Saturday, January 06, 2007

Effects of Nazism on our Current and Previous Popes

Both Karol Józef Wojtyła and Joseph Alois Ratzinger (who became Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, respectively) have both been intimately affected by Nazism throughout their lives. In this short essay, I will explore the direct effect Nazi philosophy and politics had on our latest two Popes.

Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope for over 400 years, was born and raised in Krakow, Poland. His home country was occupied by the Nazis in the Second World War, while Karol was in his late teens and early twenties. In Poland, the Germans established the most infamous concentration camp of all time, Auschwitz. Karol, who would become a young seminarian training for priesthood, was very saddened by the destruction caused by Nazism. Many of John Paul's friend's during childhood were Jewish. He saw many of his friends suffer at the hands of Nazis. This had a great impact on John Paul and in his years as a priest, bishop, cardinal, and of course, Pope, John Paul developed a theology of great love towards the Jewish people in the world.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish Organization, "Throughout his lifetime, the Pontiff has defended the Jewish people, both as a priest in his native Poland and for all the years of his Pontificate. John Paul has denounced anti-Semitism as a "sin against God and humanity,” has normalized relations with the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel, and has paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in the Vatican and at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel."

The experience of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, with the Nazis has also been poignant. As a young person, living during the time of World War II, Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazis in their organization for younger soldiers. Ratzinger and his family very much dispised the Nazis, and they wanted nothing to do with them. However, at the threat of losing his life, Ratzinger had to join. He did not see military conflict first-hand. In a daring and life-risking move, Ratzinger abandonned his post in the military and fled for home. The punishment for such a crime was punishable by death, but Ratzinger risked his life anyway. At one point of his journey, he was apprehended by a couple of guards. By the grace of God, Ratzinger's life was spared because these soldiers were becoming tired of the war. In fact, the war was only days or weeks until its conclusion. Ratzinger said later he felt quite scared when he was stopped by these men.

We can see by the example of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, that he stood for truth and love toward all people. He risked his own life because of his beliefs. Pope John Paul II also stood firmly against oppression and hatred, which is evident from all his writings. These two great men provide spiritual guidance in their role as Pope, as well as from their personal example.

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