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Cardinal hopes Francis will ‘deliver a warning to the world’ at Auschwitz

The entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

A Polish cardinal has said he hopes Pope Francis will “deliver a warning to the world” at Auschwitz next year.

Although no date has been set, Church leaders in Poland hope Francis will visit the former Nazi concentration camp during a July 2016 visit to Poland for World Youth Day.

“We hope Pope Francis will come to Auschwitz and deliver a warning to the world by again demonstrating the horrors of war and the camps, so they’ll never recur,” Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz of Kraków told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI.

Jolanta Kozuch, an administration official at the Auschwitz Museum, told the Catholic News Service (CNS) a date had not yet been agreed on for a stopover by Pope Francis at the camp, 20 miles west of Kraków, where 1.2 million mostly Jewish prisoners died at German hands in 1940-45.

Retired Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, a former bishops’ conference general secretary who now lives in Kraków, told CNS he hoped more details would be available shortly.

“Any visit by the head of the Catholic Church to Auschwitz, in the footsteps of John Paul II in 1979 and Benedict XVI in 2006, would always have huge significance,” Bishop Pieronek told CNS. “This is a place of great importance for the whole of humanity, so it would be received very well if the pope came here to pray and commemorate.”

Cardinal Dziwisz spoke to KAI about preparations for World Youth Day in his diocese on July 26-31, 2016. He said bishops and youth groups from abroad were arriving in Kraków daily to check on preparations.

Francis will also certainly visit a hospital or home for the poor, in addition to other points in his programme. But many other groups, such as the students of Europe, are also getting in touch and hoping to have a moment for themselves with him,” he said.

During his visit for World Youth Day, Pope Francis is scheduled to lead a Way of the Cross procession from the Kraków’s Divine Mercy Sanctuary, a prayer vigil on youth issues near the Wieliczka Salt Mine and a final Mass in the city’s Błonia Park.

The cardinal said the programme had been largely based on the success of World Youth Day at Poland’s Jasna Góra national sanctuary in 1991, but had also taken account of Pope Francis’s personal devotion to the Divine Mercy cult centred in Kraków’s Łagiewniki suburb.

He also said he had asked Poland’s foreign minister to reduce visa charges for the 300,000 youngsters expected from Russia, Ukraine and other countries to the east.

KAI said World Youth Day organisers were seeking 20,000 volunteers from Poland and abroad to help with the event, which was expected to attract up to 2.5 million people, including 35,000 from the United States.

The agency added that the Pope had been asked to visit other locations in Poland to mark the 1,050th anniversary of the country’s Christian conversion, including Jasna Góra and the capital, Warsaw, and its oldest Catholic see at Gniezno.

In a Twitter message in January to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, the Pope said Auschwitz “cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples”.