“When pain is too much, the cry dies in your throat”. Pope Francis put it simply, not to disturb the truth and the spirit of the place, during his visit to the symbolic site, the cross of the “great pain”, Auschwitz. Here, over a million people were eliminated, covered by the silence of the consciousness of many people, too many people. Jews, but not only. Also dissident intellectuals, homosexuals, disabled people, Roma, and political prisoners. All those people someone judged as different and, therefore, not worthy of living. Among them, more than 75 thousand Poles. It was not only their killing that has indelibly marked the history of humanity in the tragedy of the Holocaust, where life of nearly four million people was snatched away and destroyed, but also the ways in which their human dignity was humiliated, abused, and tortured in the satanic project of the “final solution”.
“I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, people, only those needed,” said the Pope. Because talk and people are sometimes only a noise. Pain screams in silence. This is the silent invitation the Holy Father addressed to the young people gathered in Krakow together with him in those painfully empty spaces of the concentration camp, where he seems to be alone. But that was not the case. With him, we are all suffering, the despised, the outraged, the renegades, the betrayed, the raped, the slain. Of Auschwitz and of the entire humanity. His sermon was deep and intense, although without words. An appeal to everyone’s conscience, especially young people, to hear the screams of pain in silence, even of medium or long-winded speeches, often empty of meaning and full of pompous and abundant oral language. That silence is a slap to those who talk too much without saying anything, to those who are distracted and cannot hear these muffled cries of pain.
In Auschwitz, the Pope was not alone, sitting on that chair for 15 minutes, with his head tilted, watching this land that so often feels abandoned by heaven. Not only in Auschwitz. His silence cries the smothered pain of the world, of men and women of all times, including our own. Among the bloodiest genocides of the last century, there is also that of Rwanda, no less horrible and gruesome than the one perpetrated against the Jews sixty years ago, so close to the present day. About one million people, mostly Tutsis, but also Hutus, were massacred with machetes, cooked on the grill and fed to their family members, even children and infants. In 100 days, a third of the population was wiped out in a war that some have defined as tribal. It only happened twenty years ago, but many of the young people who are in Poland these days probably have never heard of it.
Those cries of pain were stifled in the silence of the media’s throat, too full of other words. Here, in Auschwitz, Pope Bergoglio makes resound in the silence the cries of pain of the Armenians massacred by the Turks, over one million and a half people, in an effort to realize total extermination, just as the Nazis wanted to do with the Jews. Here, in silence, echoing up the harrowing screams of today Syrians, Afghans, and Christians who are persecuted, tortured, burned alive, impaled, put on the cross, today, every day, around the world, such as those of the brothers who face the fury of the sea and I am just overwhelmed by the reason of their hope, the cries of millions of children who are dying of hunger and thirst in silence. These are the genocides of our time, too often silent because information agencies, newspapers, the radio, or even television silence them, A few lines on the daily bulletin reporting the numbers, which are impressive by themselves and whose pace is unstoppable, but together they become a nuclear bomb.
The term genocide was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who dealt with the Armenian genocide for the League of Nations, a non-governmental organization with the aim of conducting research and activities for the promotion of peace and quality of life among men. This name qualified a crime against humanity in the UN Resolution 1946. In 1948, was signed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by almost all the states of the world, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and subsequently approved by a UN resolution in 1951. The same year was signed a Convention on refugees. Genocide – we read – means “each of the following acts carried out with the intent to destroy, partially or entirely, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, both in wartime and in “peace”: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its partial or entire physical destruction; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
There is, therefore, an actual genocide of Christians in our time. In Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Libya, India, the Philippines, and in China. The new anti-Christian persecution claims millions of lives, hundreds of thousands of them every year in many countries, with the intent to permanently destroy the Church, faith in Jesus Christ, and the race of faithful men and women.
“Where is God? Where is He?” is the question the Jews asked the Nazi inside the concentration camps, and every day, from creation, the same stifled question has been asked by those who suffer unjust evil. In the poem “Night” by Elie Wiesel, it is a question a child, “the sad-eyed angel” asks Heaven. Auschwitz still resonates with excruciating pain, yet, it is the place of absolute silence, because God was silent here. “Where was God?” – asked Benedict XVI in the same places, visiting Auschwitz ten years ago. “Where is God?” – asked Pope Francis again a few hours later, during the Via Crucis. The answer is in the same poem by Elie Wiesel: “There he is, hanging there on the gallows.” But He is also in the Gospel. God exists. “We are called to serve Jesus Crucified in any marginalized person, to touch His flesh blessed for those who are excluded, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted, refugee, migrants,” said Pope Bergoglio. God speaks through our action. In the good works of the righteous men, we hear the love and justice of God. Like St. Francis, we can say: “Deus mihi dixit” ‘God spoke to me’.
The silent prayer of the Holy Father in Auschwitz is a slap to the everyone’s conscience. Also that of God.