What follows is an insight into a particular event that will take place on Monday 26 – Pope Francis’s visit to the Holocaust Museum, where he will also be accompanied by Israel’s President and Prime Minister. Our ‘inside view’ of this event comes from a member of the Vatican Mass Media Commission which is part of the preparatory team for the papal visit, and offers an interesting ‘Salesian’ reading of this part of the Pope’s very delicate visit to a troubled Holy Land.
JERUSALEM: 24 May 2014 — On the afternoon of Thursday 22 May 2014, there was a briefing at Yad Vashem (for media involved in presenting the brief visit that Pope Francis is making to this important centre on the morning of May 26. Spokesperson for the Centre, Ms Iris Rosenberg outlined how the visit would take place then the President, Dr Avener Shalev highlighted the significance and a number of details regarding the visit. [Official documentation can be found here].
Dr Shalev stressed the great honour that it was for YvS to receive Pope Francis as the head and representative of a community of more than 1,300 million Catholics. It will be the third visit of a Pope, following that of John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009. Note was made of the already well-known cordial relationships that existed between Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina and the Jewish community there and his respect for them, as also his position with regard to the Shoah or Holocaust. Francis has placed himself firmly in continuity with his predecessors’ attitude of empathy for the Jewish People. In this context he will rekindle the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance and will speak to the gathering of Israel’s highest authorities. His will be the only speech.
Dr Shalev then drew attention to the “vision and mission” of YvS, well summed up in the motto “Remembering the past, shaping the future” and its logo which shows a green shoot growing up out of barbed wire. For 60 years YvS is above all a place for holding and preserving the memory of a tragic past which needs to be studied and passed on. But history must be the basis for going forward and for all of us to be committed to building a better future where such tragedies can never be repeated. The Pope’s visit will reaffirm this common commitment to combat all forms of antisemitism and acts against humanity.
Dr Shalev dedicated the longest part of his address to offering three special moments of the visit when a passage fromt he last letter written by a 22 year old mother, Ida Goldish, will be read out. She wrote it on the even of her departure which was to have no return. Also read will be some stanzas of a poem by Abramek Koplowicz, a Jewish boy in the ghetto in Lodz who dreamed of flying freely over the world from one marvel to another until he reached the Holy Land of the Covenant. Finally Dr Shalev presetned a painting by the same boy when he was just 13 years of age. It shows a Rabbi wrapped in the talith and who is standing up humbly in front of the “tabernacle of the Torah”, addressing God in prayer. A copy of this painting will be given to Pope Francis. The values expressed in it are not merely Jewish ones but universal ones: every religious person knows and treasures this profound experience of relationship with God in prayer, Dr Shalev said.
Many questions from journalists of local and international media outlets then followed. One observed that Pope Francis will not visit the “exposition” on the history of the Shoah with its roots in antisemitism, nor will he pass by the panel which show Pius XII which implies also a critical aspect of his role in affairs. Dr Shalev replied by saying that Pope Francis is informed about this section. He added that YvS is engaged in research on the period of Pope Pius XII’s pontificate, following criteria of historical objectivity and scientific rigour and will present its results in a balanced way. In this respect, Dr Shalev recalled the study day involving Jewish and Christian experts held in March 2009 organised jointly by YvS and that Salesian Study Centre at “Ratisbonne” in Jerusalem. Finally he expressed the wish that other material from the Vatican Archives would be made available to scholars, following a promise made on that occasion and recently repeated by Pope Francis. “We know that preparatory work is already underway”, he concluded.
Fr Gianni Caputa, present at the briefing as a member of the Vatican Mass Media Commission, seized the opportunity for a spontaneous comment. He was struck by the tone of hope in the texts and documents that YvS has chosen for this occasion, and especially that their authors are two young victims of the Shoah. “I believe,” he said, “that the Pope will very much appreciate this message coming out of a place of suffering, pain and death, but open to life and hope for the future. Also significant is the fact that two young Christians will be at the event, a boy and a girl, children of migrant workers belonging to the “Catholic community of Jewish expression”, who will be with Pope Francis as he places a wreath next to the eternal flame.
You can find all the pictures here : Papal Visit to Yad Vashem
One observed that Pope Francis will not visit the “exposition” on the history of the Shoah with its roots in antisemitism, nor will he pass by the panel which show Pius XII which implies also a critical aspect of his role in affairs
Chairman Shalev and Fr Caputa