John Paul II and The Jews

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (September 11, 2007)—Saint Joseph’s University will host a landmark exhibit chronicling the late Pope John Paul II’s life and legacy of improving dialogue between Catholics and Jews. “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” will be at The Kimmel Center from October 18 through December 23, free of admission. The exhibit comes to Philadelphia after stops in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York.

The 2,500-square-foot exhibit takes viewers from the Pope’s childhood through his papacy and tells his story with the help of a unique collection of photographs and artifacts. The name of the exhibit is derived from the Pope's 1993 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when he stated, “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world (cf. Gen. 12:2 ff.). This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another.”

Born and raised in Wadowice, Poland, a town where a quarter of his classmates were Jewish, the late pontiff forged a special relationship with Jerzy Kluger, son of the president of Wadowice’s Jewish community. That enduring friendship and other deep associations with the Jewish community shaped John Paul II’s ministry and the historic progress made in Jewish-Catholic relations during his papacy.

The walls of the exhibit are eight-foot-high replicas of vintage photographs and postcards. These photographs, along with artifacts and videos, will take visitors back in time to pre-war Wadowice, the Krakow ghetto during World War II, and John Paul’s ministry in Krakow and Rome. At the exhibit’s end, visitors will be able to write prayers and place them in a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, just as the pope did during his visit to Israel in 2000. These prayers continue to be transferred to Jerusalem after the exhibit closes in each city.

Photographs and artifacts in the exhibit are being loaned from museums in the United States, Poland, Italy and Israel. Some of the artifacts include:

Reproductions of the pope’s baptismal certificate and high school and college transcripts, on loan from the City of Wadowice Museum.

Shoes worn by Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz and a can of Zyklon-B, the chemical used by Nazis to kill Jews in gas chambers. These items have been loaned by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.

The biretta that the future pope received when named a cardinal in 1967 and vestments he wore at an interreligious prayer service in Assisi, loaned by the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

A one-of-a-kind luxury edition of the speech Pope John Paul II made during a visit to the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in June 1979, during his first pilgrimageto Poland. This document is a facsimile copy of the Holy Father’s handwritten draft, and only two such copies exist.

A walking staff used by the pope during his visit to Israel in 2000. It is the staff he used to help him approach the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where he placed a prayer of repentance in the cracks of the Wall.

Saint Joseph’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences William Madges, Ph.D., served as one of the exhibit’s co-creators. While at Xavier University, where he served two terms as theology department chair, Dr. Madges encountered Yaffa Eliach, Ph.D., Holocaust survivor and visiting Jewish professor at the university’s Edward Brueggemnan Center for Dialogue. In conversations about the late Pope, the two to agreed that Catholics and Jews alike may not know enough about what the former Pope did to improve relations between the religions. As educators they felt a responsibility to change that and so the idea for the exhibit began to take shape. Executive Director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center of Cincinnati Rabbi Abie Ingber and Director of the Edward B. Brueggemnan Center for Dialogue James Buchanan, Ph.D., joined Drs. Madges and Eliach to complete the team of exhibit directors.

Dr. Madges sees Saint Joseph’s sponsorship of the Philadelphia exhibition as consistent with the University’s mission. “I believe the overarching message of this exhibit embodies the ideals of a Jesuit Catholic university,” he said. “The University is firmly rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition, but we are open; all ideas are studied. Similarly, John Paul II was firmly rooted in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but this did not become a barrier to him being open to dialogue with people of other faiths.”

The exhibit was created and produced by Xavier University, Hillel Jewish Student Center and the Shtetl Foundation. Lead financial sponsors are the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and Xavier University.

For more information on the exhibit or to take a video tour, visit http://www.blessingexhibit.org, or call 610-660-2170.

The media will be permitted to preview the exhibit beginning Monday, October 8. To set up a visitation time, please contact Kelly Welsh at 610-660-1385.

“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People;” October 18 through December 23; Monday through Saturday, noon-8 p.m., Sunday, noon-6 p.m.; The Kimmel Center, 260 South Broad Street; free admission.

Media Contact

 Kelly Welsh, Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-1385, kwelsh@sju.edu




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