The never-before-told first person account of a friendship that changed the church and the world.
In The Pope and I Jerzy Kluger, a Polish-born Jew, tells the surprising story of his lifelong friendship with Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II. As this memoir shows, their friendship played a role in shaping Wojtyla’s early views toward the Jewish people and his later efforts, as pope, to overcome the Catholic Church’s legacy of anti-Semitism.
Though their story has been recounted before, Kluger here for the first time offers his own account of their relationship. His story begins with their friendship in grade school in Poland, describes Kluger’s extraordinary survival of the war (while much of his family perished in Auschwitz), followed by his astonishing reunion with then-Archbishop Wojtyla in Rome during the days of the Second Vatican Council.
After his friend’s election as pope, their relationship unfolds against the background of extraordinary advances in Jewish-Christian relations, including the first papal visit to the synagogue of Rome, John Paul’s pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Auschwitz, and the Vatican recognition of Israel (for which Kluger served as a back-channel Vatican emissary).
A fascinating personal tale, told with much charm, The Pope and I highlights the surprising confluences of history, politics, and religion sealed by friendship and mutual respect.
Jerzy Kluger grew up in the Polish town of Wadowice, where he befriended Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. While most of his family perished, Kluger escaped and fought with the Allies. After the war he moved to Rome and trained as an engineer.
History rarely turns on personal friendships, but an exception must be made for Blessed John Paul II and his lifelong friend, Jerzy Kluger. Their friendship helped move Catholic-Jewish relations in a nobler direction and opened lines of conversation that had been closed for centuries. Mr. Kluger's telling of this remarkable human story is full of insights into the character of his friend from small-town Poland who became one of the most consequential figures of the late twentieth century while reforming the Office of Peter for the twenty-first.
- George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, and biographer of john Paul 11
Friendship is sometimes a more powerful avenue to interreligious rec-onciliation than theological discourse. This certainly was the case in Kluger's relationship with John Paul II. The volume is a marvelous ex-ample of such a dynamic.
- John T Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D, Director, Catholic Jewish Studies Program, Catholic Theological Union
Kluger offers up an engaging autobiographical account of his friendship with Karol Wojtyla, who grew up to become Pope John Paul II. Kluger begins in the mid-1920s in Wadowice, Poland, when the two were schoolchildren, setting the backdrop for how Jews and Catholics interacted in Poland and how hatred, fear, and misconceptions about Jews were widespread throughout Europe in the prewar period. Kluger details how he and his father, separated from their family, served in the military during World War II while many loved ones were forced to live in ghettos and were then killed in German camps. He goes on to discuss how Wojtyla and he were reunited many years later in Rome when Kluger worked there as an engineer and Wojtyla was the archbishop of Kraków participating in Vatican II. Kluger, with di Simone, seamlessly weaves together personal recollections and the concurrent history of Jewish-Christian relations. He demonstrates how both men were affected by their friendship over the years and closes with the end of their long relationship when John Paul II, affectionately known as Lolek, died in 2005. VERDICT This stirring tale is a must-read for those interested in 20th-century history, religious history, or autobiography.
- Crystal Goldman, San Jose St. Univ. Lib., CA