(VATICAN RADIO) With Pope Francis visiting Auschwitz on Friday, many World Youth Day pilgrims have also been paying a visit to the Nazi concentration camp.
The Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim was founded for all those who were touched by what happened in the Nazi concentration and extermination camps located there.
Vatican Radio’s Lydia O’Kane interviewed Fr. Manfred Deselaers, programme manager at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim, to find out what he hopes visitors will gain from their experience.
“The first experience is always something like a shock,” Father explained
“This negative experience of evil is very powerful, and my hope (and our task) is that this is not only a negative experience, that we do not go home depressed,” he added.
Fr. Manfred hopes that guests do not leave Auschwitz doubting the goodness of the human race, nor doubting the goodness of God. Though after seeing such horrific marks left from the World War II concentration camp, such feelings may be difficult to resist at first.
However, Father urges that the lives of those lost at the concentration camp in Auschwitz can teach us to make a world where we respect one another’s dignity. He hopes that this is the message the young people go home with, this is the testament of the victims they remember.
Father described how one survivor of Auschwitz, who met with some young German people, said to him: "Manfred, isn’t it wonderful that today we can be friends?"
“And I hope that people leave this place, especially the young, with this mission: that their task [is] building the future,” Fr. Manfred emphasised.
Father told another story, something that had happened to him that morning. A young girl from Syria asked him what she could do for her country; that is, how could she build a “civilization of love”, as St. Pope John Paul II called for, in a country greatly afflicted with war and suffering.
Fr. Manfred replied: “Like Maximilian Kolbe, he died; he was killed during the war. But he is [a] saint because his love was not killed.
So our task is that we don’t stop [loving], even if the environment is full of hate.”
In an increasingly violent world, Fr. Manfred’s words have never been more relevant.