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Spirit of Assisi descends on Auschwitz

KRAKOW, Poland ( Religious representatives from all over the world went to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on September 8, as part of the closing events of an inter-religious meeting in “the spirit of Assisi”.

The three-day event, convoked by Archbishop of Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and promoted by the Sant’Egidio Community, brought together personalities of all creeds.
It was a continuation of the first inter-religious and inter-cultural meeting called in 1986 in Assisi by Pope John Paul II.

This year’s theme was “The Spirit of Assisi in Krakow” and it particularly focused on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

Sant’Egidio Community president Marco Impagliazzo told Vatican Radio the pilgrimage to Auschwitz “reaffirms our conviction that dialogue is the only way to avoid these tragedies”.

Two survivors of the concentration camp, a rabbi and an Austrian woman of gypsy origin, spoke about their experiences during the brief but moving ceremony.

More than 20 floral wreaths were laid – one by each religious group – in memory of the victims.

The inter-religious event ended in Krakow’s market square, with the “2009 Call to Peace”, which was preceded by prayer meetings by each religious group.

During the three days of the congress, attended by Christians of all denominations, and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other minority religious representatives, there was talk of peace, the development of peoples, the economic crisis and inter-religious dialogue, but especially of the legacy of World War II and of Pope John Paul II.

“Peace is a gift, but it is also a task,” Cardinal Dziwisz said in his greeting to open the congress at the Divine Mercy Shrine.

“Every man and every generation must welcome this noble challenge, to build the foundations of the civilisation of love and of life on our earth.

“Seventy years ago we lived here the tragedy of World War II. Innocent blood was shed. Hatred between peoples reached its most intense point.”

The conflict was the focus of the reflection of several round-table discussions during the congress, in which especially Polish Jews and Catholics contributed.

In his address, Sant’Egidio Com-munity founder Andrea Riccardi said “the horror of the war is the greatest lesson for our times – a lesson that must be meditated. War is the death of all that unites peoples.”

“The Pope once told me that seeing 1989, one understands that prayer was not in vain in Assisi in 1986,” Mr Riccardi said.

“Seventy years after the start of the war, one no longer hears on the streets of Krakow and Auschwitz the marching of occupying troops or the exhausted step of the deported and of a humiliated people, but the friendly step of pilgrims of different religions.”

There were several interventions recognising the figure of John Paul II.

Director of the Department for Inter-religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee Grand Rabbi David Rosen quoted messianic passages of the prophet Isaiah about peace and added, it “was a son of Krakow who brought us so close to this vision”.

Another noteworthy intervention was that of Metropolitan Seraphim of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who called John Paul II a “prophet of peace”, both for his firm defence of peace in conflicts, such as Ireland’s or Iraq’s, as well as his efforts in favour of religious dialogue.

“John Paul was profoundly wounded by the division among Christians,” he said, “and, at the level of the different religions, by the fact that they are often the cause of conflicts, instead of being a source of peace and blessing for peoples.”


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