Pope Fran­cis falls while con­duct­ing Mass in Poland

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

POPE Fran­cis has fallen dur­ing a visit to Czesto­chowa, Poland. The pon­tiff was walk­ing on stage, about to ad­dress the wait­ing crowd, but sud­denly fell.

The 79-year-old Pope, who hails from Ar­gentina, was quickly helped to his feet by other re­li­gious fig­ures. He sub­se­quently took to his seat, con­tin­ued the Mass and read his homily nor­mally.

Pope Fran­cis is un­der­tak­ing a five-day visit to Poland and was vis­it­ing the coun­try’s holi­est shrine in the city of Czesto­chowa, which is in the south of the coun­try.

The shrine is home the Black Madonna, which is a Byzan­tine icon from some­time be­tween the sixth and ninth cen­turies.

It was brought to Poland around 600 years ago. The icon is painted on wood and cov­ered with sil­ver and jew­els.

Mean­while, hunched on a bench near the gate to the Auschwitz death camp site in Poland, Pope Fran­cis prayed silently yes­ter­day in tribute to 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple, most of them Jews, gassed there by Nazi oc­cu­piers dur­ing World War Two.

Mark­ing the third day of his trip to Poland for an in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ing of Catholic youth, Fran­cis spent a few min­utes speak­ing qui­etly and ex­chang­ing gifts with about 12 Auschwitz sur­vivors, in­clud­ing a 101-year-old woman.

One of the male sur­vivors gave the Pope a pic­ture of him­self sur­rounded by other in­mates in a bunk, and asked Fran­cis to sign it. The som­bre-look­ing Pope kissed each sur­vivor.

The Pope made no state­ment as he pro­ceeded to walk through the barely-lit cor­ri­dors of the drab, brick build­ing of Auschwitz Block 11 which had housed pris­on­ers se­lected for special pun­ish­ment.

Be­fore his trip, Fran­cis said he had de­cided that si­lence in prayer was the best way to pay tribute to those who died.

With aides us­ing small flash­lights to light his way, Fran­cis vis­ited the un­der­ground cell where Fran­cis­can monk Maksy­mil­ian Kolbe was killed af­ter of­fer­ing his life to save a Pol­ish man whom camp han­dlers had picked to die of star­va­tion. In Auschwitz’s com­mem­o­ra­tive book, Fran­cis wrote in Span­ish: “Lord, have mercy on your peo­ple. Lord, for­give­ness for so much cru­elty”.

Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion forces set up the Auschwitz-Birke­nau camp dur­ing World War Two in Oswiecim, a town around 70km from Poland’s sec­ond city, Krakow, in the coun­try’s south.

Be­tween 1940 and 1945 Auschwitz de­vel­oped into a vast com­plex of bar­racks, work­shops, gas cham­bers and cre­ma­to­ria. On July 29, 1941, the camp direc­tor, in reprisal for the escape of a prisoner, chose 10 oth­ers and sen­tenced them to death by star­va­tion.

When the se­lec­tion was com­pleted, Kolbe stepped for­ward and vol­un­teered to die in place of one of them, Fran­ciszek Ga­jown­iczek. Kolbe was later killed by lethal in­jec­tion but the man he saved sur­vived the war. He was made a saint in 1982 by then-Pope John Paul II, a Pole. Yes­ter­day, the 75th an­niver­sary of Kolbe’s sacri­fice, Fran­cis also vis­ited Birke­nau, a part of the camp where most of the killings were com­mit­ted in gas cham­bers.

He walked solemnly past guard tow­ers, barbed wire fences and re­mains of cre­ma­to­ria that the Nazis blew up be­fore the camp was lib­er­ated by the Soviet Red Army on Jan­uary 27, 1945.

Fran­cis lis­tened silently as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schu­drich, and a priest re­cited Psalm 130 me­tres away from the end of the in­fa­mous sin­gle rail track where cat­tle cars brought hun­dreds of thou­sands of pris­on­ers to the camp. Dur­ing a visit to Rome’s syn­a­gogue in Jan­uary, Fran­cis ap­pealed to Catholics to re­ject an­tiSemitism and said the Holo­caust, in which some six mil­lion Jews were killed, should re­mind ev­ery­one that hu­man rights should be de­fended with “max­i­mum vig­i­lance”. — AFP

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