Pope makes sentimental stops of eve of Auschwitz visit

Pope Benedict XVI, making sentimental stops in his predecessor's homeland, brought joy to Poles by announcing that he hopes John Paul II will be made a saint "in the near future." But the presence of a boyhood friend of John Paul touched another memory the painful history of Poland's Jews.

His visit Saturday to John Paul's birthplace of Wadowice, once home to a flourishing Jewish community, came a day before the German pope visited the Auschwitz death camp.

The stop to the infamous death camp was not originally planned, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Saturday. "But the pope said 'I want to go, I have to go,"' Navarro-Valls said.

Late Saturday, Benedict addressed more than 600,000 pilgrims many of them young people on the spacious, grassy Blonia Common where he will lead Sunday Mass, and urged them not be discouraged by creeping secularism.

"Often, Jesus is ignored, he is mocked and he is declared a king of the past who is not for today and certainly not for tomorrow," Benedict said. "A strong faith must endure tests. A living faith must always grow."

The vast crowd swayed and sang, holding candles in the twilight. "Stay with us, stay with us," they chanted to Benedict, who blessed them with the sign of the cross.

Earlier, Benedict, referring to John Paul as "my great predecessor," toured the house where John Paul lived as a child and the church where he served as an altar boy. In the packed square outside the Immaculate Conception Basilica sat Jerzy Kluger, a Jew who has lived in Rome for decades and is one of the last of John Paul's old cronies still living.

"Pope Benedict knows what he's doing, and John Paul II also knew what he was doing when he named Cardinal Ratzinger, today's Benedict," Kluger told. "However, the fact that Benedict is German has no meaning here. His nationality plays no role," reports AP.

O.Ch.