Bahai News - Papal center more ecumenical, less personal
Thursday | March 29, 2001
Papal center more ecumenical, less personal
By Mara H. Gottfried / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON It is a hand frozen in time, cast in bronze.
Deeply creased and relatively small, the life-size mold of Pope John
Paul II's hand is the first image that visitors encounter in the "Hands
of Peace" exhibit.
But those visiting the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, which opens
Thursday, won't find much else of the pope's imprint throughout the
"He didn't want a monument to himself," said Cardinal Adam Maida,
archbishop of Detroit and the man who developed the idea for the center
in the late 1980s. "He wanted it to be an instrument of evangelism."
Organizers hope America's 62 million Catholics will visit the museum,
built in honor of the 20th century's longest-serving pope. But they say
they also hope it will attract non-Catholics, particularly because it is
named for one of the most well-known and admired leaders in the
The center includes an interactive museum, an art gallery with rotating
exhibits from Vatican museums and a theological think tank. President
George W. Bush is scheduled to speak at the opening Thursday.
The museum, on 12 acres of wooded land, is away from the hustle and
bustle of downtown and close to Catholic University of America. Its long
driveway is designed to make visitors feel like they are taking a
"retreat for the day," said design architect Lori Arrasmith with the Leo
A. Daly firm, which has offices in Dallas.
The wing-shaped roof appears to float above the $65 million center as it
balances on slender columns. Visitors are greeted by a 75-foot,
gold-leaf and gilded steel cross above the sleek limestone and granite
building. A reflecting pool runs the width of the building, which was
financed with private donations.
"We wanted this building to be uplifting, celebratory and light-filled,"
Ms. Arrasmith said. "We wanted it to be more about the next millennium,
rather than the last."
The buzzword in the five museum galleries is "hands on" as tourists
learn about Catholicism and faith around the world. Computer screens
beckon visitors, images flash along the walls and music and voices fill
the air. Visitors use an electronically encoded card to select one of
seven themes, from evangelism to the third millennium, to customize the
information they receive in each gallery. Visitors are encouraged to add
their own thoughts to the exhibits by creating artwork or stopping by
"testimonial" stations to videotape themselves describing their own
Dr. Edwin Schlossberg, husband of Caroline Kennedy, designed the
exhibits and likens them to a "modern-day cathedral."
"In order to learn about Catholicism, there needs to be a sense of
conversation," said Dr. Schlossberg, president of Edwin Schlossberg
Inc., a New York design firm. "We wanted the experience in the center to
be one in which the visitors created the content of it."
The Gallery of Imagination, which lets visitors explore faith through
art and interactive features, may prove to be the most popular. People
can visit an art station, a computerized stained-glass workshop for
designing windows and a bell-ringing exhibit where they interact with
others to play a hymn.
Families will be welcomed. An area for ages 4 to 8 has a tent with
videos, crafts and bells, and there is an infant and toddler play area.
In the Gallery of Faith, visitors can use computer databases to learn
about the lives of the saints or research world religions. Panels on a
wall explain other religions, from Baha'i to Islam.
Given the pope's much-publicized comments about other faiths in the last
year, the center's commitment to offering information about other
religions may surprise some.
"[The center is] a great step forward, but it's just a step in the
process," said Dr. John Norris, chairman of the University of Dallas'
theology department. "Dialogue is really a very difficult process and it
requires a sensitivity to listen to what others are saying before trying
to get them to understand what you think. That's something that really
needs to be worked on in Catholic and Christian relations with other faiths."
©Copyright 2001, The Dallas Morning News
Page last updated/revised 032901
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