OSWIECIM, Poland – Pope Francis and his predecessors St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI each came to the memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in southern Poland. Each visit reflected the pontiffs' personal history and style.
Each visit was closely watched by Catholics, Jews and others, especially because the wartime pontiff, Pius XII, has been criticized by those who feel he didn't act assertively enough to use his moral influence in much of the world to speak out against discrimination and then the systematic murder of Jews by Nazis, while defenders contend he used quiet Vatican diplomacy to save many Jews.
Here is what they said and how they said it.
POPE JOHN PAUL II on June 7, 1979
The pope also called Karol Wojtyla was born in southern Poland in 1920, when Jewish communities were flourishing there. He said his first Mass in nearby Krakow, where he served as cardinal before being elected pontiff in 1978 in some of the darkest years of his nation's tenure under Communist rule.
In his second pilgrimage abroad as pope, in 1979, he visited Auschwitz. Like Pope Francis on Friday, he prayed in the death cell of a Polish priest, but unlike Francis, John Paul celebrated Mass just outside the former death camp. He paused before a plaque in Hebrew and declared "it is not permitted to pass by with indifference." He called Auschwitz a "testimony to war," and said war brings with it "a disproportionate surge in hatred, destruction, cruelty."
POPE BENEDICT XVI on May 28, 2006
A few years younger than John Paul, Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927 and raised in southern Germany. In 2006, a year after John Paul's death, Benedict visited Auschwitz. He denounced the mass murder of Europe's Jews by his native country's World War II rulers, confessing that it was hard for a "pope from Germany" even to speak of the Holocaust. He added it was "particularly troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany" to speak in "this place of horror."
When he stopped to pray, a light rain stopped and a brilliant rainbow appeared over the camp.
Benedict avoided using his native German language, except for a short prayer, speaking instead in Italian. He met 32 camp survivors, most of them Catholics. He made no mention of the controversy over Pius XII's wartime role.
Benedict was enrolled in the Hitler Youth as a teenager against his will and drafted into the German army in the last months of World War II.
POPE FRANCIS on July 29, 2016
The Argentine-born Jorge Bergoglio, who was a toddler when World War II erupted in Europe, halfway across his world, visited Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau during his first-ever travels in Eastern Europe.
Francis, 79, chose to express his feelings through what the Vatican called the "silence of sorrow." He spent long minutes in prayer and meditation Friday at the Nazi death camp. He gave no speech, and met briefly with 11 survivors, and then 25 people who risked their lives to hide or otherwise protect Jews. In the Auschwitz museum guest book, he wrote in his native Spanish his anguished reaction to the site: "Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!" He signed it with his Latin name, Franciscus, and dated the entry 29.7.2016.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio