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Update: Remembering Holocaust is 'a duty,' pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yad Vashem Archives via Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said remembering the millions of men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust is a call for the world today to reflect and commit to not repeating the atrocities of the past.

Speaking to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Jan. 26, the pope said that "in the face of this immense tragedy, this atrocity, indifference is inadmissible, and remembering is a duty."

"We are all called to have a moment of prayer and reflection, each one saying in his or her own heart, 'Never again, never again!'" the pope said.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed around the world Jan. 27, which marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland.

Operated from 1940 to 1945, Auschwitz was the Nazi's largest camp and consisted of three parts: Auschwitz I, where many were imprisoned and murdered; the Birkenau extermination camp -- also known as Auschwitz II -- and Auschwitz III (Auschwitz-Monowitz), an area of auxiliary camps that included several factories.

In 1942, Auschwitz became the site of the mass extermination of over 1 million Jews, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and thousands of Polish citizens of different nationalities.

The Nazi's systematic persecution and genocide led to the deaths of 6 million Jews in Europe.

During his visit to Poland in 2016, the pope visited the Auschwitz death camp, where he prayed in silence and met with survivors of the Holocaust.

The pope has also denounced anti-Semitism and violence against Jewish people, including in November when reports surfaced of an escalation in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism across Europe.

During his weekly general audience Nov. 13, the pope said that the world has "seen so many brutalities done against the Jewish people, and we were convinced that this was over."

"But today the habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to be reborn," he said. "Brothers and sisters: this is neither human nor Christian; the Jews are our brothers and sisters and must not be persecuted! Understood?"

Two organizations representing the bishops of Europe also issued a joint statement to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the death camp.

The Council of European Bishops' Conferences and the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union said "Auschwitz has become a symbol of all German concentration camps, and even of all such extermination sites."

"Here, the Nazis took the power to decide who is human and who is not. Here, euthanasia met with eugenics," they said. "Auschwitz-Birkenau is a result of the system based on the ideology of national socialism, which meant trampling the dignity of man who is made in the image of God. Another totalitarianism, namely communism, acted quite similarly, also reaching a death toll of millions."

The bishops said they wished to "appeal to the modern world for reconciliation and peace, for respect for each nation's right to exist and to freedom, to independence, to maintain its own culture."

"We cannot allow the truth to be ignored or manipulated for immediate political needs," said the Jan. 26 statement. "This appeal is extremely important now, for -- despite the dramatic experience of the past -- the world in which we live is still exposed to new threats and new manifestations of violence."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

God's word brings light to life's dark corners, pope says at Mass

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God's saving word doesn't seek pristine and safe places to reside but instead goes in search of the dark corners of people's lives that it can brighten, Pope Francis said.

By taking his ministry to the "periphery" of Galilee, Jesus proves that God "wants to visit the very places we think he will never go," the pope said in his homily Jan. 26 during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Jesus "is not afraid to explore the terrain of our hearts and to enter the roughest and most difficult corners of our lives. He knows that his mercy alone can heal us, his presence alone can transform us and his word alone can renew us," he said.

The Mass marked the first Sunday of the Word of God, an annual celebration Pope Francis has set for the third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In his Sept. 30 declaration of the day, the pope said it would be devoted "to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God," which will help the church "experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world."

Before the Mass ended, the pope handed copies of the Bible to people representing various professions and states of life, including cardinals, religious leaders, refugees, children and men and women with disabilities.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading in which Jesus preaches in Galilee, calling on the people to repent and inviting Sts. Peter and Andrew to follow him.

Jesus' call for people to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," is a reminder that "God is not far from us" and that he "has torn down walls and shortened distances," the pope said.

"We ourselves did not deserve this: he came down to meet us. Now this nearness of God to his people is one of the ways he has done things since the beginning, even in the Old Testament," he said. "And this nearness became flesh in Jesus."

God, he continued, did not take on "our human nature" out of duty but out of love because "one embraces what one loves."

While Christ also chooses to enter the darkest recesses of one's heart, the pope said that many times, "we are the ones who close the door, preferring to keep our confusion, our dark side and our duplicity hidden. We keep it locked up within, approaching the Lord with some formal prayers, wary lest his truth stir our hearts. And this is concealed hypocrisy."

Nevertheless, he added, Jesus enters the hearts of men and women in the same way he passed through the "varied and complex region" of Galilee in order to heal and call people to follow him.

"To follow Jesus, mere good works are not enough; we have to listen daily to his call," Pope Francis said. "He, who alone knows us and who loves us fully, leads us to put out into the deep sea of life. Just as he did with the disciples who heard him."

After celebrating Mass, the pope greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address.

Volunteers from UNITALSI, an Italian Catholic pilgrimage association that brings the sick and volunteers together for prayer and pilgrimages to Lourdes and other Marian shrines, handed free bibles to the pilgrims.

The pope thanked the volunteers, as well as local dioceses and communities who proposed initiatives to promote "the centrality of Holy Scripture in the life of the church."

The Sunday of the Word of God, Pope Francis said, was instituted "to better celebrate and receive always the gift of the word that God has made and gives daily to his people."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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