in Poland.

The deadline, Feb. 22, 1990, passed unobserved, and relations grew increasingly strained between Jews and the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Maccise stressed in his letter to Klein that he was “determined to see” the Geneva agreement implement “as soon as possible.”

He said that also was the “personal desire” of Pope John Paul II.

Observers here emphasized that this is the first time a leader of the Carmelite order has taken such a firm stand on the Auschwitz convent.

Maccise, who is a native of Mexico, acknowledged in his letter that Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Holocaust in all its horrors, which gives it a special meaning to Jews.

“The Hitlerian tragedy that struck Europe left a name that identifies the unspeakable. Auschwitz now defines a unique, inconceivable, unthinkable, inexpressible thing — the Holocaust,” the Carmelite friar wrote.

EARLIER DATE ‘UNREALISTIC’

His letter stated that “united with my Polish brothers and sisters, I seek Christian fidelity to the memory of the martyrs of Poland under National Socialism.

“This fidelity and the Catholic faith do not require that Carmelite nuns should pray at the places of the martyrs’ extermination. Remembering, with Saint Paul, that the whole of the Law and of the Prophets are summed up in the word ‘charity,’ I totally join with those who signed the Feb. 22, 1987 agreement.”

The Carmelite leader added that he has met with the person in charge of building a new convent off the Auschwitz site, which will also contain an ecumenical center for prayer, study and meditation.

“Having given much thought to the difficulties and the state of the new convent, I think it reasonable to forecast that the nuns will be installed in their new location in October 1992. It would be unrealistic to view this transfer at an earlier date,” he wrote.

Many participants in an international gathering of Catholic youth, slated for Aug. 13-15 in Czestochowa, Poland, to coincide with the pope’s visit to his homeland, are expected to continue onto the site of the new convent, where they will camp in tent cities.

It is not yet known whether the programs they will participate in will explicitly detail the unique Jewish nature of the Holocaust. More information about the program is expected early next week.

(JTA staff writer Debra Nussbaum Cohen in New York contributed to this report.)

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