The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, a $65 million museum that combines spirituality and high-tech entertainment, formally opened Thursday. Built on a 12-acre site in northeast Washington across from Catholic University of America, the museum houses interactive exhibits, a collection of Vatican art and a center for scholars.
Founders say their goal is to share the heritage and teachings of the Church with Catholic and non-Catholic visitors alike, and they expect the facility will draw 500,000 people a year, the Post reported.
"I hope it would be an instrument of evangelization and ... of sharing our faith with others," said Cardinal Adam J. Maida, archbishop of Detroit, Michigan, and president of the private foundation that built the museum.
Although the center was erected as a tribute to John Paul, its focus -- at the Pope´s bidding -- is on the Church´s mission. Only one room in the 100,000-square-foot building honors the Pope personally -- the John Paul II Polish Heritage Room, where visitors can view memorabilia from his life, including family photos, a rosary and skis he used in 1985.
Visitors can go into small booths to record their personal "testimony of faith," using a computer, a pen or a videotape. The testimonies are kept on file by the museum and, if a person so chooses, displayed on monitors in the main hall after being screened by museum staff members.
In the multimedia exhibit galleries, hands-on computer stations allow visitors to enter a database on saints, read the Scriptures, get answers to questions about Catholicism and look at the Web sites of other religions. They can listen to papal speeches, design their own stained-glass window, ring church bells or hear, "Peace be with you" in 75 languages.
Cardinal Maida proposed the museum during a 1988 discussion in Rome with other prelates on how the Church could help preserve the papal legacy. The Pope approved the idea in 1990 and chose Washington from among a number of suggested sites because it is, in the cardinal´s words, "an international crossroads of faith and culture."
Cardinal Maida raised the $65 million entirely from private U.S. donors. The center hopes to fund much of its $8 million annual operating budget from admission fees -- $8 for adults and $6 for children, seniors and students -- and from sales at its two gift shops, said its director, Father G. Michael Bugarin. Center officials also are raising money for an operating endowment.
Father Bugarin and Cardinal Maida acknowledged criticism from some Catholics who have said the $65 million would have been better spent on the Church´s mission of serving the needy. But they defended the expense, saying it would bring long-term dividends by inspiring the museum´s visitors to increase their faith and good works.
"You can give me $65 million to spend on the poor, and I will not make a major dent in the world," Father Bugarin said. But "over time ... I´m confident that we will make a dent in the world by increasing the faith life of the people who come here."
The strikingly modern architecture -- including a roof that appears to float above the structure -- is intended to stress the role of faith in the modern age, center officials said.
Tours of the museum begin at a huge, panoramic photomural of individual Catholics from around the world to stress the Church´s global, multicultural reach. On the lower level, a 200-seat theater shows a documentary film about the Pope´s life, and four exhibit galleries are devoted to exploring the spiritual component in the themes of community, faith, wonder and imagination.
The center´s top floor will be the home of scholars, filling 12 rotating positions, who will study the application of papal teachings and their impact on world culture. Dominican Father Joseph Augustine Di Noia, a theologian, will select the scholars.
Cardinal Maida said the center is in discussions with a potential donor who is Jewish and has expressed interest in endowing a chair for the study of Jewish-Catholic dialogue, the Post said.