DC's JP2 Cultural Center a boffo hit!

We were college-shopping in DC earlier this week and decided to pop into the John Paul II Cultural Center on the way out of town.

It was really a coin flip, really. Mom wanted to go, but was fading and headachy; Dad didn’t want to go but wanted Mom to be happy on the long trip home. The boys were tired and pretty pliable (yar!). So we went.

I was expecting a crappy little shack in the backstreets of Washington. But the JP2CC is actually quite a place. It’s a modern 3-floor concrete building with a reflecting pool, lots of glass and oversized statues of JP2 out front, and a parking lot for about 100 cars. Not the Kennedy Center, mind you, but not shabby.

We only had about an hour to visit, so we didn’t see everything. What we did see was impressive enough:

1) Excellent biblical sculpture by Scott Sullivan and Phillip Ratner.

2) An exhibit called “A Blessing to One Another” which highlighted the recent pope’s relationship with the Jewish community. Especially moving was his visit to the Synagogue of Rome (see picture left), and a video of the Pope’s visit to Yad Vashad, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. There the pope met Jerzy Kluger -– his lifelong friend -- and Edit Cerar, then a young Jewish girl who, after the war, was literally carried on the future pontiff’s back to a train and safety. The exhibit also houses a replica of the Western Wall and an area showing versions of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others…”) taken from faiths around the world.

3) On the second floor, we examined models of the various worship spaces of the ancient Israelites, including a cutaway of the original tabernacle tent used by Moses in the desert, through Solomon’s temple and Herod's second temple. Great learning tools!

4) Also on the second floor is a temporary exhibit of paintings and sculpture called “Papi in Posa,“ which shows paintings of 500 years of popes. The first 2/3 of the exhibit shows one pope after another in velvet and ermine, but starting with John XXIII, there are some impressionistic pieces that are quite interesting. The portrait of John XXIII by Umberto Romano, bedabbled in corpulent, blazing reds and oranges is quite a contrast to the sparrowlike likeness of his successor Paul VI, rendered in cool, muted blues, greens and violets. The exhibit ends with several chalk studies of John Paul II in repose at St. Peter’s last April.

The rest of the center has interactive exhibits and a gift shop, but we didn’t see much of these. All told, though, it was a pleasantly surprising stop. I even deigned to have my picture taken hand in hand with the pope’s statue. Not bad for a guy who doesn't always see eye to eye with the papacy!