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Tears and not words. Prayers and not greetings. During his trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis will go to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. He said he wants to go alone and say nothing.
When Pope Francis speaks, he can delight fans and frustrate critics. He can wax poetic or be bluntly funny about human quirks.
But in the face of great suffering and horror, his first and strongest inclinations are silence, a profoundly bowed head and hands clasped tightly in prayer.
Pope Francis had asked that there be no speeches during his visit to Armenia’s genocide memorial June 25. At times, even the prayer service there with the Armenian Apostolic patriarch seemed too wordy. An aide gently cupped his elbow when it was time to end the silent reflection and begin the service.
The Vatican’s schedule for the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau July 29 had him giving a speech at the international monument at Birkenau, just as St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did.
But on the flight back to Rome from Armenia, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Pope Francis, “I heard that you want to live that moment more with silence than words.”
The Pope responded by reminding reporters that in 2014 when he went to Redipuglia in northern Italy to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, “I went in silence,” walking alone among the graves. “Then there was the Mass and I preached at Mass, but that was something else.”
Speaking about his planned visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, “I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds – only the few people necessary,” he said. “Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”