As I watched in shock, the same questions kept coming back to me: How can these soldiers do this? How can they act so brutally against their fellow man?
I was watching a movie about Pope John Paul II before he became pope, and the scenes playing out before me were of the Nazi soldiers' actions during that horrific period in history.
Throughout the movie, I kept coming back to this conclusion: What it means to be human had been forgotten. How could one person act with such cold-hearted, inhumane cruelty towards another person?
Could it be that they no longer thought of the recipients of their violence as people, but were viewing them in a detached manner as something less-than-human, thus undeserving of respect?
At one point, Karol Wojtyla (who later became Pope John Paul II) learns the fundamental lesson that the response to evil must be love. It would be tempting to be blinded by anger towards those responsible for such atrocities, but this would only continue the cycle of destruction.
Only love can triumph over evil. Only truth can win the victory. And the truth is that even those who have committed the worst crimes were created in the image and likeness of God.
Each and every person possesses intrinsic dignity that demands our reverence. Yet how often are we inclined to view the people placed before us as irrelevant and in no way connected to us? Do we get caught up in how they might look different from us, or that they hold an opposing view? Do we forget the marvel that is each person?
By now, we are quite familiar with Pope Francis' expressions of love towards those so often marginalized by society. Yet we continue to be moved by images and stories of his simple embrace of them. Why does it resonate so clearly in our hearts? Could it be that we recognize the truth in his actions - a truth that speaks to us of each person's beauty, including our own?
Each of the people whose faces have become familiar to us in recent months, has a story in which they play the leading role. Each has a name. Dominic Gondreau, the American boy with cerebral palsy, and Vinicio Riva, who has neurofibromatosis, are two of those through whom Pope Francis has taught us the tender compassion due to our fellow man. What it means to be human is not defined by our abilities, age or condition of dependency. We are each "wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). We are each held in existence by God, who is Love.
Let us ask for the grace to be aware that "even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God's creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect."
For a visual reminder of the lessons in love our Holy Father is teaching us, join me in viewing a one-minute video based on this quote from Pope Francis' Day for Life Greeting. Please search for "Open Your Hearts to Life" on the usccb YouTube channel.
Anne McGuire is special projects coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.