Thursday, February 5, 2009

John Paul II & The Jewish People

A new exhibit opened Tuesday at Union Station in Kansas City titled "A Blessing To On Another: John Paul II & The Jewish People". The exhibit traces the relationship between Karol Wojtyla and the Jewish People from his earliest days in Poland through his Papacy. It is sponsored by Avila University and is free to the public.

Marty Denzer promo'd the exhibit in an earlier issue of The Catholic Key and will have coverage of opening night in the next. Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn and Rabbi Alan Cohen offered prayers and opening remarks. Rabbi Cohen is director of interreligious affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Bureau / American Jewish Committee.

As part of the opening ceremonies, Rabbi Cohen and Bishop Finn each placed a prayer slip in to a replica of the Western Wall (both pictured). Visitors to the exhibit are invited to place prayers in the replica. All the prayers will be gathered unread, put in a bag and flown for placement in the actual Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Below are opening prayers and statements from Rabbi Cohen and Bishop Finn:

Bishop Robert W. Finn

It is a joy for me to be able to participate in the inauguration of this exhibit on Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. I am particularly proud of Avila University for their leadership in this project. I know that I speak for Dr. Ron Slepitza, Abbot Gregory Polan, and many others in the Catholic community in saying thank you for the opportunity to express our esteem for the leaders and members of the Jewish community. We hope to learn, from the example of the late Holy Father, a way for our faith-filled living Traditions to grow in friendship and collaboration.

Last week I had occasion to be in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI, the co-worker and successor of Pope John Paul, and one who has frequently expressed his esteem for “our Brothers and Sisters who received the First Covenant,” In his General Audience of January 28, the Pope recalled his 2006 trip to Auschwitz where he had reflected on the tragedy of the “millions of Jews were cruelly massacred: innocent victims,” as the Pope acknowledged, “of blind racial and religious hatred.”

“May the Shoah,” the Pope said last week, “be for everyone an admonition against oblivion, negation and reductionism.” … May such violence “never again humiliate man’s dignity.”

I also wish to express my solidarity with Rabbi Alan Cohen and all our Jewish people, and my prayer that this Union Station exhibit – at the center of our Kansas City metropo area - will help many to learn about the goodness we share, and how we may be more and more “A Blessing to One Another.”

Let us pray,

God of our Fathers,
You have chosen Abraham and his descendants
to bring your name to the nations.

The power of life and love that comes from You
changes hearts and turns minds to peace.
We join with the psalmist in proclaiming,
“How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity!”
Tonight we come together as sons and daughters of Abraham in this effort of peace.
Bless all who will view this exhibit.

Give us understanding that puts an end to strife,
mercy that quenches hatred,
and forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.
Bring to fruition the good work begun by Your servant, Pope John Paul II,
and fortify us with Your abundant blessings: life forevermore!


Rabbi Alan Cohen

I want to express my gratitude to Avila University and its President, Ron Slepitza, along with Susan Walker and the entire Avila staff that has worked on this exhibit. I also thank my good friend, Abbot Gregory Polan and the entire Conception Abbey community. Thanks also to my colleague, the co-creator of this exhibit, Rabbi Abie Ingber, and his co-creator, our speaker from whom we will hear later this evening, Dr. James Buchanan. I especially want to thank Bishop Finn and all of the representatives of the Diocese. Lastly, I thank the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee which has given me this opportunity upon completing my congregational work to begin in the area of interfaith dialogue and relations.

The opportunity to help open this exhibit with a prayer is a unique one and a special occasion and moment to be marked. I offer this prayer as my response.

There have been many dark and difficult periods throughout human history.
They remind us of the critical need to focus on our blessings, our shared experiences, our opportunities to advance understanding and build bridges which extend from solid foundations that have been laid.

This exhibit is one of those times. In spite of the tensions of the past few weeks; in spite of what sometimes appears to be steps back in time which recall earlier eras with specters of prejudice, ignorance, fear and even persecution. Indeed, this exhibit reminds us of what may have been the darkest of periods--the Shoah/Holocaust--and how we climbed from "may afelah l'orah" (from" darkness to light").

We did so because there have been individuals of faith and commitment--committed to human dignity and to the principle that all humans are created "b'tzelem Eloheem"--in the "image of God".

One such person was Pope John XXIII who began Vatican II and who even earlier during World War II was instrumental in the rescue of Jews.

And we are especially reminded of the Polish youth who through his friends and his community--this Karol Wojtyla who became a priest and ultimately John Paul II. This person who not only advanced the work of Vatican II but who also created a revolution in religious life.

To this we stand committed and dedicated to continue that path. And when our steps may falter or obstacles are encountered, we will continue the forward direction.

In the spirit of the Psalmist and Psalm 133 that Bishop Finn has just quoted:
"Hineh mah tov umah na-im
shevet ahim gam yahad"
"How good it is for sisters and brothers to dwell together"
the sisters and brothers of those covenantal relationships with our common Creator.

This is my prayer, my hope, my pledge--to be guided by that spirit and that goal.

This is a "sheheheyanu" moment--that blessing recited for first and unique occasions:
"Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, sheheheyanu, v'keyimanu, v'hegeyanu, lazman hazeh"
"Praised are, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this great moment"