On Wednesday, Pope Francis greeted a group of 33 survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp after his general audience in St Peter’s Square.
Addressing the 33 former prisoners as well as the Polish pilgrims present, the Pope said that the day’s feast of St Faustina Kowalska reminds the world of her message that God’s love “is more powerful than death, than sin and every evil.”
Francis greeted the Auschwitz survivors one by one, as well as family members of prisoners deported to the camps of Ravensbrück, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg.
One former prisoner, Zdisława Włodarczyk, a representative of the Polish Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, said she arrived in Auschwitz when she was a child of just 11, in August 1944, and was liberated by the allied forces on January 27, 1945.
“We were part of the group of the children of Silesia, the last and youngest prisoners of the Auschwitz lager, and we literally survived hell,” she said earlier this week to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. At the moment of the arrest, “we were torn from the arms of our parents, who were all exterminated.”
Pope Francis visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps last July during his trip to Poland for World Youth Day. For nearly the duration of his two-hour visit to the camps, the Pope remained silent, only exchanging private words with a small group of Holocaust survivors, including a 101-year-old. He also greeted 25 “Righteous among the Nations,” an honorific title bestowed by the State of Israel on gentiles who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews.
Francis was the third pontiff to visit Auschwitz, after St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. When John Paul visited Auschwitz in 1979, on his very first visit back to Poland after his election to the papacy, he said: “It is well known that I have been here many times. So many times! It was impossible for me not to come here as pope.”
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