The Holocaust was fueled by hate but was made possible by indifference, Pope Francis said Monday in an address at the Vatican.
Speaking before participants in a conference on the responsibility of States, institutions and individuals in the struggle against anti-Semitism and crimes associated with anti-Semitic hatred, the pope underscored the wider complicity of a society that sometimes turns a blind eye to the evils being perpetrated around us.
The enemy against which we fight “is not only hatred in all of its forms,” Francis said, “but even more fundamentally, indifference; for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right.”
The pope emphasized the importance of personal responsibility, the ability to respond for our own actions. “It is not merely a question of analyzing the causes of violence and refuting their perverse reasoning,” he said, “but of being actively prepared to respond to them.”
A great moral danger that threatens each person, he continued, is the temptation to simply not care what is happening to other people or in other parts of the world that seem not to affect us directly.
“I do not grow tired of repeating that indifference is a virus that is dangerously contagious in our time, a time when we are ever more connected with others, but are increasingly less attentive to others,” he said. “And yet the global context should help us understand that none of us is an island and none will have a future of peace without one that is worthy for all.”
Reflecting on the early pages of the biblical Book of Genesis, where God asks Cain: “Where is your brother?” Francis said that Cain’s answer—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—reveals a deep spiritual malady.
“His brother does not interest him: here is the root of perversity, the root of death that produces desperation and silence,” he said. “I recall the roar of the deafening silence I sensed two years ago in Auschwitz-Birkenau: a disturbing silence that leaves space only for tears, for prayer and for the begging of forgiveness.”
The pontiff went on to say that the remedy for the “virus of indifference” can be found in the exercise of memory.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Chosen People: “Remember your whole journey,” the pope recalled.
“And Moses did not simply say, ‘think of the journey,’ but remember, or bring alive; do not let the past die. Remember, that is, ‘return with your heart’: do not only form the memory in your mind, but in the depths of your soul, with your whole being,” he said.
Francis recalled to his audience that the world has just celebrated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, tying this commemoration into his remarks.
“In order to recover our humanity, to recover our human understanding of reality and to overcome so many deplorable forms of apathy towards our neighbour, we need this memory, this capacity to involve ourselves together in remembering. Memory is the key to accessing the future, and it is our responsibility to hand it on in a dignified way to young generations,” he said.
A document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, released some 20 years ago, bore the title “We Remember: a Reflection on the Shoah,” Francis said. “It was Saint John Paul II’s fervent hope that it ‘would enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible.’”
“To build our history, which will either be together or will not be at all, we need a common memory, living and faithful, that should not remain imprisoned in resentment but, though riven by the night of pain, should open up to the hope of a new dawn,” he said. “The Church desires to extend her hand. She wishes to remember and to walk together.”
“Indeed, to prepare a truly human future, rejecting evil is not enough; we need to build the common good together,” he concluded.
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