Five years ago tonight, people of many faiths opened an historic exhibition: “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” This multi-media exhibit ran from May 19 - July 15, 2005 at Xavier University, and includes photos, video footage, documents and artifacts recording the extraordinary contributions of Pope John Paul II to relations between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
Rabbi Abie Ingber, Dr. James Buchanan, Dr. Bill Madges and Dr. Yaffa Eliach co-created the exhibit and presented it to John Paul II at the Vatican before he died. The section of the exhibit on the Pope’s childhood years, when he was Karol Wojtyla, highlights the prominence of the Jewish community in his Polish hometown of Wadowice. This profoundly influenced him. One quarter of his school classmates were Jewish, as was his lifelong friend, Jerzy Kluger. Wojtyla lost touch with Kluger for 27 years, but reunited with his boyhood friend after the Karol Wojtyla became a bishop.
John Paul II became the first pope to enter a synagogue, officially visit and recognize the State of Israel, and formally engage in an act of repentance for the Catholic Church’s historical treatment of Jews.
The exhibit draws its name from the Pope's 1993 speech at the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another.”
“In the months leading up to the opening of the exhibit, as we sat in Xavier’s Brueggeman Center night after night into the wee hours creating it, our only thoughts were to fulfill our promise to the Pope that we would open on his 85th birthday, May 18, 2005,” says Buchanan. “At that point we had one venue after Xavier and nothing else. Looking back on 5 years and 13 venues across the country, I can only feel amazement and gratitude. That it has been seen and impacted the lives of more than a quarter million people and that we have delivered nearly 50,000 prayers to the Western Wall seems at times, nothing short of a miracle.”
Since its inaugural run in Cincinnati the exhibit has traveled to:
• The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.
• Duquesne University in Pittsburgh
• Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City
• Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago
• The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia sponsored by St. Joseph’s University
• The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg
• Rapid City, South Dakota
• Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles
• Avila University in Kansas City, MO
• Alvernia University in Reading, PA
• The Holocaust Museum of Houston
• It is currently at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.
"We could never have imagined that the story we told of two young boys from Wadowice would travel the American world and inspire so many to lives of encounter and meaningfulness,” says Rabbi Abie Ingber. “We are truly honored that we have transported the message of Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People for these five years as a fitting memorial tribute to his life."
Last year, Ingber, Madges and Buchanan delivered as promised 31,099 of the prayers gathered during the exhibit’s journey to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Also as promised, the prayers were placed into the wall unread.
To relive the exhibit: http://www.blessingexhibit.org/