The cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" for the director of the Auschwitz Memorial
The director of the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, has been awarded the papal decoration "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. The ceremony took place on 14 January 2020 at the residence of the Archbishops of Warsaw.
Piotr Cywiński was nominated for the award in recognition of his overall activity, always undertaken with Christian inspiration.
The ceremony was attended among others by the Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio and Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, as well as members of the board of the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, of which Piotr Cywiński was president between the years 2000-2010.
The laudation in honour of the awarded papal medal was given by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Łódź, Grzegorz Ryś:
'Focusing on memory, giving it an absolute priority in the narrative in this particular place serves to liberate the visitors' attitudes towards listening! People must accept the message of Auschwitz-Birkenau and not impose their teaching or, even worse, historical "politics" on it. Although the choice seems obvious, in reality, it is different and requires great courage to defend it. However, it rewards individuals with the extraordinary ability to engage in dialogue, rather than ideological dispute with others,' said Archbishop Ryś.
'Director Cywiński is a man of courage and dialogue. And responsibility for today. Auschwitz is not a story: it is a confrontation. Piotr Cywiński does not propose a " tour" to those he conducts through Auschwitz; he offers them a "rite of passage", and this "passage" is of a Paschal character, deeply personal and engaging. When describing this passage, he does not say "they - the Nazis 75 years ago" - he says "we". He writes: "On the day of the great trial, we failed the test. At the time of the Holocaust, all the pillars of Europeanism failed - the ancient foundations of thought and law, the Christian moral order, all the achievements of humanism and enlightenment. All of these turned out to be too weak. Europe was dominated by passivity to the evil it generated,' - he said.
'This statement is not a resignation, but a belief that it may be different - the passage through Auschwitz should neither hurt nor generate anger towards others. It may, on the contrary, mobilise us to commit ourselves to good in our personal and collective lives. It may give rise to a resolve and inner imperative to build a better world. It is the most appropriate reason to receive the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal,' stressed the Metropolitan Archbishop of Łódź.
The cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" was presented by Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, who said: 'I had no doubts when I appealed to the Holy Father that Piotr Cywiński - who dedicated many years of his life to KiK Warsaw (Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, in a Warsaw), creating its structures, and who is still active in it - be awarded the papal decoration "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice".'
The Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich said: 'It is important that the director of the Memorial is smart and honest. Piotr Cywiński possesses this knowledge and sensitivity. Professor Bartoszewski was right when he said about director Cywiński that this is a man who not only knows history but also feels history. He understands the suffering of Jews, Catholics and all the victims. He is a remarkable man.'
In thanking the Pope for his papal decoration, Piotr Cywiński referred to the history of the Gniezno Convention of 2005, during which he realised the idea of Mutual Prayer for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Initially, it was meant to be a common prayer of representatives of the three religions, but it proved impossible due to theological differences. Finally, during the event, representatives of various religions prayed for one another. According to Piotr Cywiński, such a prayer is most needed today.
During his speech, Piotr Cywiński recalled a touching conversation with Pope Francis during his visit to the Auschwitz Memorial during the World Youth Day 2016. The Pope asked the director to pray for him. He replied: “No! That's not how it works. We must pray for each other." The Pope then radiated and answered: “Yes, absolutely right. Let’s do so.”
The Cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" is one of the highest distinctions of the Holy See. It may be awarded to a layperson. It was established by Pope Leo XIII on 17 July 1888 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his priesthood. It is granted by the Pope in recognition of service to the Church, at the request of the diocesan bishop.
Piotr Cywiński has served as director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum since 1 September 2006. He is a medieval historian by education, a graduate of the University of Humanities in Strasbourg (1993) and the Catholic University of Lublin (1995). He obtained his doctorate at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences (2002). For years, he has been an active participant in the Polish-Jewish, Christian-Jewish dialogue and discussions between borderland cultures. A member of the International Auschwitz Council since 2000, and in the years 2000-2006, he served as its secretary. He is also known for his interests and ecumenical activities.