Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 01:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Though rumors have been floating for some time, the Vatican confirmed that the Pope will meet with 10 Holocaust survivors during his upcoming visit to Auschwitz while in Poland for World Youth Day.
After arriving to Auschwitz and passing under the arch of the main entrance on foot, Francis will be taken by car to Block 11, where he will be welcomed by Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, as well as the 10 survivors. The Pope “will individually meet” with each of the survivors, “the last of whom will be given a candle,” Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists July 20. One of the survivors, he noted, is 101 years old and is hosting a group of pilgrims who are traveling to Krakow to participate in WYD.
In addition to the survivors, Francis will also meet with 25 “Righteous among the Nations” from all over the world. The phrase is an honorific title bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews during the Nazi extermination. An example of one of these people is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, spy, Nazi party member and protagonist of the award-winning film “Schindler’s List” who is estimated to have saved the lives of some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.
Fr. Lombardi spoke to journalists during a July 20 news briefing on the Pope’s July 27-31 trip to Poland, during which he is scheduled to visit Poland’s historic shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and Krakow’s Shrine of Divine Mercy in addition to his visit to Auschwitz and the WYD events.
In his comments to journalists, Fr. Lombardi confirmed that Pope Francis will not give a speech at Auschwitz, nor will he celebrate a public Mass. Instead, he will say Mass in private, and will sit in silence in the death camp where an estimated 1 million people lost their lives.
“At Auschwitz the Pope won’t say anything, but will have a moment of silent pain, of compassion, of tears.” He noted how two martyr Saints were among those who died in the camp: St. Maximillian Kolbe, who died of starvation after offering to take the place of another man condemned to death, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein.
“It’s interesting,” the spokesman said, that July 29 marks the day of the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz, but is also the day of “the condemnation to death of Kolbe; it’s the 75th anniversary of the day in which he was condemned to death.”
After praying in silence at Block 11, Pope Francis will then sign the Book of Honor at the camp, “and these will be the only words that we’ll have from the Pope at Auschwitz,” Fr. Lombardi said, explaining that the visit is expected to last “a few hours.”
Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, president of the Polish bishop's conference, told CNA that Francis' decision to remain in silence at Auschwitz is deeply meaningful. “In the world there are two very parallel places. The first is the Wailing Wall and the second is the wailing place.
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the wailing place in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German Nazi concentration camp,” he said. The Pope’s decision to toss his speech, then, “shows that the Pope has this in his heart: wailing in the place where so many victims perished.”
To do this “is very important for the Jewish people,” as well as for Poles, many of whom lost family members in the camp, he said, noting that his own grandfather was a prisoner who escaped, and that Poland’s Prime Minister lost some of her family there.
“So personally I feel very linked and I am very grateful personally that the Holy Father is going to visit the death camp.” Again referring to the Pope’s silence, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik noted that Poland’s chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, “said that this is a very good thing because after the death of his sons, Aaron (from the Bible) was in silence.” “
There is an expression in the Bible “vayidom Aharon” (the silence of Aaron) so he was in silence. And the Holy Father will do the same thing in Auschwitz.”
According to Fr. Lombardi, Pope Francis is expected to give “a demanding speech” to youth during the WYD Via Crucis, which he will attend the evening of July 29 after having visited Auschwitz that morning. He will stay in the archbishop’s residence of Krakow throughout the trip, appearing each night from the balcony to greet pilgrims gathered below. The act is an imitation of St. John Paul II, who did the same each time he visited as Pope.