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Auschwitz on pope's Polish visit

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Pope Benedict XVI gestures as he arrives in Poland.

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(CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI has begun a bittersweet trip to Poland, where he will pay homage to the late Pope John Paul II, and his beloved predecessor's homeland.

Poles waving Vatican flags, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a military honor guard greeted the pope Thursday as he departed an Alitalia plane at Warsaw's international airport.

The pontiff will meet Polish leaders, visit the late pope's birth home in Wadowice, and travel to Krakow, the city where John Paul II lived before he assumed the papacy in 1978.

In a resonating gesture that symbolizes the reconciliation of Europe after World War II, the German-born pope will make a stop to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and commemorate the victims of last century's Nazi German slaughters -- the extermination of six million Jews and the killings of millions of Poles.

The trip in essence retraces the spiritual turf of the first Polish pope, a legendary Catholic figure who trekked to every corner of the globe during his papacy and preached a message of peace.

Benedict -- who assumed the papacy last year after John Paul II died -- will be welcomed by millions of people in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

He will be delivering addresses and conducting Masses in the four-day visit, and he will visit shrines and sites that reflect Poland's deep Catholic heritage and the Polish struggles against Nazism and communism last century,

In Warsaw on Thursday, Benedict will meet with clergy and make an address. Later, he will hold an ecumenical meeting at a Lutheran Church.

On Friday, he will conduct a Mass in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw and later will leave for Czestochowa, where he will make an address at the Sanctuary of Jasna Gora, the holy shrine.

Benedict will visit Krakow, where John Paul II was a priest, bishop and cardinal.

On Saturday, the pope will conduct Holy Mass in private in the Chapel of the House of the archbishop of Krakow.

He will travel to Wadowice near Krakow on Saturday, where he will visit John Paul II's birth home and meet with citizens in that city's Rynek Square, where he will deliver an address.

On Sunday, he will conduct a Mass in Krakow's Blonie Park and deliver a homily.

Later that day, he will visit Auschwitz and the Center for Dialogue and Prayer there and he will deliver a prayer and speech at the location -- whose very name conjures the Holocaust.

Benedict -- who has warned of a growing wave of anti-Semitism -- intends to continue John Paul II's work in forging closer ties between Jews and Catholics.

He will make a speech at a farewell ceremony at the Balice Airport in Krakow.

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