Pope Francis will meet hospitalized children and survivors of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and ride on a tram when he visits Poland next month — and is planning a surprise, officials said Thursday.
Francis will be in Poland July 27-31 for the World Youth Day meeting in and near Krakow, in southern Poland, with hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world. It will be the 14th such gathering with the pope’s participation. The meetings were initiated in 1985 by Polish-born Pope St. John Paul II.
The organizers say that some 570,000 participants have registered so far, but they are expecting up to 2 million at the peak point, a Mass on July 31.
Francis’ schedule, released Thursday, includes a visit to the Auschwitz memorial on July 29, where he will walk through the main gate with the sadistically misleading Nazi motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Sets You Free) and will meet with a few survivors in the Auschwitz part of the former vast death camp that was operated by Nazi Germans in occupied Poland.
The pope will then pray and speak at the memorial to the victims, located in the Birkenau part of the former camp. Francis will also pray privately at the death cell of Father Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, a Catholic friar who offered to die for another inmate, Franciszek Gajowniczek, who survived Auschwitz. Francis will be the third pope to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, after St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.