By Mark Abrams
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A multi-media exhibit detailing the influence of the Jewish community on the life of Pope John Paul II and his eventual public outreach to Jews opens at the Vatican Museum on July 28th. A Philadelphia-based professor played a crucial role as a co-creator.
St. Joseph’s University theology professor William Madges is among a handful of academics who conceived the exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.”
Madges says it tracks the life of the Polish-born Karol Wojtyla and his early connections to the Jewish community and how people and events shaped his later outreach when he was elected to the papacy.
“What we want people to understand is what the pope did as pope in terms of improving relationships was rooted in his experience with Jewish friends in his childhood in Wadowice.”
Madges says the exhibit includes historic photos and video interviews with a variety of players in the pope’s life, including his lifelong friend Jerzy Kluger.
He says the exhibit also includes special hand-picked items that belonged to John Paul II.
“The zuchetto, which is the white skull cap that he wore when he went to the Holy Land in 2000, the cane that he used during his time in Israel,” says Madges, “and then, his handwritten notes for a speech he gave at Auschwitz when he went back to Poland in June of 1979.”
The exhibit’s premiere at the Vatican comes on the 50th anniversary of the Vatican normalizing relations with the Jewish community and the 10th anniversary year of John Paul II’s death.
Madges says he’s hopeful Pope Francis will get a chance to view it before it closes on Sept. 17, only days before his trip to Cuba and the United States.