Auschwitz's impact and the pope's birthplace

Two Western Washington pilgrims write about their experiences in Poland on July 25.


Auschwitz

Seattle young adult pilgrims visited Auschwitz on July 25. At right is the "Pond of Ashes" at Auschwitz where cremated human remains were poured. Photo: Courtesy Young Adult Ministry

The Seattle youth and families pilgrim group stopped in Wadowice on July 25. Photo: Courtesy Youth Ministry Services

Mass at the Shrine of Divine Mercy

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley presided at the July 25 Mass near Krakow. Photo: Courtesy Young Adult Ministry


David Uhl, young adult pilgrim, St. Joseph Parish in Seattle:

One of my fellow pilgrims called today "a roller coaster of a day." I would have to agree. Our day began with a tour of Auschwitz, a sacred place where at least 1.1 million people brutally lost their lives to the false ideology of Nazism. During Mass later in the day at the Shrine of Divine Mercy just outside of Krakow, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley put it this way: "It is more than double the number of people that live in Boston or Washington, D.C." He could have mentioned Seattle in that same breath. 

My sister-in-law is Jewish, which makes Auschwitz have even more of an impact for me. I can't begin to fathom family members being sent to their deaths in a gas chamber for simply existing. I can't imagine their final resting place being a pond where their cremated ashes were poured along with hundreds of thousands of other innocent lives. Yet that is the horror of that place. 

The Mass at the Shrine of Divine Mercy stood in direct opposition to Nazi ideology. While the Nazis focused on superiority and taking away human dignity, our Catholic faith affirms it and gives us the grace to go into the world to be present to all humans and stand in solidarity with their suffering. 

Cardinal O'Malley quoted Pope Francis when he said that we must stand for life in the face of "global indifference. " We cannot let our fear prevent us from seeing God's presence in our neighbor. In fact, as Pope Francis has said, the very face of God is mercy. We are called to be a channel of God's mercy to the world. 

Our day was a roll coaster. It started with the horror that was Auschwitz and ended with the hope that is God's divine mercy. As pilgrims, our faith is in God's mercy and our call is be present to others, especially the vulnerable and marginalized.


Haley Ferguson, 16, St. John the Evangelist in Vancouver:

Today started out a little rough. We had a slight setback with one of the buses that delayed us. But from that setback we got to experience Mass at a gas station. It was such an amazing moment. 

Then we got see Wadowice, the birthplace of St. John Paul II, and visit the church where he was baptized. On the way to the church, we saw thousands of people outside. They were from different countries and spoke different languages but were all there for the same reason, to celebrate and praise God. When we walked into the church, it was breathtaking. The paintings were huge and amazing and the statues so beautiful. There is no way to describe it. 

Over all today taught us patience. We had to learn how to make the best of a difficult situation. But our setback ended up giving us an amazing and rewarding experience. I'm so excited to see what the next week hold for us!‚Äč