Pope Francis has warned against the rebirth of anti-Semitic attitudes that fuelled the Holocaust.
Francis made the comments as he marked the annual remembrance for Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community that was nearly wiped out during the Second World War.
The pope began his second day in the Baltics in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, where an estimated 3,000 Jews survived out of a community of 37,000 during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation.
During Mass in Santakos Park, Francis honoured both Jewish victims of the Nazis and the Lithuanians who were deported to Siberian gulags or were tortured, killed and oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.
“Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors,” Francis told the crowd, which was estimated by the local church to number 100,000.
“Kaunas knows about this. Lithuania as a whole can testify to it, still shuddering at the mention of Siberia, or the ghettos of Vilnius and Kaunas, among others.”
He denounced those who get caught up in debating who was more virtuous in the past and fail to address the tasks of the present – an apparent reference to historic revisionism that is afflicting parts of Eastern Europe as it comes to terms with wartime-era crimes.
Francis recalled that Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Ghetto in the capital Vilnius, which had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics.
Each year, the September 23 anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps.
The pope warned against the temptation “that can dwell in every human heart” to want to be superior or dominant to others. And he prayed for the gift of discernment “to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs”.
Across Europe, far-right, xenophobic and neo-fascist political movements are making gains, including in Lithuania.
Francis noted that he would pray later in the day at a plaque in the Ghetto itself and called for “dialogue and the shared commitment for justice and peace”.