WASHINGTON, DC - March 22, 2001 - (DailyCatholic.org) - Speaking in the presence of several cardinals, including over 60 Catholic prelates and officials in the East Room of the White House Wednesday afternoon, President George W. Bush paid high tribute to Pope John Paul II as "truly one of the great men." The president pointed out that the greatest way to honor this influential Pontiff, ''is to listen to his teaching and put his teaching into action in America.''
The occasion was a prelude to the dedication today of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center on a 12-acre plot of land near both the Catholic University and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Bush is expected to also attend the dedication ceremony that will officially open the multi-million dollar facility which has been over a decade in the planning.
The project, the brain-child of Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida, is an ecclectic mix of two-thousand years of Church art and history. The modern four-story building includes a museum of the Holy Father's writings and photos depicting his 23-year pontificate as well as personal items such as a miter, travel itineraries and even his skis from when he was a young priest in Poland.
Cardinal Maida, when he was Bishop of Green Bay, approached the Pope in the late eighties with the idea of a research center that would include John Paul's writings. The Pontiff was at first skeptical, but when he thought about Maida's concept as an evangelization tool and information medium, he gave his blessings, insisting that it not be about him as the Pope but about the Universal Church. Though the 100,000 square-foot center is named after him, the guest of honor will obviously not be present, though it is expected he will be communicating with the attendees in someway technologically. Many are in hopes that he will still one day be able to visit the center in person. He has expressed his desire to see it and has been kept abreast of its progress throughout its construction.
The first thing that catches the visitor's eye is the 75-foot high gold leaf cross and the turret-like structure jutting out of the rectangular edifice whose entire width in the front is bordered by a reflecting pool. Space is obvious both vertically and horizontally.
Those looking for the warmth of tradition most likely won't find it in the sterile, modernistic museum that includes a cafe, a small chapel notable for its simplicity, ramps lined with railings that display bronze casts of hands of over 100 Catholics from around the world, montage mazes and cubic sectors of hanging art, tapestries, a stone from the tomb of St. Peter, and various Vatican museum collections that will be on exhibit on a rotation basis. To keep up with technology there are various interactive areas where one can test their faith, share testimony to their faith and experience other aspects of Catholicism. A theater offers videos of the Holy Father's major talks on a plethora of topics, especially on the Sanctity of Life.
In essence, it's an expensive evangelization tool that is part 'presidential library,' part 'Epcot center,' part research center, part 'think-tank institute,' part Gugenheim - a catch-all for everyone to experience the various cultures all funneled into one faith in exhibiting the Church and its direction in the new millennium. It's not a 'Catholic Disneyland' - more an experience in melding the old and new and the cost of admission is reasonable; especially when you consider the entire project cost nearly $65 million. However all funds were raised separately of the Church with over 50,000 benefactors contributing to the cause that is just a few hundred thousand dollars short of the $65 million goal. For those wishing to find out more, you can go to www.jp2culturalcenter.org