Pope Bemoans Depth of Human Evil at Holocaust Memorial

by Carlo Giorgi |  May 26, 2014

Pope lays a wreath during the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem (photo: Amos Ben Gershom/Gpo/Flash90)

In one of Judaism’s most sacred places, the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Pope Francis chose the words from the book of Genesis. Words spoken by God, words of mercy uttered by a grief-wracked creator no longer able to recognize the being he made in his own image. A creature lost because of sin.

“Adam, where are you? Where are you man? Where have you gone?”. In one of Judaism’s most sacred places, the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Pope Francis chose the words from Genesis (3:9). Words spoken by God, words of mercy uttered by a grief-wracked creator no longer able to recognize the being he made in his own image. A creature lost because of sin. "Have mercy on us,” Francis repeated several times throughout his speech, “may we be ashamed of our sin."

"A particularly poignant moment of my stay in your will be my visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, a tragedy that remains a symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink. I beg God that there will never be another such crime,” said the Pope, on his arrival to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. At this point the pontiff forcefully condemned the bloody attack on the synagogue in Brussels, Belgium, which took place Friday, May 23.

Pope Francis is the third pope to visit Yad Vashem following Pope John Paul II in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. The ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance, where an eternal flame burns in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, also called Shoah in Hebrew. President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem Rabbi Israel Meir Lau were together with Pope. Israeli-Italian scholar and expert on anti-Semitism during the Fascist era in Italy, Jael Nidam-Orvieto, read a letter written by Holocaust victim Ida Goldish. Goldish was deported from Romania to Transnistria in 1941, along with her son Vily and sister. Vily and Ida died during the grueling trip. The Pope, accompanied by Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking Catholic children and immigrant children from the community of St. James of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, placed a wreath on the plaque next to the eternal flame.

In a moving moment of the ceremony, Francis, as his predecessors did, met with six Holocaust survivors — Avraham Harshalom, Chava Shik, Joseph Gottdenker, Moshe Ha-Elion, Eliezer Grynfeld, and Sonia Tunik-Geron., representing the six million Jews killed.

In another unexpected gesture filled with humanity, Pope Francis bent to kiss the hand of each. Six bows to show solidarity and recognition of the great sacrifice of the Jewish people. Six bows by the Successor of Peter to his "elder brothers", as the Pope repeatedly defines Jews - the surviving children of the people of Israel.

Singer Asher Hainowitz closed the solemn ceremony with the traditional funeral prayer El Maleh Rahamim while the Pope listened, absorbed in prayer.

Before reaching Yad Vashem, the Pope stopped for a few minutes in the Mount Herzl cemetery and walked alongside the tombstones that bear the names of Israeli victims of terrorism. Here, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the pontiff that the separation wall in Bethlehem that the Pope visited on Sunday has prevented more “victims of Palestinian terror that continues to this very day”.

“Terror is absolute evil. It emanates from evil and engenders evil,” Pope Francis said in Spanish. “It is born of hatred… it does not build, it destroys. I pray for the victims of terrorism in Israel and to all the victims of the world. Please, no more terrorism. It is a dead end street.”

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