Pope Francis stopped his car at the gates of the Vilnius ghetto, to pray for the thousands of Jews murdered in this city by the Nazis just 75 years ago.
The president accompanied him to a place where he remembered that of the 57,000 people imprisoned by the Nazis in this neighborhood, only two thousand survived.
This was not the only tragedy for the Lithuanian Jews: before the Nazis arrived, there were 208,000 Jews in the country, and only 12,000 survived the Holocaust.
From there, the pope went to another terrible place in the city, the former Gestapo and KGB headquarters.
It has been converted into the “Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights.”
The pope visited the cells where Catholic and Protestant Christians were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured.
“In this cell, (two bishops) spent 10 years in prison. It has been reconstructed with metal glasses, objects from the prisoners.
Pope Francis was accompanied by the Bishop of Vilnius and another bishop, who was the victim of repression in this place.
The pope lit this candle in the Museum, which he left burning as a tribute to the victims.
Then he prayed, clearly moved in this place of pain and suffering.
Next in the execution area, he wrote a message in the Museum‘s Book of Honor.
He said that “in this place of violence and hatred, I prayed for reconciliation and peace.”
Then, visibly tired, he met with victims of repression, near the monument that recalls those who died from totalitarianism.
There, even more than giving a speech, he prayed this prayer.
“In your cry, and in the lives of all who suffered so greatly in the past, may we find the courage to commit ourselves decisively to the present and to the future.
May that cry encourage us to not succumb to the fashions of the day, to simplistic slogans, or to efforts to diminish or take away from any person the dignity you have given them.”
Lithuania proclaimed its independence from Russia in 1918.
However in 1940, during World War II, it was occupied by the Soviet Union, which suppressed its political parties.
Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis occupied it; and then again the Soviet Union.
It did not gain freedom until 1990.
During that period, it lost a third of its population.
Of them, half were murdered or deported. The other half, had to escape from the country.
In this brief moment, the pope prayed for all of them.