In a message commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, Pope John Paul II urged Christians to make symbolic, spiritual pilgrimages to Nazi death camps to pay homage to the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
In his 25-page message, the Polish-born pope wrote about the suffering of people doomed by the Nazis to extermination in what he called “an unprecedented marshaling of hatred.”
In the name of ideology, he said, that hatred “trampled on man and everything that is human.”
“The point was reached where hellish death camps were built, where millions of Jews and hundreds of thousands of Gypsies and other human beings met their death in atrocious conditions,” he said.
“Their only fault was that they belonged to another people,” the pope added.
Christians, the pope said, had a duty to “make a pilgrimage to these places, in mind and in heart, on this 50th anniversary.”
The pope himself visited and prayed at Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious Nazi death camp, in 1979, on his first return to Poland after becoming pope the previous year.
Now, he wrote, “I go back in spirit to those death camps. I pause especially before the inscription in Hebrew which commemorates the people `whose sons and daughters were condemned to total extermination’ and reaffirm that `no one is permitted to pass by with indifference.’”
He called Auschwitz “a horribly eloquent symbol of the effects of totalitarianism.”
Nothing that there “were varying degrees of responsibility in the events which led to the war,” the pope urged European Christians to ask forgiveness from God for allowing World War II to take place, and he bemoaned the fact that current wars, such as the bloody conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya, showed that the lessons of World War II had not been learned.
Half a century after World War II and five years before the millennial year 2000, he said, “arms are still roaring and human blood continues to be shed” in the Balkans and in the Caucasus.
“In the face of every war, we are called to ponder our responsibilities, to forgive and to ask forgiveness,” he said.