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New exhibition on John Paul II and the Jewish people

By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 July, 2015

“A blessing to one another” underscores the continuing relevance of the Vatican II declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’.

Pope John Paul II and Rabbi Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome for over 50 years, in 1986.

Pope John Paul II and Rabbi Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome for over 50 years, in 1986.

Source: Vatican Radio

A major exhibition on the steps Pope St John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has opened at the Vatican.

“A blessing to one another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” is the title of the exhibition which is showing at the Vatican’s Charlemagne Wing.

It is due to continue there until 17 September and is part of the Church’s recognition of the continuing relevance of the Vatican II declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’, issued fifty years ago this year in which the Catholic Church expressed its appreciation for other religions, especially Judaism and for the principals of universal fraternity, love and non-discrimination.

The exhibition was previously hosted by a number cities in the USA where it received more than a million visitors.

Funded by various universities and private individuals and bodies who see interreligious dialogue as a source of progress for humanity, the exhibition narrates John Paul II’s relations with those whom he defined during his historic visit to the synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986 as “our elder brothers”.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Dr William Madges, one of the exhibition curators, explained that 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, the Second Vatican Council 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 the Successor of Peter, 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.

The exhibition, presented as a gift to John Paul II for his 85th birthday, was inaugurated at the Xavier University of Cincinnati, Ohio, on 18 May 2005, just a month after the Pope’s death.

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