DAILY CATHOLIC     TUESDAY     June 1, 1999     vol. 10, no. 105

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          VATICAN CITY, MAY 31 (ZENIT).- Finally, the controversy over the crosses erected on land adjacent to the Auschwitz extermination camp has come to an end. On May 28, in the presence of several priests, the army removed the 300 small crosses that had been erected there. The Jewish community had considered them an offense to the memory of the Holocaust. The crosses were taken to a Franciscan convent in Oswiecim, the Polish city whose name was made famous as "Auschwitz" in German.

          In a joint communiqué, the government and Polish bishops stated "everything was carried out in a dignified and peaceful way."

          Both the Warsaw authorities and the Catholic Church's hierarchy had done everything possible to solve the problem quickly. The Polish bishops had expressed their position clearly in a statement saying "no one may abuse the sacred sign of the cross and use it against the Church in Poland to provoke disorders and conflicts."

          The main difficulty in the removal of the crosses was of a judicial nature. The land on which a large cross commemorating 152 Polish fighters who were killed in 1940 before the beginning of the Holocaust was rented by Carmelite nuns from a businessman who was intent on causing a national incident. It is now known that this person was an agent of the communist security services. The nuns left the land at the explicit request of the Jewish community.

          The problem was resolved thanks to a new law on the custody of places of extermination, approved by Parliament three weeks ago. It came into force on May 25. The measure establishes a 100-meter area of respect around all the former concentration camps in Poland.

          Both the Church and the government were aware that peaceful coexistence in the country was under threat because of the "provocation" of the crosses. This led the government authorities to act rapidly, as John Paul II's visit to his native land begins next Saturday.

          The large cross, erected in memory of the 152 Polish fighters who lost their lives in this field, will remain standing. It was at this very spot, in fact, that in 1979 the Pope knelt in prayer, during his first pilgrimage to Poland. ZE99053004

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June 1, 1999       volume 10, no. 105


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