Jerusalem – Pope Francis honored Jews killed in the Holocaust, kissing the hands of six survivors in an emotional ceremony at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial on Monday as he capped a Mideast trip with poignant stops at some of the holiest and most haunting sites for Jews.
At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Francis prayed before a crypt with ashes of victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the “Hall of Remembrance.”
Then one by one, he kissed the hands of a half-dozen Holocaust survivors in a sign of humility and honor as he heard their stories and of loved ones killed by the Nazis during World War II.
“Never again, Lord, never again!” Francis said. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness — was capable of doing.”
He repeated that phrase writing in the memorial’s guest book, adding: “With shame for the fact that man made himself the owner of evil; with shame that man made himself into God and sacrificed his brothers. Never again!! Never again!! Francis. 5.26.2014.”
Joseph Gottdenker, 72, said he briefly told the pope how he was saved as a boy by Catholics who hid him during the Holocaust. Gottdenker, who now lives in Canada, said he was more emotional than he expected to be when he met the pope.
“The Catholic people who saved me and risked the lives of their whole families to save me, they are looking down today and proud to see me meet the leader of their faith,” Gottdenker said after the ceremony.
A day earlier, upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem.
Francis is due to return to Rome just before midnight.