by MONITOR “IN such a place, no words are possible, just stupified silence which makes one ask God, Why? Why did you not say anything?” Pope Benedict XVI's anguished words at the Auschwitz death camp during his visit to Poland will have done a great deal to heal the troubled relationship between Jews and the Vatican, a relationship marred by concern that Pope Pius XII turned a blind eye to the Holocaust during the Second World War and the refusal of the Vatican to recognise Israel for 50 years after the state was founded in 1948. The fact that Pope Bendict spoke in his native German will also have underlined his readiness to accept his country's guilt for the death of one-and-a-half million people at Auschwitz. This new Pope is proving to be an interesting and impressive successor to the greatly-loved John Paul. By choosing the latter's Poland as his first visit to a foreign country he underlined his determination to honour his predecessor while at the same time establishing his own personality and authority. Meeting survivors of Auschwitz he showed a warmth that is sometimes missing; by kissing the cheeks of one woman he showed how moved he was. Pope Benedict will probably never travel as frequently and widely as John Paul; he has said that one of his priorities must be to strengthen links to the faithful in Europe where Roman Catholicism, with other established religions, is in serious decline.

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