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Washington Concert Celebrates Sainthood of Pope John Paul II and John XXIII

May 6, 2014– Georgetown and a coalition of partners around the world presented a historic musical celebration of the dual canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII in the spirit of Pope Francis last night at DAR Constitution Hall.

Sir Gilbert Levine conducted the Peace Through Music “In Our Age” concert that featured the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Kraków Philharmonic Choir and Washington Choral Society.

Levine, dubbed “The Pope’s Maestro,” for creating and conducting concerts for Pope John Paul II for 17 years, said the unity of all peoples was at the core of the two saints.

“Music was the language that brought [John Paul II and me] together, and music is the language that he used to express these grand wonderful ideas about our togetherness,” Gilbert said yesterday before the concert.

The evening’s musical selections included Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” “Ancient Polish Marian Hymn,” Verdi’s “Messa Da Requiem” and more.

A Joint Effort

Sir Gilbert Levine conducting an orchestra. Sir Gilbert Levine, dubbed “The Pope’s Maestro,” for creating and conducting concerts for Pope John Paul II for 17 years, leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Kraków Philharmonic Choir and Washington Choral Society during the Peace Through Music: "In Our Age" concert on May 5.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and the Archdiocese of Washington; Georgetown; the ambassadors of Poland, Italy and Argentina; and PBS presented the American celebration of the Peace Through Music event, which will be broadcast nationally on PBS later this year, as well as in Europe and Latin America.

Ambassadors Ryszard Schepf of Poland, Claudio Bisogniero of Italy and Cecilia Nahón of Argentina and WETA President Sharon Rockefeller also attended the concert. The ambassadors represent the native countries of Pope John Paul II (Poland), Pope John XXIII (Italy) and Pope Francis (Argentina).

Paul Tagliabue, former commissioner of the National Football League and chair of Georgetown’s board of directors, led the fundraising effort for the Peace Through Music concert.

Reflection and Celebration

More than a half million people – including Wuerl and Levine – gathered in St. Peters Square on April 27 to watch Pope Francis formally proclaim sainthood upon the two popes in Vatican City.

“Those huge crowds were really reflective of two very important things – the sanctity of both of those popes and their impact,” Wuerl said last night before the concert.

He described Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II as two holy men who used their platforms as popes to make the world a better place.

“Tonight we’re here to reflect on and celebrate in concert in music their impact. The focus of those two saints, the Second Vatican Council, the calling of the Council and the implementing of it,” he added.    

Interreligious Understanding

Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council, which adopted Nostra Aetate, the landmark Vatican declaration on interreligious dialogue and the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Pope John Paul II, known to be the first pope to visit a synagogue, furthered the spirit of Nostra Aetate throughout his 26-year pontificate.

“We believe one of the most significant if not defining questions of our time is fostering interreligious understanding,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “There is no challenge we face in the world today that in some way is not either informed by or can’t be supported in some way by a deeper understanding of the role that religion plays in that context.”

A Dream Come True

Levine has conducted many of the world’s finest orchestras in concert halls from the Kennedy Center to the Vatican, as well as on tour both in Europe and in North America and in celebrated recordings. He is considered “an outstanding personality in the world of international classical music television.”

Levine, who has relatives who died in the Holocaust, says he deeply admired John Paul II because he “wanted to bring peace and understanding to all peoples of the world, to people of all religions.”

In 1994, for his services to Pope John Paul II and to the Vatican, the conductor was invested as a Knight-Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, the highest papal knighthood accorded to a non-ecclesiastical musician since Mozart.

“The concert is for me a dream ... that comes out of the concerts I started conducting for John Paul II in 1988,” Levine said before the May 5 concert. “This is our chance, for America, and for the world, to show the tremendous love that not only Catholics but Jews like myself and people of all faiths have for both John Paul and John XXIII – two popes who reached out as major parts of their pontificate to people throughout the world no matter what their creed.”