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Paul Vadakumpadan, Shillong says,
Karol and Josef
By Paul Vadakumpadan
forum
360° VIEW
Shillong, Mar. 8. The 1930s and 40s were among the most tragic years in recent human history.


First there was the ascent to power of Adolf Hitler, an evil genius. The fact that he won democratic elections and did much to promote the economic progress of Germany does not reduce his guilt. He was responsible for the murder of millions of human beings, especially Jews.  He more than any other should be held accountable for that horrible nightmare, called the Second World War. Even thousands of Indian soldiers perished in the war. According to official estimates, about 360,000 Indian soldiers died or were missing in action. The war reached our doorsteps, Imphal and Kohima.

Could there have been a worse time for a young man to grow up and take his place in society? Despite all odds, there were such youngsters. I am impressed with the story of two young people: Karol Wojtla and Josef Ratzinger. They both lived in that area of the world where the evil unleashed by Hitler was at its worst. They were both very young. They refused to surrender. They chose to swim against the current.  Today we praise and thank God for those two young men: Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Karol`s village of Wadowice is just 35 minutes by road from Auschwitz, known for its infamous labour camps and gas chambers. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to do that journey, to see for myself the horrible things that man could do to man. Ratzinger hailed from Marktl in Bavaria. Karol was just nineteen when the war began. Josef was a few years younger. Though teenagers, they realized that evil was on an apparently glorious march. They refused to accept it or just go along with it. They also realized that any foolhardy militancy would only lead them to the cemetery. Instead, they carried on living their life as well as they could under extremely difficult circumstances. They tried to help as many people as they could, with their limited resources. They understood it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness. They carried on with the challenge of their education and formation in that tough school of life in war-time Poland and Germany. Wojtla was ordained priest in 1946, Ratzinger five years later. The rest of the story, you are all familiar with.

Adversity need not break a man. It may even make one. Circumstances, however painful and negative, need not make life meaningless. They can make it difficult, even extremely difficult. They can make life painful, even excruciatingly painful. But the brave will stick it out.  ``When the going gets tough, the tough  get going.`` The coward will run away. The foolhardy will appear to resist and end up making a mess. The valiant man will persevere in the search for goodness, despite all the evil he sees around. And the man of faith will find it and contribute to its growth.  

I remember with gratitude the words of an old priest to me when I was ordained. ``Young man`` he said, ``stick to the gun especially when it is hot.`` May I add, ``Don`t run away when there are problems, because problems will also run along with you.``

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