Compassion embraces suffering

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By Sister Henrita Frost

Recently, I watched a service led by Pope Francis at the World Youth Day in Panama. Often when Pope Francis leaves a service he pauses at a statue of the Blessed Mother, which he did do. As he stood there, he seemed immoveable, perhaps frozen in time; it seemed a longer pause than on other occasions. It was a consolation to me, affirming the power of the ever present moment – being in the NOW MOMENT, a gift to be sought and cherished. It is a place to be energized and nourished with graces of wisdom, love and compassion.

Pope Francis’ visit ended January 27th which was Holocaust Memorial Day 2019. This day brings memories of my visits to Auschwitz and Dachau. Since Auschwitz was left the way it was on the day it was liberated, an overwhelming experience of grief arose as I experienced the atmosphere in which children, women and men suffered and died, 1.1 million of our sisters and brothers. A particular sad moment was seeing a carton of children’s shoes, a countless number, who died violently so young.

Dachau was the first concentration camp. Visiting Dachau is a contrast to Auschwitz for it is a memorial site created on the grounds of the former concentration camp. However, the grief comes as the experience of suffering and death made itself felt, 31,951 of our sisters and brothers died in Dachau.

As I reflect on compassion, love, mercy, risking, sacrificing one’s life, and so many other words that describe the loving concern given to Holocaust victims by countless number of people and groups, I mention one person in particular, 20 year old Josefa Mack. Josefa was later known as Sister Mary Imma, a School Sister of Notre Dame in Germany. As a Candidate she spent a year, May 1944 until American soldiers liberated the camp in April 1945, surreptitiously ministering to prisoners, including Catholic Priests.

It was a blessing for me to meet Sister Imma in about 1990 at our Motherhouse in Munich, Germany. Imma shared with me that her experiences made her anxious and she had prayed to forget what she had seen at Dachau. However, in 1985 she became aware that the memory of the Holocaust was being forgotten. This quiet, simple woman began the journey of speaking and raising consciousness about the Holocaust. In 1991, her memoir, Why I Love Azaleas was published. The title honors the prisoners at Dachau’s Plantation Store that gave her beautiful Azalea flowers for her parents.

A Survey by the Conference on “Jewish Material Claims Against Germany”, which involved 1350 American adults was released on the recent Holocaust Memorial Day. The Survey indicated 58% believed the Holocaust could happen again, with half believing it could happen in the United States. However, there is also belief that the Holocaust has happened again: think of Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. A heart-rending awareness! Will our compassion and love for all bring Peace, Joy and Unity to our Global Community?

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