Pilgrims from the Diocese of Cubao had the chance to visit the World War II German Nazi Concentration camps, Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, located near the industrial town of Oswiecim in Poland, during the Days in the Diocese prior to the World Youth Days in Krakow. It was a sunny Thursday morning, on 21 July in 2016. It was the pilgrims’ second day in Poland, having arrived the night before in Katowice.
It was a most poignant experience, walking on its grounds, touching the barbed-wire fences, taking a peek inside the gas chambers, and seeing first-hand where millions of innocent lives perished.
There was a moment I recall when I passed by the Auschwitz gallows ~ I tried to envision myself present in that period of World War II, and wondered how I would have met death had I been one of the prisoners. I could not fathom the cruelty and brutality of the Nazis. The horrifying atrocities of the Holocaust was too much to bear, let alone imagine.
Prior to that trip, I have read, and watched documentaries about the Ha-Shoah, or the genocide that caused the lives of an estimated 6 million Jews, and knew what the books and the movies say about this prison camp where many Jews died. Knowing was one thing. But being there to see with my own eyes, it was life changing!
I may have wished it in the past that I wanted to visit Auschwitz, because I learned that’s where Saint Maximillian Kolbe died. My devotion to this Franciscan Conventual saint grew very recently. I only learned about who he was seven years ago, during a visit to Illinois, when a Franciscan friend told me that I should visit the U.S. national shrine dedicated to him located in Mundelein, which is an hour and fifteen minutes away by train from the Chicago Union Station.
I admire Saint Maximilian’s firm faith in God even during the most difficult of trials. Whenever I think about him, I ask myself where I would have stood in my Faith had I been in his shoes. Would I have also been willing to offer my own life so that another person may live? I have had my share of struggles and trials, and sometimes when I look back at my life, I get this feeling that part of my childhood has been snatched from me, and I can never get it back; the stabbing pain creeps in. But my sufferings are incomparable to those that saints like Saint Maximilian went through. I sometimes mentally hit myself for even daring to compare my sufferings with theirs, for I know they can never come close.
I admire, too, Saint Maximilian’s devotion to the Immaculata, our Sweetest Queen and Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A Reminder to Keep the Faith
In one of the reflections of our beloved Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao, Most Reverend Honesto F. Ongtioco, D.D., he shared about the importance of Faith in our lives, and he quoted a few lines from a poem written by a Jewish prisoner, which was inscribed on a cellar wall of a concentration camp in Germany.
And I was transported back to Auschwitz, and I recalled how it moved me to be there. That one visit taught me a lot about hope than I have ever learned my entire life! It is easier to say I always cling onto hope no matter what life throws at me, and that I believe in my merciful God even though sometimes it feels as if my trials are insurmountable. But to really, truly believe that God is ever present as Jesus has promised is a grace from the Lord. Faith is a gift that we have to openly accept and allow to grow in the deepest recesses of our being.
I thought of Saint Maximillian Kolbe, and I saw Block 11 in my head~ that red-brick building where he was imprisoned and tortured, and eventually martyred. I remember the “death wall” between Block 10 and 11, where many innocent souls once lined up for execution by firing squad. I thought of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross who, according to one of our Polish guides, died in one of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I thought of all the mothers, and fathers, and all the children who all died senseless deaths. I could hear them in my head, wailing in pain, and I tremble in deep sadness. Heart-wrenching is such an understatement to describe that appalling place.
But the Jews have risen from that most horrific period of the history of their race. At least from my personal encounter with some of them, they hold no hatred in their hearts in spite of the cruelty done to them in the past. I have met a couple of Jews while travelling, and though I never asked, perhaps some of them are descendants of the survivors of the Holocaust. I have felt God’s palpable transforming presence through them. They are some of the kindest of souls I have been blessed to meet.
I am posting the poem here, to remind myself of the need to appreciate the little things, to not complain, and to persevere in fighting the good fight till the very end, even if from my vantage point all seems lost.
Some questions lingered in my head while I was visiting Auschwitz, and until I left Poland: Would I have kept a firm Faith in a loving, merciful God if my loved ones and I were constantly terrorized by Schutzstaffel guards intent at annihilating my people? Would I have held on? Would I have clung onto hope if I were surrounded by the stench of imminent death? Would Love have overcome me? (ME/Cubao Media | Original post from http://forwhomthelilyblossoms.blogspot.com/2016/10/believe.html)
"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining,
And I believe in love, even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God, even when He is silent.
I believe through any trial, there is always a way.
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair,
my heart cries for shelter, to know someone's there.
But a voice rises within me,
saying hold on my child,
I'll give you strength,
I'll give you hope.
Just stay a little while.
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining,
And I believe in love even when there's no one there.
But I believe in God even when he is silent.
I believe through any trial there is always a way.
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness.
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace..."