Continuing his tour of his native Poland, Pope John Paul made a strong plea for human rights on Thursday, (7 June) when he addressed a crowd of half a million during a visit to the sites of the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Continuing his tour of his native Poland, Pope John Paul made a strong plea for human rights on Thursday, (7 June) when he addressed a crowd of half a million during a visit to the sites of the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Earlier the same day he broke with papal tradition when he returned to his home town of Wadowice - where in common with other places on his itinerary, he was given a highly emotional and enthusiastic welcome.
SYNOPSIS: Until now, once installed, Popes have never returned to their birth-places, but in Wadowice Pope John Paul was reunited with the people who refer to him as "our Lolek." Fifteen thousand of them poured into the central square to shout their greetings.
There was also a warm reunion with Monsignor Edward Zacher, the Pope's old parish priest and the man who taught the Pontiff religion. After-wards he told the cheering crowd "It is with deep emotion that I arrive today in the town of my birth, the parish in which I was baptised, in the surroundings where I spent eighteen years of my life."
From Wadowice the Pope travelled to Auschwitz. First he placed a wreath in memory of those who died at the execution wall. Then he knelt in prayer outside block eleven - know to the inmates as the death block. Eventually Pope John Paul went alone into the cell where the Polish Friar Maximillan Kolbe was murdered by the Nazis in 1941.
The Pope described Auschwitz as "a place built on hatred and on contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology." He spoke of the Jews who died in the Nazi camps and of the suffering of the Polish people during World War Two.
From Auschwitz the Pope flew by helicopter to the death camp at Birkenau, just over one kilometre (less than one mile) away.
At an altar placed symbolically over the death camp railway junction the Pope celebrated mass - together with almost two hundred priests who are survivors of the German camps. It was their biggest reunion since the war and to mark the occasion the priests wore vestments embroidered with the Tree of Life. In his address Pope John paul said "the rights of nations to existence, freedom, independence, culture and honour-able development must be ensured."