It was thirty-five years to the day on Friday (18 May) that a total of one hundred and twenty thousand men were killed or wounded in the battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy.
It was thirty-five years to the day on Friday (18 May) that a total of one hundred and twenty thousand men were killed or wounded in the battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy. And Friday, which is also Pope John Paul the Second's 59th birthday, saw the Pontiff visiting that same historic site at Mount Cairo to pay tribute to those killed and in one of the bloodiest battles of World War Two.
SYNOPSIS: The battle over the ancient monastery was waged for four months. Victory was decided on the 18th May, 1944 when Allied bombers reduced Monte Cassino to rubble.
The monastery sat atop a hill which dominates the road to Rome. It was considered the key to the impregnable "Gustav Line" of German defence. St. Benedict founded the monastery one thousand, four hundred and fifty years ago, and since then it has been destroyed and rebuilt five times.
Now it stands seven hundred and thirty metres (1,7000 feet) high, overlooking the Liri Valley, exactly as it did in the Allied campaign early in 1944.
Karol Wojtyla was an ex-student factory worker on the 18th May, 1944 and he knew some of the one thousand Polish soldiers who fell in the battle of Monte Cassino. Now -- as Pope John Paul -- he was led a pilgrimage of ten thousand people to the cemetery at the foot of Mount Cairo to pray for the fallen of all wars.
"I come to listen and to transmit to all the message of those who lie in these cemeteries -- British, German, Italian, and French -- and say that the sacrifice of their lives was not in vain," the Pope said during his service, attended by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
Absent from the congregation was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. An attack of influenza forced the Polish Primate to cancel his attendance at the memorial service.