As part of his weeklong trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis has announced he will be visiting the Auschwitz extermination camp this Friday, where Nazi soldiers put to death over a million prisoners, most of them Jews.
In a press briefing Wednesday, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the visit to the death camp will be “the big event” of Francis’ upcoming trip, adding that the Pope does not intend to make speeches but will carry out the visit “in silent pain, compassion and tears.”
Lombardi made the announcement as part of the layout of the Pope’s itinerary for the trip, which will run from July 27-31. The 31st World Youth Day will take place in Krakow, Poland, where Saint John Paul II served as archbishop from 1964 until his election to the papacy in 1978.
Among those registered to attend World Youth Day are pilgrims hailing from 187 different countries, including several that will have representatives for the first time, including Kosovo, Bangladesh, Palestine, Myanmar and South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend the festival.
The worldwide reality of anti-Christian persecution will also be highlighted at the event, and young people from countries where persecution is most virulent have been encouraged to come to find solace among members of the universal Church.
Assisted by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), young people from countries such as Iraq, Turkmenistan, South Sudan, Chad, Algeria, Syria, Haiti, Pakistan and Bangladesh will travel to Krakow for meeting.
“Through WYD these young people have the possibility to see that they are not alone in their Faith. And it gives them the momentum and motivation in their own countries to act as missionaries to other young people,” said Regina Lynch, head of the Project Department at ACN International.
Father Waldemar Cislo, director of ACN Poland, added that Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world. “We cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering and cruelty,” he said.
In Auschwitz, the Pope will meet with ten survivors of the extermination camp, including a 101-year-old woman. Francis will arrive to Auschwitz by helicopter at 9:30am local time, then travel by car to the entrance of the camp, where he will continue on foot passing under the notorious sign “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free).
The Pope will also visit the cell of the Polish martyr saint Maximilian Kolbe, who as a prisoner in the camp chose to give up his life in place of another man who had a wife and family.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome