VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2000 (VIS) - At 12:30 p.m. today, Pope John Paul II arrived at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, a 45-acre complex situated on Har Hazikaron, the Mount of Remembrance, where he was welcomed at the Hall of Remembrance by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the director of the memorial and the two chief rabbis of Israel.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was created in 1953 in order to commemorate the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, victims of the Nazis. This State institution is composed of two museums, exhibition halls, outdoor monuments, and documentation and information centers. The archive collection comprises 55 million pages of documents, nearly 100,000 still photographs and thousands of film and video testimonies. The library has more than 80,000 volumes and thousands of periodicals. The Hall of Names features "Pages of Testimony" submitted by family members of victims: to date over three million holocaust victims' names have been registered.

The Hall of Remembrance, where the Pope was welcomed this morning, is the hall where ceremonies are held for official visitors. This is a tent-like structure on whose floor are the names of the six death camps and some of the concentration camps. There is also a memorial flame in front of which there is a crypt containing the ashes of some of the victims.

In addition to this hall, other memorial sites include the Children's Memorial, a tribute to the approximately one and a half million children who died in the Holocaust; The Valley of the Communities, a monument dug in bedrock which commemorates the over 5,000 Jewish communities which were destroyed, and the Avenue and Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors the non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, established by the Israeli parliament in 1953, takes place on 27th Nissan, which usually occurs at the end of April or beginning of May.

"In this place of memories," the Holy Father told those present, "the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah. My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. 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."

"We wish to remember," he underscored. "But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism. How could man have such utter contempt for man? 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."

The Pope added that "the honour given to the 'just gentiles' by the State of Israel at Yad Vashem for having acted heroically to save Jews, sometimes to the point of giving their own lives, is a recognition that not even in the darkest hour is every light extinguished."

"Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God's self-revelation," he continued. "Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice."

"As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political consider-ations, 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."

"I fervently pray," Pope John Paul II concluded, "that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the twentieth century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews. Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith."