March 23rd ( EWTNews) Pope John Paul II visited Yah Vashem, the memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust that is located on a hill overlooking the small village of Ain Karem. Yah Vashem is both a memorial for the fallen during the Holocaust (Shoah) and also a memorial for the Just.

During the visit, the Holy Father stated, "We remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail as it did for millions of innocent victims of Nazism. We remember, but not with a desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace with justice for all, can avoid the repeating the mistakes of the past."

The visit to Yah Vashem was also very personal for the Pope who grew up in the town of Wadowice near Krakow , Poland, 79 years ago. As a young seminary student, he personally witnessed the persecution of Jews and recalled, "I remember my Jewish friends and neighbors, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust."

The Pope was received outside the hall by the Prime Minister of Israel Yehud Barak, the Yad Vashem council chairman Shevah Weiss, and Board of Director’s chairman Avner Shalev. When the Holy Father entered the hall accompanied by the Prime Minister, all those present stood up.

As the commemoration ceremony began, the Holy Father stood with Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He was asked to kindle the fire of the perpetual flame in the Hall of Remembrance. Here the Pope stood for a long moment in silence and prayer and the speaker proclaimed, "We unite in the blessed memory of the 6 million Jewish martyrs." Then a wreath of yellow and white flowers was laid on a stone floor engraved with the names of death camps, in memory of Jews who perished in the Nazi genocide – among them childhood friends of the Pope from the small Polish town of Wadowice.

Then there was the reading of a letter written by a Polish mother who was a Jew, asking her gentile friend to look after her 7-year-old son in hopes of protecting him from the Nazis. The letter read, "I am sure that you can find it in your heart to love him. Every day I pray to God that on account of my suffering, he will be happy in the future." Both parents and the boy were killed. The pope stood with his head bowed as the letter was read out loud. Afterwards, a prayer was recited for the souls of the martyrs and the Holy Father walked across the stone floor and greeted the survivors of the Holocaust who were standing at the side of the memorial hall. One of the survivors began crying, and he gently patted her arm in consolation. After the ceremony, the Pope met with six survivors, as well as Jerzy Kluger, a survivor and childhood friend. He also greeted some 30 former residents of Wadowice.

The Pope in addressing the distinguished guests gathered and in paying homage to the millions of Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust, asked, "How could man have such utter contempt for man?" And answered the question saying, "Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a Godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people."

In both the beginning and ending of the Holy Father’s talk he quoted Psalm 31 saying, "I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’." He called to mind the religious teachings of both Jews and Christians in that "our spiritual experience demands that we overcome evil for good."

"As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter," the Pope assured the Jewish People that, "the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political consideration, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place. The Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being."

Afterwards Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke saying, "We meet today essentially because out of memory for the Jewish people and all of humanity who were victims of the barbarism of Nazism." He said it was hard to hope in God and that it is impossible to overcome the pain of the past overnight. With words of hope he stated, "’We appreciate the noble act of your coming here to today. It is a climax of a journey that holds 2000 years of history and is almost too much to bear. It is our wish to continue a productive dialogue to eliminate racism and anti-Semitism."

At the close of the ceremony, the Holy Father was presented with a replica of a Bible and Bible illustrations as a token of the appreciation for his efforts toward reconciliation. Before leaving the hall, the Pope signed the visitor’s book.