The Latest: Pope Francis urges young pilgrims to show mercy

(AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Poland (all times local):

8:40 p.m.

Pope Francis has called on young pilgrims to show mercy to refugees and other persecuted people.

Francis told the young pilgrims at World Youth Day in the southern Polish city of Krakow that Christians are called upon to serve Jesus by helping the disadvantaged.

He said: “We are called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized; to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants.”

He brought the message to a Catholic country and a wider region of Eastern Europe that has strongly opposed accepting refugees, especially Muslim migrants fleeing violence in Syria or Iraq.


8:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has taken part in an artistic performance of the Way of the Cross procession that is traditionally performed on Good Friday and depicts Jesus’ last hours before crucifixion as he carried his cross.

Hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims took part Friday with Francis in the ceremony in the Blonia meadows in Krakow, southern Poland.

Modern dances, pantomime, mural painting, acrobatics and music, including a fragment from composer Samuel Barber, created a pensive atmosphere.

Members of charity groups from around the world carried a giant cross amongst the crowd as a symbol of suffering. The meeting concluded with Francis’s address to the gathering, in which he invoked hope and ended with a brief prayer.


8:15 p.m.

On the day that Pope Francis has dedicated to the theme of suffering, weather was a brightening factor.

On the third day of his trip to southern Poland, Francis on Friday visited the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1 million people were killed during World War II. He then visited patients of a children’s hospital.

Weather forecasts were uncertain for the day and there was a violent, short rainstorm at the time when the pope was having lunch and resting at the Krakow Bishops’ Palace, where he is staying.

But when the time came for the outdoor Way of the Cross procession and prayer to be carried out in a vast Krakow meadow, the clouds receded and warm sunshine shone on the participants and performers.


7:35 p.m.

After a mostly silent visit to Auschwitz, Pope Francis touched on problem of evil and suffering as he met with young pilgrims — a topic that has relevance to modern-day atrocities.

At Auschwitz on Friday, the pope made no public comments, only writing in the guest book: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”

Following a visit to a children’s hospital in Prokocim, Poland, Francis returned to the topic of evil as he addressed a large group of pilgrims. He said Jesus’ words “I was hungry and you gave me food …” raise the question of God’s presence in a world of evil and suffering.

Francis said: “Where is God, if evil is present in our world? If there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees? Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?”

He said there are no human answers, but the answers lie with God.


5:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has shaken the hands and stroked the heads — some of them bald — of about two dozen children in wheelchairs during his visit to a children’s hospital in Krakow, in southern Poland.

The visit to the University Children’s Hospital Friday was part of a day Francis dedicated to the theme of suffering.

In the main hall he met doctors, nurses and some of the patients, of various ages. There were babies in parents’ arms, connected to medical equipment, small boys and girls, and teenagers.

One boy and a baby started crying during the speeches.

Then, Francis came up to each child, shook hands, stroked heads and chins in a fatherly gesture.

One girl offered him a drawing of a red heart on yellow background. Francis said: “Grazie” (“thank you”).


4:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has visited a hospital in the Polish city of Krakow to meet very sick children, some of them in wheelchairs, some attached to machines.

The encounter with the children comes on a day when Francis is stressing the theme of suffering. Earlier he made a powerful visit, carried out in silent contemplation, at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Francis was greeted at the hospital by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, and then by the cheers of the children.


2:30 p.m.

A survivor of the German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau says it was good that Pope Francis has visited the site. Francis visited on Friday and met 11 of the camp’s dwindling number of survivors.

Lidia Maksymowicz, 75, said on Polish TVN it was a “great event” for her to meet Francis.

She says: “It is an extraordinary thing that this pope, who is sensitive to human poverty and humiliation, was able to see this place where people were brought to the lowest levels of degradation.”

She was 2 years old when brought to the camp and was 5 when the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.


1:50 p.m.

A priest from a village where the Nazis killed a Polish family because it was protecting Jews was chosen to read a psalm in Polish during Pope Francis’ visit to the site of the German Nazi death camp of Birkenau.

A psalm in Hebrew and Polish were the only public addresses during the visit in which Francis kept silence.

The psalm was read aloud in Polish by the Rev. Stanislaw Ruszala from the village of Markowa in southern Poland.

In 1944, German soldiers killed Jozef Ulma, his pregnant wife Wiktoria and their six children, aged between 1 and 8, as well as eight members of the Goldman, Gruenfeld and Didner families that the Ulmas were sheltering.


11:45 a.m.

Pope Francis visited Auschwitz in silence but left a message in the memorial site’s guest book: “Lord, have pity on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”

He wrote the words in Spanish on Friday, signing the message “Franciscus.”

The Vatican said ahead of his visit that his guest book visit was intended to be his only words on the site, because he preferred to commemorate the victims in silence.


11:30 a.m.

Silence was a powerful element of Pope Francis’ visit to the site of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Francis had indicated that he would not speak during his visit Friday, to stress that no words can describe the horror of the scenes that took place during World War II.

Abraham Skorka, Francis’ close friend from Argentina, had said beforehand: “He says more through his attitude than through his words.”

Despite the pope’s intention to keep silence, he did exchange a few words with elderly Christians who had helped save Jews during the war. With most he simply smiled lightly, shook hands and gave each a rosary.


11:10 a.m.

Pope Francis has met with Christian Poles who risked their lives to help Jews during World War II.

One by one, the elderly Poles shook the pope’s hand, some kissing it. He handed a gift in a small red box to each one.

The encounter at Birkenau was the first time a pope had met with a group of the so-called “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Israel’s Yad Vashem has recognized 6,620 Poles, more than from any other country, as “Righteous.” That reflects the fact that Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe before the Holocaust.

Very few of the “Righteous” are still living. The survivors were typically teenagers or young adults who worked with their parents to help Jews.


11:05 a.m.

Poland’s chief rabbi has prayed a penitential psalm in the presence of Pope Francis at Birkenau, a part of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau complex where Nazis killed more than a million people, mostly Jews.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, originally from the United States, prayed Psalm 130 in Hebrew, which starts: “From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.”

The prayer was then read in Polish by a priest.

During the prayers, Francis clasped his hands and bent his head before a memorial to the victims.

The audience included Auschwitz survivors wearing striped scarves evoking the garb prisoners were forced to wear, and Poles who had helped save Jews.


10:35 a.m.

Pope Francis has met a group of survivors during his visit to the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, shaking their hands, kissing them on the cheeks and stroking the heads of some of them.

The meeting took place Friday by the Auschwitz Death Wall, where inmates, chiefly Polish resistance fighters, were executed.

Some of the survivors made Francis offerings that were linked to their suffering. One offered a copy of a black-and-white picture, indicating he was in it.

Earlier, some of the inmates told The Associated Press they were excited about meeting the pope, a great authority to them.

“This is a huge thing for me,” said 100-year-old Alojzy Fros.

10:30 a.m.

Pope Francis has left Auschwitz and has traveled the two miles (3 kilometers) to nearby Birkenau, a part of the deadly death complex where about a million of Europe’s Jews were murdered in gas chambers.

There he is to meet with 25 Christian Poles who risked their own lives to help Jews during the German occupation of their country during World War II.

Israel’s Yad Vashem has recognized 6,620 Poles as so-called “Righteous Among the Nations,” more than from any other country — a reflection of the fact that Poland was hope to the largest Jewish community in Europe before the Holocaust.

Francis will also meet with several representatives of the country’s Jewish community, which before the war was Europe’s largest but is now tiny due to the Holocaust and post-war anti-Semitism that pushed many to leave Poland.


10 a.m.

Pope Francis has prayed in the dark underground prison cell at Auschwitz of a Catholic saint, Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic friar who sacrificed his own life during the war to save the life of another man.

A few shafts of light from a tiny window were the only light cast on the white figure of the pope, who knelt for many minutes as he prayed before he crossed himself and rose to his feet.


9:50 a.m.

Pope Francis has met with several survivors of the Auschwitz death camp during a historic visit to the memorial site in southern Poland.

One by one, he stopped, shook their hands and bent over to kiss the elderly survivors on both cheeks.

One woman kissed his hand. He also took time to exchange a few words with them, though what they said was not audible.

He then carried a large white candle and placed it at the Death Wall, where prisoners were executed.


9:20 a.m.

Pope Francis has walked beneath the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at Auschwitz, beginning a somber visit to the Nazi German death camp.

He then was driven into a small car along a path lined by barracks, and is to pray at the site of executions and meet with camp survivors.

He has become the third consecutive pontiff to make the pilgrimage to the place where Adolf Hitler’s forces killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews. But Francis is the first pope to visit who has no personal connection to the site.

John Paul II hailed from Poland, which was under German occupation, while Benedict XVI was a German.


8:55 a.m.

Pope Francis is traveling to the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau for a somber visit at the site of suffering.

With his visit on Friday he will become the third consecutive pontiff to make the pilgrimage to the place where Adolf Hitler’s forces killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews.

Vatican and Polish church officials have said that Francis will express his sorrow in silence at the site, mourning the victims in quiet prayer and meditation.

Francis had been scheduled to fly from Krakow to Oswiecim, the small town where the former death camp is located, but due to bad weather he traveled the 65 kilometers (40 miles) by car instead.

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