(JNi.media) The exhibition “A blessing to one another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” which opened on Tuesday in the Vatican (Charlemagne Wing, through September 17), has had its original run in several US state capitals, where it attracted more than a million visitors.
Funded by various universities and private individuals and organizations who support interfaith dialogue, the exhibition, presented as a gift to John Paul II for his 85th birthday, was inaugurated at the Xavier University of Cincinnati, Ohio, in May 2005, one month after the Pope’s death.
“A blessing to one another” describes the Pope’s efforts to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
The chief rabbi of Rome Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told CNS: “Seeing in St. Peter’s Square the banner announcing the exhibit with an image of a pope — that’s normal — but a pope shaking hands with a rabbi? That’s not normal. It’s a sign of how times have changed.”
The banner shows the late John Paul II and the late Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff greeting each other in 1986 at Rome’s main synagogue. John Paul II was the first pope in modern history to enter a synagogue.
The exhibition is divided into four sections and consists of photographs, videos, recordings and other interactive sources.
The first section illustrates Karol Wojtyla’s early years in his birthplace Wadowice, what would become a lifelong friendship with the young Jew Jerzy Kluger, and the relations between Catholics and Jews in Poland during the decade 1920 to 1930.
The second section is dedicated to the Pope’s university years in Krakow, and his work not far from his friends in the Ghetto who knew the horrors of the Shoah.
The third describes his priestly and episcopal life, Vatican Council II and the change of direction it represented in relations between Jews and Christians, and the close link between the cardinal archbishop of Krakow and the Jewish community in his archdiocese.
The final section considers the figure of Wojtyla as Pope, his visit to the Synagogue of Rome, and his trip to Israel in the year 2000 when he left a prayer in the Western Wall asking for divine forgiveness for the treatment that Jews had received in the past and reaffirming the Church’s commitment to a path of fraternal continuity with the People of the Covenant.
Visitors to “A blessing to one another” are invited to write a prayer to be placed in a reproduction of the Wall. They will be gathered and deposited in the Western Wall without being read.