Blessed John Paul II exhibit to debut here

He came like a Catholic rock star in 1987, spending three days in the grueling September heat of New Orleans, where he engaged thousands in the air-conditioned comfort of the Superdome and inspired thousands more drenched by a thunderstorm camping out for his arrival at an outdoor Mass at the University of New Orleans.

And now, in a sense, he is coming back.

“I Have Come to You Again” – a public exhibit of the personal artifacts of Blessed Pope John Paul II – will open in New Orleans in February 2013, the first of three planned stops for the exhibit in the United States. After the planned February through May stop in New Orleans, the exhibit will move on to Seattle and Washington, D.C.

“This is a real privilege,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who worked on the logistics of the exhibit in January when he made an ad limina visit to Rome, hoping that New Orleans might be the first stop. “It is an opportunity for us to remember that Blessed John Paul II was here, and, as he becomes a saint, his memory is very much a part of our history.”


Items from Krakow, Vatican

The exhibit, coordinated by the National Exhibits Association in Lubbock, Texas, will be housed at Schulte Hall at Notre Dame Seminary and will feature personal artifacts of Blessed Pope John Paul, including rarely seen items from his childhood now in the Archdiocese of Krakow in Poland.

The artifacts from the Vatican collections and the Pope John Paul II Center in Krakow will be divided into four sections: the childhood and adolescence of Karol Wojtyla (1920-38); his years as a laborer, priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal in Poland (1939-78); his tenure as the Catholic Church’s first Polish pope (1978-2005); and a reflection on the years since his death in 2005 through his May 1, 2011, beatification.


Longtime friend may come 

Archbishop Aymond, who made the formal announcement of the exhibit on April 13, said he also hoped that the pope’s long-time personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who accompanied Blessed Pope John Paul on his 1987 visit to New Orleans, would be able to return to New Orleans to either open or close the exhibit.

Archbishop Aymond said Father Malcolm Neyland, executive director of the National Exhibits Association, initiated the discussions for the exhibit.

“He has brought Vatican exhibits to the United States before, and he, along with some of the people in charge of the Vatican museums, wondered if it would not be good to take Blessed John Paul’s personal belongings to the United States, since he had visited here several times,” Archbishop Aymond said. “They wanted to do it in three parts of the country. Because New Orleans is so rich in its history and is the second-oldest diocese in the country, they wanted the first exhibit to be here.”


Schulte Hall will be the site

In January, Archbishop Aymond and Auxiliary Bishop Shelton Fabre met with professor Francesco Buranelli, secretary of the Pontifical Commission of the Cultural Patrimony of the Church, to discuss logistics. Schulte Hall, a building located to the left of Notre Dame Seminary, was chosen because of its size, location and parking.

Archbishop Aymond said items in the exhibit will include the former pope’s school possessions, personal letters and diaries and a pair of skis that he famously used. The chalice the pope gave to the Archdiocese of New Orleans during his visit also will be on display.

“I have the privilege to live in the house where he stayed and I have the privilege to stand at the altar of St. Louis Cathedral, where he prayed with us,” Archbishop Aymond said. “This is an opportunity to make certain that his spirit of holiness and his spirit of evangelization live among us. It’s providential that this will be during the year of faith and evangelization the Holy Father (Pope Benedict) has called for.”

The National Exhibits Association will accept sponsorships and donations to defray the expenses of the exhibit. It can be reached at or (806) 787-7710. There will be a fee to view the exhibit.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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