Monday, March 20, 2017

Love Over Hate

 What I have seen and learned in Poland has taught me the power that love has over hate. On Saturday, March 11th my class and I arrived in Oswiecim, Poland at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer after a long, exciting flight together. Right away we were introduced to Oswiecim, our home for the week. We were all told about what we would be seeing and learning about this week as we walked through the brisk Poland air. I was anxious and excited to see physically in the flesh what we had been learning about in books all semester. Throughout my time in Poland I learned about significant Polish figures, Jewish-Christian relations, and about the power of love in a place where love and God are often not seen. 

   Sunday morning, as we got off the bus in Wadowice, Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II’s birth name) birth city you could feel in the air the significance of this Polish city. The empty streets and very cold air made the experience feel surreal. My excitement was met with many questions. After walking around a few short corners we arrived at Karol’s High School, Martin Wadowity. This beautiful building was the place where Karol became the person he would grow up to be. When Karol was younger the relationship between Christians and Jews in Wadowice seemed “normal” in Karol’s life. One of Karol’s close friends, who he played soccer with, was Jerzy Kluger, a Jewish boy who lived in Wadowice. Kluger’s family was very involved in the local Jewish community and it’s synagogue. The synagogue would later be burned down by Nazi’s and destroyed. Woityla and Kluger were separated at the beginning of World War II, but would later go on to reunite almost 30 years later.

Karol Wojtyla's childhood church in Wadowice, Poland
   As we continued we walked to The Holy Father John Paul II Family Home Museum it hit me that the man who worked to advocate for human rights, teach others about the meaning of forgiveness and promote better Jewish-Christian relations as pope lived in the exact apartment we were walking into. A pope had never before exemplified John Paul II’s dedication to restoring and reconciling Jewish-Christian relations so much and increasing dialogue between Christians and other religions. Pope John Paul II understood the importance of Nostra aetate. Nostra aetate is the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the church with non-Christian religions. Specifically in Nostra aetate it mentions “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” Pope John Paul II understood this.
Plaque in Wadowice, Poland commemorating
the Synagogue destroyed by Nazi's  
  He worked to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel and was the first pope to make an official visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome and to Auschwitz. John Paul II said during his first visit to the concentration camp, “Can it still be a surprise to anyone that the Pope born and brought
up in this land, the Pope who came to the See of Saint Peter from the diocese in whose territory is situated the camp of Auschwitz, should have begun his first Encyclical with the words "Redemptor Hominis" and should have dedicated it as a whole to the cause of man, to the dignity of man, to the threats to him, and finally to his inalienable rights … It is well known that I have been here many times. So many times! It was impossible for me not to come here as Pope.” John Paul II’s friend from childhood, Kluger also aided him in his work with fostering better Jewish-Christian relations and he presented a speech on behalf of the Pope in 1989 at a dedication of a plaque where the old synagogue from his childhood, in Wadowice, that had been destroyed by the Nazi’s had been located.

Karol Wojtyla's High School in Wadowice, Poland 
  Walking into the home of John Paul II was simply incredible. The feeling of being in the apartment felt similar to being backstage at a concert and getting to have a closer look into the life of someone through their belongings. After looking through the museum we had the opportunity to attend mass and walk through the town of Wadowice. The power of John Paul II’s love for the poor, love for someone who tried to take his life and love for people in other religions is why so many people from all over the world feel a connection to him and see God in him through his love.

   After returning home to the Center after the day I began to reflect and ask myself what Auschwitz was going to be like the next day. After learning especially all semester about how many Jews suffered through this genocide I was extremely anxious to see it in the flesh. As we walked on the dirt roads around barbwire and brick barracks I wondered to myself “how could so much hate and darkness exist in one place?” “Where was God?” Fr. Manfred, a German priest and author, said in one of his lectures to my class and I, “God was seen in action and love.” Whether that action was small or large, it was through others actions that God could be seen in such a dark place. Upon arriving at Block 11 we were told about the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe where
Kolbe was starved for two weeks
   St. Maximilian Kolbe was an imprisoned Franciscan priest who in 1941 made the ultimate sacrifice to give up his life for a man with a family in Auschwitz. He was imprisoned in a starvation cell for two weeks and kept people’s morale as high as it possibly could and led them in prayer. After not dying from starvation after two weeks he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid and died shortly after. Fr. Manfred had the opportunity to speak to a prisoner who told him that Kolbe’s act gave prisoners back some sense of dignity and that Kolbe had a “victory of love in a system of hate.” St. Maximilian Kolbe’s moral victory proved that action and love was possible in the camps. John Paul II also said during St. Maximilian Kolbe’s canonization “this was victory won over all systematic contempt and hate for man and for what is divine in man-a victory like that won by our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary.”

Location of where Maximilian Kolbe
volunteered to take the spot of a man with
a wife and child
Plaque commemorating the life and actions of
St. Maximilian Kolbe
   This genocide may never be fully understood but it is important to work to educate people on what happened, work to improve and encourage better Jewish-Christian relations, and, I believe, to recognize God (seen through people’s demonstration of love and action), in such a dark time. St. Pope John Paul and St. Maximilian Kolbe are just two non-Jewish figures that have worked like others so selflessly to spread God’s love. The more I have learned about people’s actions and love, the more I see God in Auschwitz. It is hard to know where God was but I believe he worked through all of the people who showed love through small actions.


Post a Comment