One day after facing severe criticism from Jewish leaders, Pope John Paul II on Saturday cited Jews and Christians killed by the Nazis and called the victims' suffering, "a gift to the world."
The Jewish leaders said they objected to the omission of any specific reference to Jewish suffering in the pontiff's speech during his visit Friday to the former Mauthausen death camp.Roman Catholic relations with the Jews have dominated the pontiff's second visit to this Alpine nation, which is observing the 50th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938.
In Vienna, 50 protesters disrupted a theater performance of "The Deputy," a play highly critical of the role of Pope Pius XII in dealing with the Nazis. The protesters said it was improper to stage the play during the pontiff's visit to Austria.
John Paul traveled Saturday to the town of Lorch, 25 miles from the Czechoslovak border.
"Not far from here is Mauthausen, where Christians, Jews and others were persecuted for many reasons, including their religion," he told 80,000 people at a prayer service. "Their suffering was a gift to the world."
The pontiff on Friday visited Mauthausen, Austria's most notorious Nazi death camp, where thousands of Jews were among the 110,000 inmates who perished.
Late Saturday, the pope said Mass before 60,000 faithful in the town of Gork, about 35 miles from the Yugoslav border, before going to Salzburg to spend the night.
"Unfortunately today in Europe, even in your regions, the ancient roots of faith are threatened in various ways," the pontiff said.
He continued: "Christians must, however, react as a community to this challenge. They must unite even more and stay even closer together."
John Paul's speech at Mauthausen prompted immediate criticism.
"The failure of Pope John Paul to make any specific reference to the suffering of the Jews while visiting the site of the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp is a matter of deep shock to the Jewish community," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
The president of the Austrian Jewish Community, Paul Grosz, added: "We had hoped that the pope would evoke in a clear manner the particularly tragic character of the Jewish situation in the context of the Holocaust."
An estimated 6 million Jews died during Nazi rule.
The pontiff cited four concentration camp victims by name, all of them Roman Catholics.