Monday, July 17, 2006

"A Blessing To One Another"

Right now in the Steel City (that's Pittsburgh, for the uninitiated) there's another exhibit going on in praise of John Paul II.

What makes this one different, however, is its lead sponsor: The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.

That sound you hear? SSPXers, their heads exploding....

Called A Blessing to one Another, the exhibit -- at Duquesne University for the next month -- chronicles the late Pope's "groundbreaking contributions... to advance relations between the Catholic and Jewish faiths."

As the JPII Catering Hall/White Elephant in Washington has become (even more of) a shell of itself and awaits its fate (apparently the Domer crowd are not keen to see their alma mater take it on), this might just be the best and most substantive JP show going right now.

If anyone goes or has been, send me some words on it.

Here are some snips from a column about the exhibit, written by a Jewish man who loved John Paul more than most conservative Catholics:
Consider how extraordinary this is. Imagine telling someone in the years just after World War II - in the chilliest days of the Cold War - that in the coming decades the Catholic Church would select as its pope a man ordained a priest behind the Iron Curtain who would undermine the very foundations of the Soviet bloc, a cleric dripping with Polish nationalism and marinated in the traditions of the Polish church who would be a beacon of hope for Jews - a light, you might say, among the nations. You would be dismissed as a dreamer.

And yet in a century that was not congenial to dreamers, all this became true. It is evidence, perhaps, that there is a God. We need not debate that question. There was a Karol Wojtyla....

The removal of one of his friends' family from Wadowice was a searing experience for him, and he said at the time, perhaps hoping that saying this would make it true: "Not all Poles are anti-Semitic." Ginka Beer, his neighbor and part of the family that had to leave its home, remembered the young boy's reaction: "He did not say a word, but his face went very red. I said farewell to him as kindly as I could, but he was so moved that he could not find a single word in reply."

Karol Wojtyla would continue to be moved by that memory, and eventually he would find words to reply. In 1998, as the most terrible of centuries was expiring, he wrote:

"We pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people has suffered in our century will lead to a new relationship with the Jewish people. We wish to turn our awareness of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews, but rather a shared mutual respect, as befits those who adore the one Creator and Lord and have a common father in faith, Abraham."

Duquesne University's Mellon Hall is replete with quotations much like that. The pope spoke out continually, and with great and grave eloquence, on this question, as if he knew that he was peculiarly suited - by temperament, by timing, by nationality - to convey this message. Dare we say that the pope's life was a pilgrimage? The Catholic intellectual tradition regards a pilgrimage as a journey to discharge a religious obligation.

Remember that the pope was under no theological obligation to speak out for the Jews and against anti-Semitism. Over the centuries many popes have stuck to their doctrinal knitting, using their pulpit to speak on issues of their own faith, not other people's faith. And when they ventured into other religions it was not always to express their affection. But John Paul voluntarily embarked on this pilgrimage, and voluntarily took on this task, making it an obligation. You can think of it as an obligation of affection.