A Blessing to One Another" opened JULY 15, 2005 at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. The exhibit then moved to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, 3900 Harewood Road, NE, Washington, D.C., where it was on display until 2006. From there it moved to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and then to New York City (September 2006) to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. It is currently open at the George Washington Carver Museum in Phoenix, AZ.
More than a mere historical exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another” is an interactive experience that allows visitors to follow in John Paul II’s footsteps from his childhood to his role as head of the world’s largest church. The exhibit is divided into four major sections, reflecting the four periods in the pope’s life. Visitors become part of the documentary, walking through a multi-sensory experience: backdrops of enlarged photos and period postcards supporting artifacts tragic and triumphant, all set against evocative soundscapes.
The first section of the exhibit centers on Wadowice, Poland. There, the future pope, Karol Wojtyla, grew up in an apartment owned by a Jewish family and established many friendships with Jewish children, including lifelong friend Jerzy Kluger. Visitors view Wojtyla’s baptismal certificate and school records, and see the world as it looked from his bedroom window. They also explore Jewish life in Wadowice as well as the interaction between the Catholic and Jewish communities.
In the second section, visitors follow Wojtyla’s path to Krakow and enter the dark years of World War II through a replica of the Krakow Ghetto gate. During the Nazi occupation, the future pope was forced to take his university studies underground while working in a factory by day. It was far worse for his Jewish friends and neighbors. Displayed in this area are somber reminders of the Holocaust, including prayer shawls and shoes from the Holocaust Museum at Auschwitz.
The third section of the exhibit traces Wojtyla’s rise from priest to bishop to cardinal. During this period he participated in the Second Vatican Council’s dramatic change in the Church’s relationship with other religions. As bishop of Krakow he also established close and personal ties with the Jewish community. Among the artifacts in this section, visitors find the biretta worn by Wojtyla when he became a cardinal and handwritten notes for one of his books.
The final section celebrates John Paul II’s papacy. It features a ceremonial lamp and papal vestments from the 2002 World Day of Prayer at Assisi, videos of religious and world leaders speaking with the pope, and a replica of Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Visitors are encouraged to write a prayer and place it in the wall, emulating the pope during his historic visit to Israel. As they move out of the exhibit, visitors are also able to touch a bronze sculpture of the late pope’s hand.