April 6, 2005
More tributes to pontiff
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — As President Bush and a congressional delegation prepare to attend the pope’s funeral in Rome on Friday, Americans from across the nation are flocking to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center to pay tribute to the long-serving, charismatic pontiff.
Dozens of admirers of Pope John Paul II waited in line Tuesday at the center here in the nation’s capital to share their thoughts in a condolence book, which eventually will be sent to the Vatican.
Others wandered through the airy, 100,000-square-foot center, which currently boasts Michelangelo’s 18-foot wooden model of the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as part of a traveling exhibit. The center is near Catholic University of America.
Scott Kirby of Arlington, Va., wrote “be not afraid” as a condolence, recalling some of the first words the pope spoke after his selection in 1978.
Pope John Paul II “had the ability to embrace the world while being removed from the world,” said Kirby, a sports-event organizer.
Mary Flynn of La Plata, Md., who once saw the pope celebrate Mass in Monterey, Calif., brought her children Aidan and Moira to honor him.
“He’s made a huge difference just in bringing cultures together and bringing people together, trying to bring all cultures and all religions together,” she said.
Bush will become the first president to attend a pope’s funeral. Among lawmakers traveling as part of a congressional delegation are Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Ray LaHood, R-Ill.
The pope’s success in building bridges between different faiths was the theme of a panel discussion involving priests, a scholar, a rabbi and Muslim leader at the center Tuesday.
“The Holy Father has arguably done more for inter-religious relationships than any other person in history,” said Rabbi Abie Ingber, executive director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center at the University of Cincinnati. “By doing so, he has helped to set the world on a new path of mutual understanding.”
Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, said the pope’s “message of international peace and interfaith reconciliation is one that will reverberate for decades to come as his legacy and gift to all people.”
“He reached out to all religions and also to non-religious people,” added Kenneth Schmitz, a visiting scholar at the center.
Instead of being a memorial to John Paul II, the four-year old center was conceived as a means of addressing the challenges of faith and inspiring people in their faith. It is a research center as well as museum. The pope chose Washington, D.C., which he called the crossroads of the Third Millennium, as the site.
Ingber, the Cincinnati rabbi, said the center is enthusiastically supporting a traveling exhibit he has prepared that dramatizes the pope’s childhood and early friendships with Jews growing up in Poland.
The exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” opens in Cincinnati on May 18 and travels to the center in September.
In addition to permanent and temporary displays, the center has interactive galleries exploring faith, science and other themes, a chapel and a play area for young children.
Since the pope’s death, the number of visitors has doubled or tripled, said Anthony J. Clark, the center’s director of information technology. An estimated 1,000 people signed the condolence book in just the first two days.
The guest book shows visitors from more than a dozen states, including Ohio and California, and several foreign countries.
A new exhibit features photos of the pontiff during his travels around the globe, gifts he received from foreign leaders and other memorabilia.
Items in the permanent collection include the pope’s fiberglass skis, a silver pastoral staff, and an olive wood sculpture of the Last Supper, a gift from the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.