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Pope says he 'felt the presence' of souls of those who died at Auschwitz

Pope Francis walks under the notorious "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on 29 July, 2016
Janek Skarzynski (AFP)
Pontiff says world is 'sick with cruelty, pain, war, hatred, sadness'

Pope Francis Wednesday spoke of his visit last week to the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, and said that while he was there he felt the presence of all the souls who perished there. 

“The great silence of the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was more eloquent than any word spoken could have been,” he said during his weekly public audience at the Vatican.

“In that silence I listened: I felt the presence of all the souls who passed through that place; I felt the compassion, the mercy of God, which a few holy souls were able to bring even into that abyss,” he said of his visit to the place where some 1.1 million people, mainly Jews, were murdered during World War II. 

"In the silence, I prayed for all the victims of violence and war. Looking at this cruelty, in this concentration camp, I immediately thought of the cruelties of today, which are similar. Not as concentrated as in that one place, but throughout the world".

It is a world "sick with cruelty, pain, war, hatred, sadness," he said.

The 79-year-old Argentine was speaking two days before the Olympic opening ceremony in Brazil.

"I hope that the spirit of the Olympics can inspire everyone, both participants and spectators, to fight the 'good fight' and finish the race together," he said, citing a phrase from the bible about unwavering faith and the struggle against evil.

Francis on Friday walked alone through the notorious wrought-iron "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at Auschwitz-Birkenau, on a historic visit to the former Nazi death camp.

Francis is the third Pontiff to visit the camp, following John Paul II (a former archbishop of Krakow) in 1979 and Benedict XVI in 2006.

Francis lit a candle in front of the death wall, bowing his head in prayer before visiting the cell of Polish priest and saint Maximilian Kolbe who died at Auschwitz after taking the place of a condemned man. The visit falls on the 75th anniversary of the day Kolbe was condemned to death.

Ahead of his visit Francis said that rather than making a speech, he would stand in silence to reflect on the horrors committed and let his tears flow.

After arriving last Wednesday in Poland -- the heartland of Nazi Germany's atrocities -- the pontiff said the world had been plunged into a piecemeal third world war. He has repeatedly denounced those committing crimes in the name of religion, after Europe suffered a string of deadly jihadist attacks.

The pontiff has forged ever-closer ties between the Catholic Church and Jews since his election in 2013.

"Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty. Francis at Auschwitz," the Pope wrote in the memorial book.

Staff with agencies

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