Pope says Holocaust indelible human shame

Pope condemned the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews as a "project of death"

VATICAN CITY – German-born Pope Benedict, who grew up during Hitler’s rise to power, condemned the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews on Wednesday as a «project of death» that will remain forever an indelible stain on human history.

In his strongest comments on the Holocaust since his election in April, the 78-year-old Pope spoke about a Biblical psalm recalling the destruction of Jerusalem in the Old Testament and the Babylonian exile of Jews.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims at his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, the Pope said God, as the ultimate arbiter of history, knows how to listen to «the cries of the victims,» even if they are sometimes bitter toward him.

«It was almost a symbolic foretelling of the extermination camps in which the Jewish people (in the 20th century) were subjected to as part of infamous project of death which remains an indelible shame on the history of humanity,» he said.

Benedict has in the past condemned the evil associated with the Nazis in his homeland. During his trip to Germany in August, he said Germans will always have to acknowledge it with shame and suffering.

The Pope served briefly in the Hitler Youth during the war when membership of the Nazi paramilitary organization was compulsory, although he was never a member of the party and his family opposed Hitler’s regime.

His words on Wednesday were seen as another sign of his commitment to follow in the footsteps of the late John Paul II who condemned anti-Semitism and to improve Catholic-Jewish relations further.

Benedict visited a synagogue in Germany in August and has accepted an invitation to visit Israel, most likely next year.

Catholic-Jewish relations improved enormously under John Paul but one point of contention remaining is the role of wartime pontiff Pius XII, who some Jewish leaders say turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican denies this.

Last month the Vatican beatified Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, a wartime German prelate who denounced Nazi atrocities from the pulpit. Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.