An introduction to the archbishop of Krakow led to an invitation to the Vatican to meet the pope. Warned by American officials that meeting the pope would probably mean nothing more than a 10-second photo opportunity, Levine was surprised to be ushered into the Holy Father’s office for a private, face-to-face conversation.
In that first encounter, Levine found himself telling the pope that he would be the force that would heal the breach between Jews and Christians. Moved by this encounter, the pope asked Levine to conduct a concert celebrating the first 10 years of his papacy. The concert was televised and was a great triumph for Levine.
In the next 15 years, Pope John Paul and Levine would create several groundbreaking and celebrated concerts. Perhaps none was as moving as the concert that brought Holocaust survivors, including Levine’s mother-in-law, to the Vatican. Initially, Levine met with resistance from survivor groups who still felt the church had not done enough to save Jews during World War II and were suspicious of this invitation. The concert almost fell apart several times, but eventually, over 200 survivors would meet Pope John Paul and listen to music by Jewish composers in an auditorium at the Vatican.
“The Pope’s Maestro” is a quick and entertaining read and it reminds us that in life there are a few friendships where neither party quarrels with the other and the relationship brings nothing but joy and support to both parties. If “The Pope’s Maestro” were a work of fiction we would never believe such an unchallenged relationship exists, but, in reality and by God’s grace, such anomalies do occur, as Sir Gilbert Levine amply proves.
Yearley is a graduate of the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.