An upcoming concert in Washington, D.C., will celebrate the lives and canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, highlighting their efforts to promote unity, cooperation and peace.
“This concert is going to be unique,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., at a Jan. 16 press conference.
“It will stand in its own right because what it is saying is 'look at the fruit of the lives of these two popes and what they have brought to our world today.'”
The concert, “Peace through Music 'In Our Age',” will draw its inspiration from the two popes. It will also seek guidance from the 1965 Vatican document “Nostra Aetate,” or “In Our Age,” which explained the necessity and importance of inter-religious dialogue and relationship between the Catholic Church and other world faiths.
The document, a product of the Second Vatican Council started by Bl. Pope John XXIII, was often referenced by Bl. Pope John Paul II during the ecumenical and inter-religious work of his pontificate.
Both late popes will be canonized on April 27, 2014. The concert in honor of the canonization will be held on May 5 in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
It will be broadcast by PBS, and the organizers are in discussions about a potential international broadcast as well.
The event will bring together three world-class choirs and orchestras from Poland and the United States: the Carnegie Hall-based Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Krakow Philharmonic Choir and the Washington Choral Arts choir.
They will perform a 16th century canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli; the Sanctus from Giuseppi Verdi's “Requiem Mass”; “Totus Tuus” – a Marian work written by Polish composer Henryk Górecki; Jewish-American composer Leonard Bernstein's “Chichester Psalms,” performed in Hebrew; and Johannes Brahms' “Symphony No. 1.”
The Archdiocese of Washington worked alongside Maestro Levine, as well as Polish ambassador Ryszard Schnepf and chair of Georgetown University's board of directors Paul Tagliabue, to make the concert a reality.
Cardinal Wuerl explained that the focus of the concert will be the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXII because “so much of the world feels a personal bond with each or both of these Popes.”
“John XXIII was the Pope who convened the the Second Vatican Council, and he ushered in a whole new era of interfaith, of ecumenical collaboration, and a whole new focus on social justice issues,” the cardinal said, adding that Bl. John Paul II “served as hope, traveled all over the world and highlighted over and over and over again the need for people to come together.”
“This is the opportunity to open a reflection,” he continued, saying that the two popes taught about the “basic humanity that we all share” and showed that “we are all the children of a loving God and we need to relate to one another in that way.”
“This is the beginning of a whole new chapter, saying 'these things work,'” Cardinal Wuerl reflected. “It is possible to bring people together to build a world of peace, a world of mutual respect.”
Maestro Levine, who will be conducting the event, has deep ties to Pope John Paul II. The New-York born conductor was with the Krakow Philharmonic while the future pope served there as archbishop, and the two became friends.
Pope John Paul II invited Levine to conduct concerts to celebrate his 10th anniversary as pope and the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver.
In addition, he was commissioned by the Pope in 1994 to conduct the “Papal Concert to Commemorate the Shoah.”
Levine, who is Jewish, pointed to this concert as a demonstration of the power of music. Levine's family lost more than 40 members during the Holocaust, and his own mother-in-law survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.
John Paul II had “sensed that there was a tremendous hunger” for healing from the Holocaust, Levine said. While there were reservations both from the Jewish and Catholic communities, the Pope defended the event, which ultimately hosted more than 200 Holocaust survivors.
The music helped the community to heal, Levine reflected, recalling that his mother-in-law felt that it “healed her soul.”
The conductor voiced his joy at bringing the upcoming concert “home” to America. From the D.C. venue, he said, the concert will focus on the two popes and their “outreach to all Americans of all faiths, from the Catholic tradition but reaching out to all traditions.”
Ambassador Schnepf, who helped spark the idea for the concert, said the Polish embassy is excited to work on the project. He emphasized that Pope John Paul II's “message of independence and freedom is a beautiful message for the future.”
“That it is coming from Washington to the people of the whole world is a great thing,” he reflected.
Tagliabue added his hopes that the concert will inspire people to look at the two historic popes “and their lives and their achievements” involving outreach and inter-faith cooperation.
“The world needs to hear their message,” he said.