The Center's exhibits and the Intercultural Forum
for scholars explore how faith and culture interact.
March 22, 2001, Washington, D.C.’s Pope John Paul II Cultural
Center opened to the public. Back in 1989, Bishop Adam J.
Maida, then bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, thought of establishing
a center—something like a U.S. presidential library—to honor
Pope John Paul II. The pope countered by suggesting a place
to explore not his life and ministry but rather the interaction
of faith and culture, one of his primary concerns as student,
professor, bishop and pope.
who became archbishop of Detroit in 1990 and a cardinal
four years later, worked quietly on this project for several
years, always expecting the Center to be built in Krakow,
Warsaw, Rome or wherever the pope chose. After shifting
the Center’s focus, Pope John Paul II selected Washington,
D.C., which he described as “the crossroads of the world.”
Maida presented preliminary sketches to the pope in 1997.
four-level, handicapped-accessible, 100,000-square-foot
Center on a 12-acre site with plenty of parking includes
permanent and rotating exhibits, two areas designed for
children, an Intercultural Forum for scholars and the Forum’s
own library. The Center features a small chapel, three auditoriums,
a cafe and two gift shops emphasizing faith and culture
more than the person of John Paul II.
Polish Heritage Room is the Center’s only area devoted exclusively
to Pope John Paul II.
a quarter-mile north of the Basilica of the National Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception and a 15-minute drive from
the U.S. Capitol, the Center is prepared to welcome visitors
of all ages and faiths.
I visited the Center shortly after its formal dedication
on November 12, 2000, most exhibits were still being assembled.
They were field-tested by groups in February.
the plaza outside the main entrance will be a 10-foot bronze
statue of the pope, a gift from Poland’s bishops. The statue
should be installed by June 9 when an estimated 6,000 Poles
and many more Polish-Americans will participate in Polonia
Day. Archbishops Jozef Zycinski and Szczepan Wesoly came
from Poland for last November’s formal dedication. The next
day almost 250 U.S. bishops at the annual meeting of the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops visited the Center
for a tour and dinner.
the building’s main level, most visitors will walk down
ramps. The railings feature the Hands of Peace exhibit,
a bronze cast of the pope’s right hand and his quote (“God
of peace, gift of peace for all of humanity, come to live
in the heart of every individual and family. Be our peace
and our joy!”). The other 100 bronze hand casts and short
quotes about faith come from Catholics around the world.
Themes Key to John Paul's Papacy
orientation theaters on the lower level present a short
film, giving visitors an overview of the Center. Using a
bar-coded card, visitors can select one of these seven themes:
The Glory of God Is the Human Being Fully Alive
The Dignity of the Human Being
The Church as Defender of Human Rights
Persons in Community
Unity of Christians, the Unity of the World
A New Evangelization
The Third Millennium
the Center offers so many options and those who visit together
may not see everything that their companions created, visitors
can use their card to record their own video, audio or artistic
contributions at interactive exhibits. Later at one of the
cafe’s 16 interactive stations, visitors can share those
contributions with other family or group members. The Faith
in Action series helps visitors to become aware of and connect
with national Catholic and other organizations sponsoring
All Angles of Life
galleries make up the lower level’s permanent exhibits.
The Church and Papal History Gallery describes the
impact of various popes on world events, provides selections
of papal speeches on the seven key themes and presents a
Church history timeline. An interactive station offers answers
to many questions about Catholicism, its history, leaders
Gallery of Faith promotes respect for the world’s
many religions and cultures. At its “Testimonials of Faith”
station, visitors can create a video, audio, print or artistic
reflection on what faith means to them. These can be offered
for sharing with the Center’s future visitors.
Gallery of Wonder explores the interaction of faith
and the physical world around us, probing the relationship
of religion and technology. Visitors can record their hopes
for the universe.
Gallery of Community demonstrates how the Church
sees itself as a community of faith. The “Church of Many
Cultures” interactive station provides a glimpse of that
global community and how its members try to follow Jesus’
example of service. Another station allows visitors to hear
others’ testimonies about service and record their own message.
Gallery of Imagination encourages creative activities
which can bring people closer to God. It provides an opportunity
for group work through playing music or creating an electronic
stained-glass window. The gallery features a display of
on the lower level is a Children’s Gallery, which
has a section where parents can lead children under the
age of four through age-appropriate exhibits. In the child-care
section, staff members help children aged four to eight
utilize that area’s videos and interactive exhibits.
and Upper-Floor Treasures
the ground floor, the Gallery of Mary allows visitors
to see Mary through the eyes of several cultures and to
appreciate Mary’s impact on each culture. The Polish
Heritage Room will have permanent and rotating exhibits,
including photos, publications, medals issued during John
Paul II’s pontificate and, at least last November, a pair
of skis used by the pope! A few of these items were donated
directly by the pope but most were given by Msgr. Michael
R. Dylag (Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan), who began collecting
this material immediately after John Paul was elected pope.
second floor is dedicated to rotating exhibits from the
Vatican Museums and other collections. Exhibits will be
displayed from six to 12 months. “Mother of God: Art Celebrates
Mary,” the first exhibit from the Vatican Museums, runs
until June 2002.
third floor houses the Intercultural Forum, a center where
12 visiting international theologians, philosophers, historians
and other scholars will work from six months to two years
on issues relating to the papacy, as well as faith and world
culture. Several groups have endowed the 12 chairs of “faith
and culture,” providing stipends for visiting scholars.
Directed by Father Augustine Di Noia, O.P., the Forum fosters
relationships with universities and religious institutions.
It also sponsors lectures, conferences and publications.
Last November its first conference, on the philosophy of
John Paul II, attracted 200 participants. The Forum will
have the capacity to do Webcasts and video conferences.
have arranged the Center in such a way that the visitor
will truly experience an ongoing dialogue between faith
and culture by being engaged in questions relating to science,
literature, art and history,” Cardinal Maida told Mark Pattison
of Catholic News Service.
Center’s Web site (www.jp2cc.org)
will allow visitors to come back and follow up on their
experience. The site already offers sections on the pope,
the Center’s history, press releases, ways to contact the
Center, ways to support it and staff contacts. Under construction
at press time were sections on exhibits, a virtual tour
November’s official dedication allowed several hundred U.S.
benefactors to glimpse the Center’s breadth of possibilities.
In articles for The Michigan Catholic, Robert Delaney
presented early reactions to the Center, mostly from Detroit-area
think it’s going to be a beacon to the world” (Judith
seven museums in one,” said John Schwenkler, a volunteer,
to Mark Pattison of Catholic News Service after the formal
dedication. “A must-see place for American Catholics,” wrote
Bishop Kenneth Povish, retired bishop of Lansing, Michigan,
in his column “The Way, Truth and Life.” While touring the
Center with a group of journalists last November, I was
fascinated by the few exhibits then completed. At the interactive
station about what faith means to you, I recorded a short
video, emphasizing that it grows as people meet life’s various
challenges. It’s the same God, but faith is not one-size-fits-all!
By the end of my visit, I had the same reaction as going
to the Visitors’ Center on Ellis Island: I could spend hours
here and still find something new and exciting to see.
Designing and Staffing the Center
Center is run by the Pope John Paul II Cultural Foundation,
a nonprofit corporation of which Cardinal Maida is president.
That foundation privately raised over $60 million of its
$65 million goal. More than 53,000 individuals, fraternal
organizations, dioceses, parishes and other groups contributed.
A. Daly’s architectural firm designed the Center. Adriana
Radulescu served as project architect, working closely with
Lori Arrasmith of the same firm. The Center’s design has
already won an award from the American Institute of Architects.
Daly’s firm also designed Our Lady of Angels Cathedral (being
constructed in Los Angeles), the new National Conference
of Catholic Bishops’ headquarters, the new terminal at the
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Italian
embassy in Washington, D.C.
Schlossberg, C.E.O. of Edwin Schlossberg, Inc., worked for
years on this project with his world-renowned team of interactive
exhibit designers. “We wanted to create an exciting and
compelling experience that engaged both Catholics and non-Catholics
in the process of exploring and understanding their faith,
and how their faith affected their role in their community,”
he said. “We wanted this experience to enable both young
and old to examine their thoughts by interacting with the
exhibit experience and with each other.”
Rev. G. Michael Bugarin, a diocesan priest from Detroit,
directs the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. He worked
for a short time with Msgr. Walter Hurley of Detroit, who
helped supervise the development and construction of the
Center. “The interactive component, for me, is exciting,
because I’m interested in technology and see the potential
for using the technology for evangelization,” says Father
Bugarin. “If we didn’t have a component that encouraged
people to go out into the world [to put their faith into
action], I would question whether we had failed in our mission.”
Fletcher serves as the Center’s deputy director and chief
operating officer. Rebecca Phillips Abbott is director of
exhibitions and programs, and Wayne Wiggins supervises the
physical plant. They will be assisted by approximately 50
staff members, including part-time volunteer docents.
Questions and Suggestions
his homily at the dedication Mass on November 12 at the
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,
Cardinal Maida said, “The first work of missionaries consists
in recognizing the potential presence of the gospel in the
given culture and then helping those seeds to develop, mature
and grow even as they also critique that same culture.”
John Paul II Cultural Center aims to help generations of
Catholics, other Christians, members of world religions
and people of no religion to consider how faith in God can
interact with every culture even as it challenges all of
them. Many non-Christians will find their faith renewed
by a visit to the Center.
should come away challenged in a positive way. Adults, teens
and children will leave Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
with vivid memories, probing questions to clarify their
faith and practical suggestions about putting that faith
Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., is associate editor of St.
Anthony Messenger. From 1986 to 1992 he served in Rome
as director of communications at the general headquarters
of the Order of Friars Minor.