KRAKOW, Poland—Ever since St. John Paul II first visited his hometown Krakow, popes have felt obliged to address the large, pumped-up crowds that gather every night under the window of the archbishop’s residence whenever a pontiff is in town.
Pope Francis, for sure, has not broken that tradition.
Yet the circumstances of this World Youth Day have made these traditional appearances take on a somewhat different feel from the more laid-back, happy appearances familiar from the John Paul II years, which generally featured singing in Polish and walks down memory lane.
“I don’t want to make you bitter, but I have to tell the truth. The cruelty of Auschwitz and Birkenau hasn’t ended. Even today many people are tortured,” the pontiff told the crowds of young pilgrims on Friday.
“Many prisoners”, he continued in Italian, “are tortured immediately, in order to get them to talk. It’s terrible! Today there are men and women in overcrowded prisons. They live- forgive me- like animals. This cruelty is there today.”
Francis’s words came during his third night in Poland. In the morning, he had visited the Nazi concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and in the afternoon he stopped at a children’s hospital.
For the almost two-hour long visit to the camps, the pope remained virtually silent, only exchanging private words when he greeted a small group of Holocaust survivors in Auschwitz and then 25 “Righteous Among the Nations” in Birkenau, including a Catholic nun and a priest representing two sainthood candidates.
Yet at the end of the day, from the balcony at Franciszkańska 3, Francis spoke about his day, saying it was had been special, “a day of suffering.”
Every Friday, he said, Christians remember the death of Jesus, which was the reason why in the afternoon he led hundreds of thousands of young people who’ve gathered in Krakow in the prayer of the Way of the Cross.
“We were united the suffering Christ. But not only suffering 2,000 years ago, but also today,” Francis said.
“There’s so much suffering: the infirm, those who are at war, the homeless, the hunger, those who are doubtful in life, who do not feel happiness, salvation or who feel the weight of their own sin,” he said.
Francis then spoke about his visit to a local pediatric hospital, saying that to him, children’s suffering is a mystery.
Last but not least, he spoke about his morning visit to the extermination camp, where he remembered “the pain of 70 years ago … so much pain, how much cruelty!”
“[But] today there is this cruelty. We say: yes, we have seen the cruelty from 70 years ago, how [the prisoners] died shot, hanged, or with gas. But today in many places of the world where there is war, it’s the same,” Francis said.
He didn’t mention any specifics, but cases of mass murder with the aims of exterminating peoples are an everyday reality in many countries in the Middle East, where the so-called Islamic terrorist organization ISIS is engaged in what various prominent individuals and institutions, including Francis and the U.S. State Department, have recognized as a “genocide” against Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq.
Friday wasn’t the first time Francis used the window to deliver a somewhat somber address.
On Wednesday, when he arrived for his July 27-31 visit to Poland, the took this opportunity to talk about Maciej Szymon Cieśla, a graphic design who two years ago quit his job to be a full time volunteer for World Youth Day.
On July 2, only weeks before the event began, he died of cancer.
“He did a lot of good for everyone,” Francis said that day talking about Cieśla.
Adding that he didn’t want to ruin the mood of celebration, he said that “We must get used to the good things and the bad things. Life is like this, dear young people,” he said, while stressing that “there is something we cannot doubt: the faith of this young man, of our friend, who worked so much for this WYD.”
Thursday’s window address, on the other hand, had a different spirit. He spoke in Spanish, and in particular to the many newlywed couples that were present. To them, he spoke of the “three words” that can help live a married life: “permission, thanks, and forgiveness.”
“Permission: always ask the spouse (the wife to the husband, the husband to the wife) what to you think? Never run over. Permission,” he said.
On thanks- or being thankful- Francis said the spouses should use this word often.
Forgiveness, he said, is a word “difficult to pronounce.” In a marriage, he said, both the husband and the wife make mistakes, and it’s important to recognize this and apologize.
He also told them that even though arguments are bound to happen- with some silverware flying here or there- they must never end the day without making peace.
“You know why? Because the cold war on the next day is very dangerous!” Francis said.