As you know from earlier posts, I was recently in Warsaw, and spent several amazing days attending and speaking at a conference co-sponsored by Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw.

The conference focus was Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law Legacy and International Human Rights. My guests this weekend, as they were last weekend, are John Czarnetzky, CEO and dean of the Ave Maria Law School, and Ron Rychlak, vice chair of the Board of Governors of this pre-eminent Catholic law school.

We spoke of many of the topics raised in the Warsaw conference, such as the need for a positive change in the human rights climate towards freedom of speech, of practice, of religion. Other talks centered on how national constitutions have changed over the years, going in some cases from protecting rights to watering them down. Many talks focused on human dignity.

As I wrote last Friday, I envisioned a huge, vibrant tapestry as I listened to the talks in Warsaw – the depth of each one, the brilliance, the thoroughness with which each topic was treated and the challenging nature of each presentation! The common thread, of course, was always St. John Paul and his teaching on natural law, human rights, the right to life, human dignity, etc.

I think you will be riveted by the conversation so tune in after the news segment – no time this week for a Q&A.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.


Pope Francis released his prayer intention for June 2022 via video, in which he urged Catholics to pray for all families during the month in which Rome hosts the 10th World Meeting of Families.

Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

“There is no such thing as a perfect family. There are always ‘buts’.’’

Pope Francis made that affirmation in The Pope Video released on Thursday to promote his prayer intention for June.

Yet, he added, “that doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be afraid of mistakes; we have to learn from them so we can move forward.”

As the Church prepares to gather in Rome on 22-26 June for the 10th World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis upheld the family and urged all Catholics to pray for them.

For the video and more: Pope’s June prayer intention: ‘For families’ – Vatican News




The interview segment of Vatican Insider this final weekend of May brings you to Poland! As you may know from earlier posts in this column, I was recently in Warsaw, and spent several amazing days attending and speaking at a conference co-sponsored by Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw.

The conference focus was Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law Legacy and International Human Rights. My guests this weekend and next are John Czarnetzky, CEO and dean of the Ave Maria Law School, and Ron Rychlak, vice chair of the Board of Governors of this pre-eminent Catholic law school.

We spoke in a meeting area of our hotel the evening after the conference ended.  Photo taken in lobby: Ron Rychlak (L), John Czarnetzky (R)


This week and next we talk about many of the topics raised in the Warsaw conference, such as the need for a positive change in the human rights climate towards freedom of speech, of practice, of religion. Other talks centered on how national constitutions have changed over the years, going in some cases from protecting rights to watering them down. Many talks focused on human dignity.

I envisioned a huge, colorful vibrant tapestry as I listened to the talks – the depth of each one, the brilliance, the thoroughness with which each topic was treated and the challenging nature of each presentation! The common thread, of course, was always St. John Paul and his teaching on natural law, human rights, the right to life, human dignity, etc.

I think you will be riveted by the conversation so tune in after the news segment and Q&A.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.




In his greeting to the Polish faithful at the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis thanked the people of Poland for their generosity towards people fleeing the war in Ukraine and asked all men and women of goodwill to be close to the population that is suffering the bombings and violence.
By Linda Bordoni (Vatican news)

“You were the first to support Ukraine, opening your borders, your hearts and the doors of your homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war,” said Pope Francis in his greeting to the Polish pilgrims present for the general audience in the Paul VI Hall.

He expressed deep gratitude and bestowed his blessings to the people of Poland noting they are “generously offering [the refugees] everything they need to live in dignity, despite the drama of the moment.”

The Pope also turned to the friar present during the audience to do the reading in Polish: “This Franciscan friar who is speaking now, in Polish, but he is Ukrainian!” he said, adding that, “His parents are right now in shelters underground, defending themselves from the bombs, in a place near Kyiv. And he continues to do his duty here, with us.”

Fr. Marek Viktor Gongalo (an image I took when I watched the audience on TV)

By accompanying him, Pope Francis continued, “we accompany all the people who are suffering from the bombings, his elderly parents and many elderly people who are in the underground to defend themselves. We carry in our hearts the memory of these people.”

During his greeting to English-speaking groups at the audience, the Pope again referred to the Russian invasion in Ukraine reminding all that today we begin the Lenten journey with a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Ukraine.


A number of countries have national churches in Rome where their citizens who are Catholic can attend Mass and other liturgies on their native language. For example, St. Patrick’s in Rome, run by the Paulist Fathers for the last 100 years (the centenary was February 26th!) is the national church for Catholic Americans and English-speaking faithful. From the first Mass on February 26, 1922 until 2014, Americans attended Mass at Santa Susanna. When the Cistercian nuns closed that church to worship, the Paulists moved to St. Patrick’s, a church originally built by and administered for many years by Irish Augustinians.

Santa Maria dell’Anima, bearing the same name of the street it is on, is one of the most stunningly beautiful churches in Rome. On a street parallel to the lovely and historic Pza. Navona, Santa Maria dell’Anima is the national church of German Catholics, and boasts a 16th century facade by Sangallo and windows by Bramante.

Santa Pudenziana, a 4th century basilica dedicated to Saint Pudentiana, sister of Praxedes and daughter of Pudens, is the national church in Rome for the sizeable Filippino community, with its own clergy and religious sisters.

Nostra Signora di Guadalupe e San Filippo Martire (Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Philip Martyr) is located on Via Aurelia and is the national church of Mexico in Rome. It opened in 1958 and in 1991 Pope St. John Paul made it a titular church, naming Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo as its first titular Cardinal (1991-1993). This church belongs to the Legionnaries of Christ.

And, importantly for many people given the current situation in Ukraine, Santa Sofia a Via Boccea is the national church for Ukrainians in Rome. Its name means “Holy Wisdom.” As well as being the national church for Ukrainians, with liturgies celebrated in the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite, it is a religious meeting center and, of late, has become a center for collecting money, clothing and medicines to send to Ukraine(where possible) and to Poland for those receiving Ukrainian refugees.

Vatican file photo:

An interesting note: The Vatican pharmacy is asking for donations in order to buy medicines that will be given to Santa Sofia basilica: Clothing and food suppliues have been offered in abundance but many medicines and other pharmaceuticals are in short supply. Collecting money to buy these is the focus of the Farmacia Vaticana.


( – Italy’s prime minister on Tuesday said he was prepared to take further measures against Russia, following an Italian government decree authorising the transfer of weapons and military vehicles to Ukraine. Drawing up an international register of Russian oligarchs with assets of more than 10 million euros is one of the additional measures Draghi proposed in his recent parliamentary address, in which he promised that Italy “does not intend to look the other way.”

That now makes two emergency decrees passed by Italy’s government in the space of four days, as the situation in Ukraine continues to develop at a rapid pace. For those trying to get up to speed with the developments of the last week, we’ve compiled a primer on Italy’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict so far.

And it’s not just the Italian government that’s taking action: on Wednesday, the Venice Biennale cultural institute announced it had banned official Russian delegations from attending its world-famous exhibition, while Milan’s La Scala opera house has fired Russian conductor Valery Gergiev over his refusal to denounce the invasion.

See more of our reporting:
Russian invasion: What has Italy’s response been so far?

Italy ‘ready to take further measures’ against Russia, Draghi says




Among the many news stories I have been following with great interest is the news from Tonga, in particular because I know Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi, archbishop of Tonga. We’ve corresponded and met several times since he was named a cardinal in 2015, including in Honolulu in the fall of 2017 for a Catholic conference at Hawaiì’s convention center at which we were both speakers. (Hawaii Catholic photo)

I wrote Cardinal Mafi yesterday but have no real hope of hearing from him or even thinking he got my email. I assured him of prayers, for one thing, and the prayers will re-double for all the inhabitants of Tonga until we get some updated news.

Tonga now has widespread areas covered in ash from the after effects of an underwater volcanic eruption and is cut off from the world because of the rupture in an undersea fiber-optic communications system. I read that the repair of Tonga’s critical 514-mile fibre-optic link to Fiji depends on the arrival of a specialized ship that is currently in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

There are so many tragedies in the world, both man-made and natural, that it is hard to know where to start praying. Today, put Tonga and its people on your list!


The Vatican press office this morning announced that Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has Covid with “very light symptoms” and Abp. Peña Parra, his deputy or substitute, has Covid but is asymptomatic. Both are in quarantine.

Just recently stricter rules came into force in the Vatican to try and prevent the spread of Covid and the Omicron variant: Employees must be vaccinated to enter their offices and have documents – the famous Green Pass – proving vaccination or that they had Covid and recovered. They must also wear the FFP2 mask, now obligatory to enter most venues, travel on busses, trains and planes, etc. in Italy as well.

Un-vaccinated employees will be considered absent from work and will forfeit their salary until the meet Vatican requirements. Visitors to the Vatican must also show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid and must wear the FFP2 mask.

According to Edward Pentin, in an email to the National Catholic Register about exemptions from vaccination, “Cardinal Parolin said Vatican employees seeking to be exempt from the Vatican’s new vaccine mandate because they oppose the vaccine’s link to abortion ‘seems not to be justified’ as it was only tested rather than produced using the cell lines of aborted fetuses.”

He added that, “In Jan. 9 written comments to the Register, the Vatican Secretary of State said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered at the Vatican does not use such ‘cell cultures’ in its composition or production but ‘only in the preliminary stages of vaccine testing in the laboratory. On the other hand, other vaccines (Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson) are actually produced from cell cultures that were donated about 40 years ago for scientific purposes.”


Pope Francis has sent €100,000 to the Philippines for the devastation wrought on vast parts of the island nation by typhoon Rai, according to a communiqué from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, responsible for disbursing the funds. United Nations sources say 8 million people in 11 regions have suffered extraordinary consequences.

Monies will be sent to the Apostolic Nunciature in the Philippines, which has also received aid and financial support from many organizations such as Caritas, other Catholic charities and organizations and Episcopal conferences worldwide.

According to the dicastery communiqué, Pope Francis is also sending a contribution of €100,000 “in favor of groups of migrants stranded between Poland and Belarus and in aid of Caritas Polska to deal with the migratory emergency on the border of the two countries, due to the situation of conflict that has been going in for over 10 years.”



The papal prayer intention in video format as developed by the Apostleship of Prayer:


Pope Francis Thursday addressed the Medical Associations of Spain and Latin America in the Clementine Hall, telling them that health professionals are the “true personification” of mercy. He also told them of his gratitude for those who, through dedication and professionalism, help those who suffer. ( photo)

Health officials

Francis said, “the identity of the physician relies not only on skills but mainly on a compassionate and merciful attitude towards those who suffer in body and spirit. Compassion is the very soul of medicine and compassion is not pity, it is suffering-with.”

The Holy Father observed that, “compassion is not always well received in our individualistic and highly technological culture because sometimes it is seen as a humiliation. There are even some who hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient. True compassion does not marginalize, humiliate or exclude and doesn’t celebrate the passing away of a patient. No, this is the triumph … of the “culture of disposability” that rejects people who do not meet certain standards of health, beauty or utility.

“Health is one of the most precious gifts and everyone desires it,” Pope Francis said. “The biblical tradition has always highlighted the closeness between salvation and health, as well as their mutual and numerous implications. … Christian medical tradition has always been inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is identified with the love of the Son of God, who ‘went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed’.”

Francis stressed that compassion “is the appropriate response to the immense value of the sick person, a response made of respect, understanding and tenderness, because the sacred value of the life of the patient does not disappear, nor is it ever darkened, but it shines with more splendor precisely in the person’s suffering and helplessness.” He added that, “fragility, pain and disease are a tough test for everyone, including medical staff; they are a call to patience, to suffer-with; therefore one cannot yield to the temptation to apply quick, merely functional and drastic solutions driven by false compassion or by criteria of efficiency or cost savings. At stake is the dignity of human life; at stake is the dignity of the medical vocation.”


(Vatican Radio)  The Vatican on Thursday released the program for Pope Francis’ 27-31 July visit to Poland for the 31st World Youth Day celebrations.


The Pope will depart from Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 2 p.m. and will arrive at the John Paul II airport of Balice-Krakow two hours later. After the welcome ceremony he will transfer to the Castle of Wawel, where he will address the civil authorities and diplomatic corps, followed by a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic. The Pope’s first day in Poland will conclude with a meeting with bishops in Krakow Cathedral.

In the early morning of Thursday 28 July he will visit the Convent of the Sisters of the Presentation on the way to the airport, and at 8.30 a.m. he will transfer by helicopter to Czestochowa where, in the monastery of Jasna Gora, he will pray in the chapel of the Black Virgin before celebrating Holy Mass in the Shrine of Czestochowa on the occasion of the 1,050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland. At 12.45 p.m. he will return to Krakow where he will address the young people gathered in Jordan Park.

On Friday 29 July he will transfer by helicopter to Oswiecim. At 9.30 he will visit Auschwitz and at 10.30 the camp of Birkenau, returning to Krakow where at 4.30 p.m. he will meet patients at the university paediatric hospital, and at 6 p.m. he will preside at the Via Crucis with young people in Jordan Park.

On Saturday he will visit the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, where he will pass through the Door of Divine Mercy and confess several young people. After, at 10.30, he will celebrate Holy Mass for Polish priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons and seminarians in the St. John Paul II Shrine of Krakow. The Pope will lunch with several young people in the archiepiscopal residence and then in the evening will pass through the Holy Door in the Campus Misericordiae with various young people. There, at 7.30 p.m., he will give the opening address of the prayer vigil.

On Sunday 31 July, Francis will celebrate Mass for World Youth Day in the Campus Misericordiae, after which, at 5 p.m., he will greet the WYD volunteers, organising committee and benefactors in the Tauron Arena in Krakow. He will depart by air at 6.30 p.m., destined for Rome’s Ciampino airport, where he is expected to arrive at 8.25 p.m.


(Vatican Radio) The Council of Cardinals concluded three days of meetings in the Vatican on Wednesday, continuing their discussions on the ongoing reform of the different Vatican offices and institutions. The head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi briefed journalists on the contents of the meetings, noting that Pope Francis was present for most of the time with the nine cardinals in the group.

Fr. Lombardi said a large part of the consultations was dedicated to discussing the reforms regarding the Secretariat of State, the Congregations for Catholic Education, for Oriental Churches, for the Clergy and for Bishops, as well as the Pontifical Councils for Culture, for Christian Unity and for Interreligious Dialogue.

He also noted that the results of previous consultations regarding the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Worship and the Sacraments, for the Causes of Saints and for Consecrated Life, as well as the new Charity, Justice and Peace office, have been handed over to Pope Francis for his deliberations.

Fr. Lombardi said that the reforms were focused on the criteria of simplifying and harmonizing the work of the different offices, as well as exploring ways of decentralizing tasks to the different bishops conferences.

Lastly, he noted that Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Cardinal George Pell discussed questions relating to the Council and the Secretariat for the Economy, while Msgr. Dario Viganò reported on the continuing reform of the Vatican media offices, especially the process of integrating Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center which is taking place this year.

The next meetings of the C9 group of cardinals are scheduled to take place on September 12th, 13th and 14th and December 12th, 13th and 14th.


(EWTN/CNA) From Guam, June 6, 2016 – After sex abuse and other allegations were leveled against Guam’s archbishop, Pope Francis on Monday appointed a Vatican official to be the local Church’s apostolic administrator while an investigation is carried out. On June 6, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was appointed apostolic administrator “sede plena” of the Archdiocese of Agaña, which serves Catholics in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The appointment was made shortly after Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agaña was accused of sexual abuse dating from the 1970s, and of failing to implement strong policies on the handling of clerical sex abuse. As apostolic administrator “sede plena,” Archbishop Hon will govern the archdiocese because its ordinary is incapable of doing so. Though Archbishop Apuron remains archbishop, he will not exercise his office while Archbishop Hon remains as apostolic administrator. In May, allegations surfaced against Archbishop Apuron. The accusations were raised by a former altar boy, who said that he was molested at age 12, when he spent the night at a rectory with then-Father Apuron. The alleged incident took place in the mid-1970s in Agat, a town located almost 13 miles southwest of Hagåtña, Guam’s capital, when Archbishop Apuron was a parish priest.

UPDATE FROM GUAM: The following statement from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is from the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Agana:

“The Holy Father in his concern for the good of the whole church and with due consideration for the good of the faithful in Guam has temporarily entrusted the administration of the Archdiocese of Agaña to His Excellency the Most Rev. Savio Hon Tai Fai, S.D.B, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who will be assisted by Rev. Fr. Tadeusz Jan Nowak, O.M.I..

“The priority of the Apostolic Administrator is to take stock of the present pastoral situation of the diocese; to identify the difficulties present among the clergy, religious, and lay faithful and to take urgent measures, at the earliest, in order to promote and restore unity and harmony in the local Church. The Apostolic Administrator, after carefully discerning the needs of the Archdiocese will take all necessary decisions to assure that this goal is being implemented. The Holy Father kindly asks for the trust and prayers of the local Church and sincerely hopes that the entire Catholic Community will put all of its energy in promoting unity, harmony, and stability of the Church.

“May Mary, Mother of the Church, assist with the same care she manifested at the very beginnings of the Church’s growth.




I wonder how many photographers have had a privilege like the one I had at dinner tonight! I attended Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz’ Mass of thanksgiving this evening for Poland’s newest Saint Stanislaus Papczyński in the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dinner for about 350 of the pilgrims in Rome for this canonization was provided at three restaurants near the basilica. We all had color-coded tickets for the restaurants.

My green ticket brought me to Tonnarello where I dined with two American priests whom I had previously met, Fr. Jerry McCarthy and Fr. Fred Bernardini, and many pilgrims including – and I only found this out later –  the families of the two people whose miracle cures led to both the beatification and canonization of Saint Stanislaus!.

After dinner Fr. Pakula, the Marian Fathers Prior General, arranged a group photo of the two families! I was extraordinarily privileged to shared this very special moment with Marie Romagnano of Med-Link, Inc. who is a Marian Fathers’ devotee whom you’ve seen on EWTN (she has a photography hobby) and several Polish photographers who had come to Rome for the canonization.

It is late but I do want to post this amazing photo. I’ll tell the stories of the miracolati later. (I do not know how to make the photo larger – will try to learn)


In this photo, the young blonde woman in the front row was the miracle for the beatification – her husband is in the back holding the youngest of their two children. Their first-born is the little boy in the front who is not looking at the camera.

The young lad to the left of Fr. Pakula’s left shoulder, the boy smiling broadly, is the miracle man for yesterday’s canonization. His younger brother is also in the front row.

One of the absolutely most astonishing things about both stories, about both people, about both cures is that the miracolati as they are called in Italian, are from the same parish in Poland!!



I have been out of the office so much these last two days that writing a decent column has been a bit more difficult than usual. I wanted to post the following story yesterday but there literally was no time to write in between all the events on my schedule. In reverse order, tomorrow I’ll feature the papal Mass of canonization but today I bring you the post-Mass luncheon for Polish pilgrims and members and supporters of the Marian Fathers whose order was founded by the new Saint Stanislaus Papczyński.


Saint Stanislaus was canonized Sunday along with saint Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish-born convert to Catholicism who re-founded the Order of St. Bridget, patron of Sweden and original foundress of the order of religious women that took her name and followed.

Most of you probably know Fr. Joe Roesch whom you see on EWTN every year before, during and after Divine Mercy Sunday, as well as on many other occasions. Fr. Joe and I have been friends since he was assigned to the Marian Fathers in Rome where he is now the vicar general, It was Fr. Joe who made it possible for me to attend two canonization-related events – the luncheon yesterday and the Mass later this afternoon that will be presided over by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow and secrtary for 40 years to Saint John Paul II. We’ve known each other for over 30 years.

Founded in 1673 in Poland, the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary is also known as Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Although it is now an international organization, the Marians still have strong roots in Poland and place a great deal of emphasis on spreading the messages of Divine Mercy and Saint Faustina Kowalska.

The current Prior General is Fr. Andrzej Pakuła. He is to the right of the president as we look at the photo.


Fr. Pakula is on the far right here:


Not far from St. Peter’s Square is a huge underground parking area for cars and busses that was built into Janiculum Hill for the 2000 Holy Year. The fifth floor of this structure has a large restaurant and it was here that 300 Polish pilgrims, Marian Fathers and seminarians, the president of Poland and Cardinal Dziwisz ate a celebratory lunch.

At lunch I was able to take some pictures of Poland’s young President Andrzej Duda who led his country’s delegation to the canonization, accompanied by his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda. In the first images, Fr. Andrzej Pakuł is presenting a portrait of their founder, Saint Stanislaus, to the Polish president. In the second series, President Duda is giving a gift to the Marians.


President Duda’s talk to all of us was in Polish but I had help from Fr. Peter (Piotr) who interned a few years ago at EWTN and is now the director of communications for the diocese of Krakow. He reognized me at lunch and we had a grand cìconversatio in addition to his translating some of the remarks the president made.

At one point when people broke into laughter. Fr. Piotr told me the president had remarked that, after the beatification of Fr. Stanislaus, the Marian congregation sent priests to the Philippines where they built a hospital. Laughing, the president, who is a practicing Catholic, said, “If the Marians did that after the beatification, what will they do after the canonization!”


Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz exited the private dining room just minutes after the president’s departure. We had a delightful conversation and photos of that encounter will be posted tomorrow. Our brief but wonderful visit just may have a sequel to stay tuned!

Fr. Pakula receiving a gift from President Duda:


Some of the great personal moments at the luncheon occurred right after I sat down at one of the tables. All of a sudden I was surrounded by fans of my work on EWTN – most having come from the U.S. for the canonization – and many readers of my new book on  the Holy Year. It was such a joy and I only wish I had had the foresight to take a pfew photos!



You know how it is when you have a specific agenda planned for the day and then all sorts of extra events and commitments and people insert themselves and voilà, it is late in the day and many things are still on that well-planned agenda! Such was my day today, so my only stories involve the death of a great American cardinal and Pope Francis registering as a participant for the 2016 World Youth Day on a tablet!


Cardinal William Baum, 88, died on Thursday, July 23, after a long illness. As a column by CNS notes, “he was a cardinal for 39 years — the longest such tenure in U.S. church history. Cardinal Baum witnessed history from the Second Vatican Council through the election of the first Latin American Pope, and he made history himself.”

He was archbishop of Washington, prefect of a Vatican congregation and penitentiary major. I knew the cardinal for the first half of his ten years as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1980 to 1990), and we met many times over the years that he lived in Rome.


The cardinal suffered serious eye problems for many years and I learned one day that we shared the same eye doctor and surgeon.

I had a detached retina in my left eye in December 2001 and was in a Rome eye hospital for nine days, undergoing several corrective surgeries, including laser surgery on my right eye to hopefully prevent a similar occurrence. December 23, to my great surprise, the nurse announced that I had a visitor and that visitor was Cardinal Baum, along with Sr. Lucy, a Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who was a nurse.

We had a lovely visit, and I learned later that quite a number of the patients wondered who I was to have such an important visitor!

Later that afternoon, I received a call from Sister Lucy who, in a conversation with the cardinal, remarked to him that I probably had no plans for Christmas Day – two days later – as I would only be released from the hospital on December 24th. She asked if I had plans, telling me that Cardinal Baum would be delighted if I would join him for Mass and lunch in his apartment on Christmas Day!

Moved to tears, I told sister I would be there for 10 am Mass. The surgeon had instructed me to remain in a prone position, on my right side, for 22 hours a day for at least two weeks but he did give me special permission to be up and around Christmas Day, knowing I had cancelled plans to be with family in the U.S. because of the surgery.

I took a taxi to his residence – a wonderful apartment on the top floor of the same building that houses the Holy See Press Office. The sisters had previously been to Mass and were busy in the kitchen preparing our turkey dinner. There were only three of us at Mass and it was intimate and beautiful, a very different and wonderful Christmas morning. After Mass we gathered in a small study just off the amazing terrace overlooking Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Square. The sisters had decorated a Christmas tree and all the gifts beneath the tree were from the cardinal for his guests – several of whom were at Pope John Paul’s “Urbi et Orbi” blessings.

When all the guests had arrived, we drank a Christmas toast and the cardinal distributed his gifts. One of the presents he gave me consisted of two audio books! He knew I’d not be able to read for weeks – he had had the same issue a number of times . and these proved to be very welcomed gifts!

Dinner was so special – the turkey and all the stuffings were divine! – and afterwards all the sisters came into the living room and we sang Christmas songs. Truly, a day to remember, unique in so many ways . a very happy and Merry Christmas indeed!

I have other wonderful stories to tell about Cardinal Baum, but not today. He was an extraordinary gentle and saintly person, so kind and wise and a great listener – always interested in his guests, and interesting for his guests!

Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, expressing his sadness over the death of Wuerl’s predecessor:

“I was saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, and I offer my heartfelt condolences, together with the assurance of my prayers, to you and to all the faithful of the Archdiocese.  With gratitude for the late Cardinal’s years of episcopal service in Springfield-Cape Girardeau and in Washington, and for his long service to the Apostolic See as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and subsequently Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, I join you in commending the late Cardinal’s soul to God the Father of mercies.  To all present at the Mass of Christian Burial and to all who mourn Cardinal Baum in the hope of the Resurrection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and consolation in the Lord.”

To read the CNS story about Cardinal Baum’s long and wonderful years of service to the Church, click here:


In post-Angelus reflections on Sunday, Pope Francis remembered the people of Syria as they live through terrorist attacks and an internal conflict that has lasted for years, and he issued an urgent and heartfelt appeal for the release of Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit who was kidnapped in that country two years ago.

The Holy Father also named the Greek and Syriac Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, who were kidnapped Syria’s border with Turkey in 2013. Francis said he hoped that, with the commitment of international and local authorities, these prelates would be released immediately.

Then, with two young people joining him at his study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis held a tablet and, with the touch of a button, he registered as the first participant for the 2016 World Youth Day that will be held in Krakow, Poland. In remarks to the faithful, he said that WYD 2016 will be celebrated during the Year of Mercy, saying, “in a sense, a jubilee of youth, called to reflect on the theme ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’.” (photo


He invited the youth of the world to live this pilgrimage to Krakow as “a moment of grace in their communities.”

Vatican Radio reported on a Message for WYD 2016 released by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the council that organizes Youth Days.

Taking place in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins on December 8th this year, the Krakow event follows on from the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro where Pope Francis told young people to read the Beatitudes because, he said, it “will do you good”. In his message Cardinal Rylko notes that the Pope has made the theme of mercy a priority of his pontificate and that the Krakow meeting will mark an international Jubilee of Young People dedicated to this theme.

It’s the second time that World Youth Day has been held in Poland – the first such event took place in 1991 at the Marian shrine of Czestochowa with Pope John Paul II. The Polish pontiff will also be spiritually present at the 2016 event as young participants visit the tomb of St Faustina Kowalska at the Divine Mercy shrine, inaugurated by Pope John Paul during his last visit to his homeland in 2002. There, they will be able to take part in a programme of meditations and recitation of the Divine Mercy chapelet.

Numerous confessionals will also be set up and Pope Francis himself is likely to offer the sacrament of reconciliation to a number of young men and women attending the celebration. A symbolic Holy Door will also be built at the shrine, through which the Pope will process at the start of the prayer vigil and Eucharistic Adoration on Saturday July 30th. Following the final Mass on Sunday 31st, Pope Francis will give lighted lamps to five young couples from the five continents to symbolically send all the participants out as missionaries of God’s mercy throughout the world.


The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2015. Entitled “Make your hearts firm.” it was signed in the Vatican on October 4, 2014, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

While a papal Message is always important, I am dedicating this column today to the celebrations in Italy and elsewhere of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  I covered Pope Benedict’s historic visit to this camp when he traveled to Poland in May 2006, his first foreign trip as Pope (not counting his trip in August to Cologne for World Youth Day, a place and time chosen by his predecessor, St. John Paul). Benedict chose Poland to honor his predecessor who had died 13 months earlier after a pontificate of nearly 27 years

I spent a day at Auschwitz, a day I will never forget as long as I live. I wrote about that visit on my May 31, 2006 “Joan’s Rome.”  I just re-read that column – probably the longest I ever wrote – and am breathless – once again!  So that none of us ever forget the Holocaust, I offer that column today, accompanied by some of the many photos I took.

(Not to slight Pope Francis, here is a link to his Lenten message:

Every year on January 27, Italy marks Holocaust Remembrance Day but this year it is a bigger – and more poignant – commemoration because today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. With events scheduled in schools, churches, Rome’s synagogue and in Parliament, Italy is remembering the day when Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1.1 million prisoners were put to death, was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945.

In fact, Pope Francis marked this anniversary with this tweet: Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples.


I know to the core of my being that I will never forget May 28, 2006.

The day I visited Auschwitz.

The day a German-born Pope visited “this abyss of terror” where over 60 years ago other Germans killed 1.5 million people, overwhelmingly Jewish, in gas chambers and crematoriums, by working them to death or shooting them, or through atrocious, horrifying medical experiments.

The day that survivors of Auschwitz were embraced by a German Pope who, shortly afterward, in his talk in Italian – not in Polish, not in his native German, but in his adopted Italian, with sensitivity and deference to his listeners – said: “In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the loving God never to let this happen again.”

The day began, as it would end, with a series of unforeseen events. The first happened when I left my hotel – just yards away from Blonie Park where the papal Mass was to start at 9:45 – to go to the press section, a ten- or fifteen-minute walk at a fast pace as the park is enormous, capable of holding one and a half million people. Every street in sight was closed. As far as the eye could see there were metal barriers, uniformed guards of all types, police cars and wagons and ambulances – and (as we later would discover) one million people, who flowed into Blonie like a rushing cascade of humanity. I not only had to show ID to get into the park, I had to show it to leave the hotel grounds.

Journalists wore plasticized ID cards with name, rank, news organization, photo and a few other details. Behind that main identification badge were slightly smaller plastic cards with the specific name and date of a specific venue, allowing access (or not allowing it if you were without the proper ID) to that event. I showed all the proper identification to the guards, was allowed through the myriad gates, and proceeded to walk in the direction that a uniformed guard told me was the spot for journalists.

The policeman’s minimal English and my minimal Polish should have alerted me to the distinct possibility that I was being pointed in the wrong direction. And, after 15 minutes of making my way through the biggest crowd I ever recall being part of – past food and drink vendors (all sales of alcohol were banned from 6 p.m. Friday to midnight Sunday, throughout the entire city: the keys on a cash register that indicate liquor sales were locked down until midnight Sunday), and countless men in uniform, of whom I asked directions to the press section. After 15 minutes I knew instinctively I was just as far from the press section as when I started out because I could now see the papal altar and to one side was the press section. However, it was across the park from where I had been directed.

So I sprinted back to the starting gate, so to speak, spoke to several policeman and told them I had to get to May 3 Street (I did learn something in all of this!) to get to the press section. No, I was told after 10 minutes of waiting as police used their walkie-talkies. The press section had been closed much earlier (earlier by 30 minutes than it was supposed to have closed). No one was allowed in. I was incommunicado with my colleagues because cell phone calls were being jumbled for security reasons. Mass had started by now and I had no choice but to go to the Press Center since I could not get to the press section, nor could I work in the hotel (as you know from my previous blog).

But even the Press Center was not looking like an alternative. Every road within sight was closed. No cars, taxis or busses in or out of our area. I asked one friendly policeman who spoke a little English what he could suggest. I said I must work. Did he have any ideas? He said: “You. Wait. Here.” I saw him speak to colleagues, then get on a walkie-talkie and all of a sudden, I was whisked off to the Press Center with a police escort!

Only the sun coming out could have warmed my heart more. The fun part was arriving at the Center where many colleagues were milling about outside, surprised looks on their faces, wondering why I arrived in a police car. It later dawned on me that a lot of people at the park who saw me leave in a police car probably wondered what on earth I had done!

There was little time at the center for real work because the busses for Auschwitz were due to leave at 11:30. In fact, that created a huge problem for people attending the Pope Benedict’s Mass – which would not be over by the time the busses left. And that is one of the problems in covering such events – and it was far worse for those on the papal flight. It is usually physically impossible to cover all the events – getting bussed to one event, staying while the Pope is present in order to get your story and then, with breakneck speed, trying to get to the next papal event – if there is a bus, if it hasn’t already left, a lot of “ifs” involved. Even a private car does not help that much. Another problem is that once you are in a venue, you are usually not allowed to leave before the Pope does. So you are back at square one.

It is worse for those on the papal flight because when they arrive at a venue, they have precious little time as a rule to see the site, watch the event or interview people, because, not long after the Pope arrives, they have to depart for the next venue. Auschwitz upset most of the correspondents on the papal plane because they were told to leave for their busses to go to the airport 15 minutes after Pope Benedict’s arrival. The most historic moment of the entire apostolic trip and they could not witness it in its entirety.

The visit to Auschwitz was overshadowed by an attack, the previous day, on Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, 50, on a Warsaw street when a young man yelled “Poland for the Poles” and sprayed the rabbi’s face with what appeared to be pepper spray, when he questioned the man about what he said. Poland’s interior ministry issued a statement calling the attack “a provocation aimed at creating an image of Poland as an anti-Semitic country.” The Israeli embassy also had its say.

The rabbi minimized the attack when he spoke to the press. Focusing instead on Benedict’s visit Sunday to Auschwitz where the two would meet, Rabbi Schudrich said the visit “will not be easy for Benedict XVI, and perhaps even unpleasant, but I think he feels it is his duty to go there. I respect his decision. The fact he is here has great significance.” He told the Polish news service that, “anyone who ever visits Auschwitz, in which the greatest genocide in the world was committed, will never be the same.”

Before World War II, Jews numbered about 4 million in Poland, about ten percent of the entire population. After the war, they numbered only a few thousand and today still are relatively small in number. The anti-Semitism that had been prevalent before the war, then diminished somewhat, returned in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s but, with the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, the new government – and successive governments – attempted to improve relations with the Jews and with Israel. However, one of the parties within the coalition of the current government, ruling together with the Law and Justice Party, is the League of Polish Families, considered to be on the far right, with a strain of anti-Semitism, say observers. This, add the observers, impairs efforts to improve relations with Jews and with Israel.

On Sunday, the media was brought by bus to Oswiecim, Poland, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site where a media center had been erected just a few hundred yards from the area of the camp where Pope Benedict and other religious leaders would participate in an inter-religious, multi-lingual ceremony commemorating the victims of Nazism.

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To reach the media tent we drove around the perimeter of Auschwitz-Birkenau (known as Auschwitz II) – about one and a half miles from the camp known as Auschwitz I, which the Pope visited privately. My companion on the bus to Auschwitz, Natalia Reiker, a knowledgeable and articulate Polish girl working for Reuters in Warsaw, told me that to truly sense and understand what had happened on these now quiet grounds and grassy knolls, the camps should be visited on a normal day, when there are no tents for the media, no stage for a musical ensemble, no outdoor tables for sandwiches and beverages for the media, no satellite dishes punctuating the landscape, no platform with chairs for several thousand guests.

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She is right, of course. But I was nonetheless speechless at what I saw: the tall guard towers, the miles, it seemed, of barbed wire fences, the row upon row upon row – as far as the eye could see – of sad brick barracks which housed those who were allowed to survive the gas chambers in order to labor.

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Sunday everything seemed so peaceful, almost bucolic. No emaciated prisoners toiling in the fields or kitchens or crematoriums. No trains arriving with their huddled, frightened masses. No screams being heard from laboratories where excruciatingly horrifying experiments were carried out on defenseless human beings. Just the stillness of an empty compound, the breath of the forest with its swaying trees, the patter of rain that fell intermittently.

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And yet the silence spoke to me. It helped me be with my own thoughts. It helped me imagine what had happened here, conjuring up images from movies I had seen that tried to portray man’s inhumanity to man. And that was the phrase that stuck with me all day: man’s inhumanity to man.

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In the media center tent, we watched images of Pope Benedict as he and his entourage arrived at Auschwitz I, after a triumphant leave-taking of Krakow.

This solitary figure in white entered Auschwitz alone and on foot, looking pensively ahead as he walked 300 meters to the yard of Block 11. The metal gate at the entrance (the only entrance to the camp) through which the Pope walked, was made by Polish prisoners and shipped to this camp in the summer of 1940. The sign above the gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes you Free) was made by a group of prisoners who were locksmiths. The letter “B” in the first word “arbeit (work)” was purposefully turned upside down by the men as they made the sign, as an act of disobedience.

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After the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers, they wanted to ship the inscription part of the gate off to the U.S.S.R. but former inmates bribed a sentry, removed the original inscription, substituted it with a new one, and hid the original in the town hall. The original inscription was brought back and is the one seen today.

Pope Benedict walked through the gate because he had been told that the German soldiers entered by car but prisoners had to enter on foot. And so he chose to walk into Auschwitz.

The Pope prayed and lit a memorial candle, handed to him by former inmates, at the execution wall. He then greeted 32 former inmates, one of whom, a woman, Salomea Kanikula, was a survivor of atrocious medical experiments. He visited and prayed in the death cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe and lit a candle left there by John Paul II in 1979. After signing the commemorative book, the Holy Father went to the Center for Dialogue and Prayer, met the staff, volunteers and Carmelite sisters who live in a nearby convent, signed another commemorative book and blessed the activity of the center.

Benedict’s arrival at Birkenau was scheduled for about 5:45 but he was about 30 minutes behind schedule at this point. This former concentration camp was the site of the gas chambers used to exterminate the prisoners: They were blown up or set on fire by Germans as they left the camp in 1945.

In the pouring rain of a cloudburst, the Pope and a small entourage arrived at Birkenau where, under the cover of a large, white umbrella, he greeted people and then walked slowly past the row of 22 tablets, each written in a different language, that commemorated the more than 1.5 million people who perished at Birkenau. Candles inside blue glass holders were placed at each plaque by young boys and girls of various nationalities.

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About 1,500 guests were in what was called the “O Zone,” the area nearest the Pope, including 200 former inmates, representatives of Jewish communities in Poland and around the world, and members of movements and organizations actively involved in promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue and Polish-German dialogue. Also present was Polish President Lech Kaczynski, members of the diplomatic corps, senior members of the Vatican and the Church in Poland, and the ambassadors of Israel to Poland and the Vatican.

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Outside the “O Zone,” but still close to the Pope, were several thousand invited guests, mostly faithful from the diocese where Auschwitz is located, and members of the media.

I did a live stand-up for EWTN at 5 p.m. and, to better view the entire ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I remained on the TV platform afterwards. As I climbed the stairs to the platform for the stand-up, I found I had an excellent vantage point for all the ceremonies but as I got to the Position Three camera, my heart stopped.

Not 30 feet away were the tracks for the trains that had brought 1.5 million prisoners to this camp, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers, just yards away. I just stood and stared. Beyond the tracks was the vast space of barbed wire and barracks and guard towers and thick forests. And then I saw it: The tracks simply ended. They went nowhere. They ended. As did the lives of all who entered Birkenau.

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We had seen train tracks off to our right on the road we used to enter Birkenau. They went through the main building and gate – but we couldn’t see where they ended until we actually arrived at the commemorative area. Pope Benedict was seated perhaps 50 yards away from where the tracks dead-ended.

As I turned to face the camera – with the train tracks behind me – I again had my breath taken away. In front of me now, not 100 feet away, was a gas chamber, or the ruins of one. It had been blown up by the Nazis as they left the camp in the hopes of leaving no signs of their barbaric acts – yet it was there, its remnants a stark reminder, once again, of man’s inhumanity to man. Later, as I returned to the media tent, I saw the black floor of another chamber and the vents through which gas had been pumped into the chambers.

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I tried to think of the individual victims, to do what Pope Benedict suggested in his talk at Birkenau, when he spoke of the inscriptions on the tablets. “They would stir our hearts profoundly,” he said, “if we remembered the victims not merely in general but rather saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror.” These were people, with names, faces, families, feelings. Not a statistic. Not “one and a half million people” – but one person. And another. And yet another. All individuals.

I could only do that if I closed my eyes. But I did try. I try to imagine the faces of friends, to imagine that people I knew were plucked off the street or torn from their homes, crammed into a train and brought to what the Pope called “this place of horror,” simply because they were Jewish or gypsy, or whatever their “crime” was. People stripped of their human dignity and worth. People treated as “material objects,” not “as persons embodying the image of God.” People seen as “part of the refuse of world history in an ideology which valued only the empirically useful.” People whose “life (was) unworthy to be lived.

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In the midst of the pain of remembrance, of the Kaddish, the Jewish song for the deceased, of the reciting of Psalm 22 and prayers in six languages, including Roma, Russian, Polish, Hebrew, English and German (recited by Pope Benedict), the most astonishing thing happened.

An immensely beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky! An awesome, unforgettable magical moment in the midst of remembering godless evil.

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Was this not the hand of God, answering the Pope’s question: “Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?” Was it God telling us: “I was there, but no one let me speak. They tried to kill Me too. I am here now, and I’m speaking.”

The magic and yet mystery of the rainbow as it swept away the black rain clouds was lost on no one. Someone tapped Pope Benedict on the shoulder to tell him to turn around and look at this phenomenal sign. The rainbow stayed in the sky for what seemed like a long time. Rainbows can be so ephemeral, but it appeared that this one had a message, a message uniting all of us, irrespective of language, nationality or religion.

What is at the end of a rainbow? Hope? Joy? Peace? Reconciliation? A better tomorrow in a better world? Perhaps even man’s humanity towards man?

As the rainbow graced the sky, Pope Benedict began his address: “To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible – and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany,” said Benedict XVI.

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“In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence that is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did You remain silent? How could You tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.”

He recalled the 1979 visit by John Paul II, who “came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. ‘Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,’ he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations.”

“John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of John Paul II and as a son of the German people – a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.”

“How many questions arise in this place!” he exclaimed. “Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? … How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, … This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age … suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness.”

“We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No, when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: … Do not forget mankind, Your creature!”

“Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him.”

“The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. … Some [of the] inscriptions [here] are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. … If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God Who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone – to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.”

“Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people. … There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold aim: by setting people free from one dictatorship, they were to submit them to another, that of Stalin and the communist system.” The inscription in German serves as a reminder that “the Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as … the refuse of the nation.”

“Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instill hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil.”

As I read, then listened to Benedict’s words, I could only imagine his pain as he wrote them. I imagined a sting of tears as he thought of the atrocities performed by one human being on another, of the senselessness and destructive force of violence and hatred, of the apparent absence of God at the darkest moment, when mankind most needed God’s light.

May 28, 2006.

The day I went to Auschwitz.

The day that Benedict XVI ended his visit to Poland with a dramatic visit to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, where he spoke about his native land, about Nazism, mass crimes, terror and intimidation, about the horrors that German soldiers perpetrated on Jews in the Shoah, and their attempt to silence or kill God. But, in this place of remembrance, he also spoke of “the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror,” of reconciliation, conversion, peace and God’s love.