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In The Holocaust, The Young Priest Who Carried A Jewish Girl For Miles On His Back To Safety

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: 'Pope John Paul II Was One Of The Greatest Leaders Of Our Time And A Friend Of Israel And The Jewish People'

Like people around the globe, Israel and the Jewish people have paid tribute to Pope John Paul II. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called upon Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to represent Israel at the Popes funeral.

:: IsraCast Audio ::
'El Papa me salve' - Report by Jana Beris - BBC World Service (Spanish)
Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, who as a young priest, carried a Jewish girl on his back to safety in war-time Poland. The Pontiff was a friend of Israel and the Jewish people not only in word but also in deed.

As a young priest in Poland during World War Two, Pope John Paul II bore witness to the Holocaust and what the Nazis had inflicted upon the Jews. Edit Cecar, a Jewish girl of that time, bears witness today.

Edit Cecar was thirteen years old and on her own in Poland. She had just been released from a German forced labor camp near the end of the war. This is her account of her meeting with a young Polish priest who later became Pope John Paul II:

'When I walked into a small Polish town, in the snow and freezing cold, a young priest approached me. For the first time, I was offered a cup of tea and a slice of bread, even with cheese! It was if an angel from Heaven had come.'

'Did he try and encourage you?'

'Yes he tried very hard to cheer me up; he told me about his life and I told him about mine. Then he said: We must keep on walking if you wish to reach Krakow.'

I replied: 'I can't walk any further today; I have walked far, and my feet are so swollen. Then, he lifted me on his back and carried me. The piece of bread was still in my hand. He carried me all the way - it was 4 kilometers to the train station. It was snowing, cold and from time to time we paused to rest. He carried me all the way on his back.'

Edit Cecar bears witness in an interview with Israel Radio. Pope John Paul II took an equivocal stand against antisemitism and visited the Jewish state five years ago.

The tomb of John Paul II

  At the opening of this week's regular cabinet session, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid tribute to the Pontiff. Sharon said in the name of the Israeli government and the State, of Israel, he wished to express sorrow and extend condolences at the death of Pope John Paul II. Israel joined in the mourning of millions of Christians in Israel and throughout the Christian world.

The Prime Minister went on to say the Pontiff was a man of peace, a friend of the Jewish people who had recognized the uniqueness of the Jewish people. He had striven for reconciliation between peoples and established diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in 1993. Sharon said he had the opportunity of meeting Pope John Paul II in 1999, when as Foreign Minister he traveled to Rome to invite him to participate in the Millennium celebrations in Israel.

During the audience, Sharon said he felt the Pope's 'warm and sympathetic attitude to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.'

The Prime Minister added: 'Yesterday, the world lost one of the most important leaders of our time. His great contribution to reconciliation, his understanding and tolerance will live on with us for many years.'

At the cabinet session, the Prime Minister also recounted how the Pope knew the location of all the holy sites in Israel 'like the palm of his hand'. Moreover, John Paul II had told him although Israel was sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims it was promised only to the Jews. Sharon said the Pope repeated this several times stressing this was the difference between, 'Terra Santa and Terra Promisa'.

David Essing

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