Bahai News - Pope: 'Our Little Vatican In the United States'
Saturday, March 31, 2001
Pope: 'Our Little Vatican In the United States'
Modern architecture and technology tell story of faith at Pope John Paul
II Cultural Center
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Dappled light pours in
from nearly every angle of the new Pope John Paul II Cultural Center,
drawing all eyes heavenward.
And that's pretty much the point.
The center, a $65 million architectural marvel that combines
traditional Catholic symbolism with modern, geometrical forms, is meant
to honor God and faith.
Last week, religious and political dignitaries -- including
President George W. Bush -- were on hand to celebrate the opening of
the newly completed center in a 12-acre wooded area in northwest
Washington, near Catholic University of America and the National Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception.
The privately funded center was the brainchild of Cardinal
Adam Joseph Maida, archibishop of Detroit. Rome and Krakow, in the
pontiff's home nation of Poland, were considered as sites. But John Paul
selected Washington, D.C., because he sees the city as "the crossroads
of technology and the people," said the Rev. G. Michael Bugarin, the
"We will come to view this as our little Vatican in the
United States," John Paul has said. "The church has never done anything
like this, and we see it as a reflection of our faith."
John Paul II, who has led the world's estimated 1 billion
Roman Catholics since 1978, wanted "something to carry the church's
mission forward," said Bugarin. "He wanted to use modern architecture
and technology to tell the story of faith."
It is part art museum featuring treasures never-before-seen
outside the Vatican, part interactive exhibit, and part think-tank for
religious scholars. It also houses a small chapel for worship. Although
the pope did not want the center to be a "monument to himself," John
Paul's presence is felt in every corner of the building.
Bronze life-size castings of hands from Catholics around the
world rim the wall above a sloping ramp on the first floor. First in
line is the pope's left hand, smallish and creased with lines. Visitors
are free to caress it or match theirs to his.
The pope's continuing devotion to Mary is revealed in two
The first is the Gallery of Mary, a floor-to-ceiling,
three-dimensional structure that resembles six doorways, each one
dedicated to a specific culture's veneration of the Blessed Virgin.
Upstairs is a permanent gallery that will host a rotating
exhibit of Vatican treasures. The opening exhibit, "The Mother of God:
Art Celebrates Mary," which will run through 2002, features 38 pieces
spanning 20 centuries.
Then there's the Pope John Paul II Polish Heritage Room. This
is a "special place for reflection and study of the Holy Father as a
person and man of God," said Penelope Fletcher, deputy director of the
It houses some of John Paul's personal memorabilia -- skis,
a rosary, the fountain pen used to sign papal encyclicals, a place
setting of his china, the cape he wore as a cardinal in Poland, his
cane, a biretta and his mitre.
There are photographs of his parents' wedding, his life as a
child, student, professor and bishop, copies of a play he wrote in
college, his early philosophical ponderings and books from his home
"All these things shaped his character and formed his
spirituality," Fletcher said.
The center's top level has been set aside for the work of the
Intercultural Forum, which will bring together internationally
recognized scholars in philosophy, theology, history and related fields
to discuss the impact of the papacy on world culture.
On the lower level, visitors are invited to "engage in
creative activities as a means for bringing them closer to God,"
The Gallery of Church and Papal History traces the history of
Catholicism and the papacy. Those who click on a pope's name will hear
significant events during that papacy, including some of the church's
"darker moments," such as when accused heretics were burned at the
The Gallery of Wonder explores the relationship between the
church and science. Among other topics, it offers scientific, biblical
and mythic views of the world's creation.
The Gallery of Faith describes many of the world's religions
from Baha'i and Buddhism to Judaism, Jainism and Islam. It also provides
computer terminals where people can search databases of Catholic saints,
research questions about Catholicism and offer their own testimonials of
As visitors exit the building, overhead speakers whisper
"Peace be with you" in 75 languages from countries the pope has visited.
For ticket and other tour information, see the center's Web
site at www.jp2cc.org.
©Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune
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