The resilience of love
OSWIECEM, POLAND -- The first thing you notice as you approach Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp here, are the billboards for real estate, the Italian restaurant, the snack bar. Down the block, in a park, children are playing. Life goes on, even in the shadow of such still-recent evil. There's something jarring about it. There is also something hopeful.
Horror happens, but evil doesn't win.
Sister Mary Veronica holds a flower in her hand, a weed that grows, with some beauty, in the midst of the memory of torture and death.
"If I weren't Christian, if I didn't believe that there is life after death, I would lose hope," she observes candidly.
I'm here with about 40 Sisters of Life and College Knights of Columbus members attending the upcoming World Youth Day gathering, a multiday event. Twenty-five years ago, the Sisters of Life were founded with a mission to protect innocent human life after their founder, then-New York archbishop Cardinal John O'Connor, had a powerful experience at Dachau in Germany, the site of another former concentration camp.
At the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the sisters are also experiencing something powerful.
"Each person here had a unique life," Sister Mary Gabriel says. "It's very easy to see the darkness here. There is also light -- the stories of virtue," she says. She's referring to stories like that of Maximilian Kolbe, the anti-Nazi Franciscan priest who volunteered to be executed here in place of another man.
"The memory of the people who were here -- whether they survived or died -- they call to us to be light," says Sr. Mary Gabriel.
"It is holy land," Sister Bethany Madonna tells me. It provides an example that must make us ever more determined to protect each and every human life, to see the creator in each and every person.
"I think this was my first real insight into the worth and the dignity and the worthiness of the human person. A real understanding that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God," O'Connor once said of his revelation at Dachau.
"Love is stronger than death," Sister Maris Stella reflects. Kneeling alongside them -- these women who have dedicated themselves to helping people embrace life, in all its difficulties and challenges -- praying for the repose of the souls who died here, praying for peace, healing and a halt to the violence that plagues our present day, Stella's unbelievable statement seems like it could be plausible.
It put me in mind of Pope John Paul II's words to Jewish leaders in 1994: "It is not enough that we remember; for in our own day, regrettably, there are many new manifestations of the anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racial hatred which were the seeds of those unspeakable crimes. Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again.
"In the face of the perils which threaten the sons and daughters of this generation, Christians and Jews together have a great deal to offer to a world struggling to distinguish good from evil, a world called by the Creator to defend and protect life, but so vulnerable to voices which propagate values that only bring death and destruction."
There is virtue in the midst of evil, and that's a miracle. And it's only by sowing virtue in daily life that we will regain clarity, promote courage and cleanse the poisons that remain in our world, in our very nation and its laws. The Holocaust is an example we must live with in order not to repeat it.
Email Kathryn Jean Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2016 United