A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

Main Content
Friday, September 7, 2012


In October 2004, representatives from Xavier University, Hillel of Cincinnati, and The Shtetl Foundation met with Pope John Paul II to ask his blessing for an exhibition documenting his life-long affirming relationship with the Jewish people, the first exhibition on the subject ever assembled.

That blessing was given and the exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” opened at Xavier University on May 18, 2005, which would have been Pope John Paul II’s 85th birthday. From there it has traveled to 17 venues around the United States, where it has been seen by more than 800,000 and had positive impact on Christian-Jewish relations in each of those communities.

The exhibit will make one last visit to Cincinnati before beginning a European tour in 2013, traveling through Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and France. Discussions are underway for the exhibit to also go to Israel in 2013.

In Cincinnati, the exhibit will open September 10 at the Skirball Museum on the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

“How fitting it is that two leading organizations in interfaith relations collaborate on the return on this important exhibit to Cincinnati,” says Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., Dean, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. “Over the past 50 years, we have seen a significant growth in Catholic and Jewish relations, in no small part because of the commitment of Pope John Paul II. His support has been crucial to the advancement of understanding between Catholics and Jews. As HUC-JIR serves as a cultural resource for greater dialogue and understanding between all members of our community, this exhibition fits perfectly with our mission.”

The 2,200 square-foot exhibit takes its name from the pope’s 1993 letter commemorating 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 be first a blessing to one another.”

Dr. James Buchanan, Rabbi Abie Ingber and Dr. William Madges were the three principals in the creation of the exhibit.

“There is particular importance to the message of the exhibit for both the Jewish and Catholic communities now,” says Buchanan, “for among other reasons, because the current pope, Benedict XVI, will be the last pope who has direct memory and experience of the Holocaust. The question is whether the next Pope will give the same importance to relations between the Church and the Jewish people that John Paul II did. Therefore, it is critical that we get the Jewish-Christian relationship on firm foundations now.”

Visitors will experience a multi-media walk through the 20th century through the eyes and experiences of Pope John Paul II from his childhood in Wadowice, Poland, his experience of the World War II and the Holocaust, and his years as a young priest in Krakow and his Papacy. At the end of the exhibit there is a replica of a part of the Western Wall where visitors are invited to insert their own prayer on the back of a replica of the prayer that Pope John Paul II inserted in the Wall during his historic trip to Israel in 2000. These prayers are taken, unread, to Jerusalem and placed in the real Western Wall. To date, more than 80,000 prayers have been hand delivered to the Western Wall.

Born Karol Wotyla, Pope John Paul II lived in Wadowice, Poland, a town where one quarter of his classmates were Jewish. He was especially close to Jerzy Kluger, the son of the president of Wadowice’s Jewish community. Scholars believe these early experiences instilled in him openness to Jews and a profound respect for their faith. As pope, he broke the chains of 2,000 years of painful history between Catholic and Jews. He became the first pope to enter a synagogue; the first to officially visit and recognize the State of Israel; and the first to formally engage in an act of repentance for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of Jews. The 2005 exhibit opening also gave concrete witness to the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration of the common spiritual heritage shared by Christians and Jews and denunciation of all displays of anti-Semitism.

The exhibit’s video interviews with Kluger were conducted by Ingber. These interviews are the most extensive ever given by Pope John Paul II’s closest Jewish friend.

“As both Karol Wotyla and Jerzy Kluger have died since the exhibit’s opening, it is up to us to see that their message lives after them. A Blessing to One Another inspires visitors to commit – or recommit – themselves to ideals of mutual understanding and fellowship,” said Ingber.

The return of  “A Blessing to One Another” to Cincinnati is a collaborative effort of Xavier University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and the Skirball Museum.

Read more about the exhibit. Watch a short video about the exhibit.

“A Blessing to One Other: Pope John Paul II & The Jewish People” will be on view at the Skirball Museum on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR (3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45220) from September 10 through December 31, 2012. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.  The Museum will be open to the public Monday, Thursday, and Friday, 9am to 4pm; Tuesday and Wednesday, 9am to 8pm; Sunday, 1 to 4pm (closed on Saturdays). Tours for schools, synagogues, churches and other groups will be available Monday through Friday, 9 to noon. For more details, please call 513-487-3053.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu