Point Man for the John Paul Center
Landmark-in-the-making was an unexpected mission
BY Msgr. Walter A. Hurley
June 13-19, 1999 Issue | Posted 6/13/99 at 1:00 PM
Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit appointed the monsignor who is pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Farmington, Mich., to be his “delegate” for the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center project. In that capacity, he serves as a general project manager, handling many of the day-to-day matters of planning and building the center on behalf of the cardinal. On a recent visit to Rome, he spoke about the cultural center with Register correspondent Raymond de Souza.
De Souza: Was this appointment a surprise for you? It seems to be something altogether different from what you were doing before, namely, running a big parish in Detroit.
Msgr. Hurley: It's different, but throughout my entire ministry as a priest I've always had other things that I have been involved in at the invitation of the archbishop. I have found that very enriching for my life within the parish and also having something to contribute to the larger picture as well.
When were you ordained?
I was ordained at the end of the Council, and those 38 years have been a time of high adventure. It's been a time of excitement and of just wonderful opportunities to be part of many things within the Church. I served as judicial vicar in the archdiocese, as moderator of the curia and have been involved in a number of other projects too. Each one, and especially the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, has really served to expand the envelope, if you will, of what priestly ministry has been about as I have lived it and experienced it.
What does it mean to you to be involved in the John Paul II Cultural Center?
With the John Paul II Cultural Center, in addition to accepting the direction of the cardinal, it was an opportunity to be part of something close to my heart, namely something for the Holy Father, for whom I have such great respect. The work has given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people that I would not have met before, to explore some ideas that I would not have had the opportunity to do and to be challenged in ways that I would never have expected to be challenged in trying to help to bring about this monumental project.
Could you tell us how the cultural center project began?
It began when Cardinal Maida was the bishop of Green Bay. The cardinal began to reflect on the possibility of having a center that might be dedicated to the life and ministry of the Holy Father. It would be modeled somewhat after the presidential libraries in our own country, where you seek to capture a period of time in history. He proposed the idea to the Holy Father and the Holy Father expressed a willingness to support it. The Holy Father's interest was not of course in a personal monument to himself, but rather it was simply an interest in exploring and presenting the beliefs and the teachings of the Church and capturing those for a moment in time. With that in mind, Cardinal Maida returned to the United States and began to explore among the bishops of the country and among some other people to determine if there would be some interest in such a project. He was assured that there would be interest!
Then he began to look for some funding for this center. Initially, because of the Holy Father's Polish background, he began to explore the interest within the Polish community. Again, he discovered tremendous interest within the Polish community. Once having done that, there were further contacts made with other dioceses that had participated in various fund-raising efforts, and then efforts were made to contact major donors throughout the country. We have probably close to 50,000 individual donors that have provided support to the center.
You noted that the project was started on the model of a presidential library which is really focused on the work of one man. Now the center is going to be more of a Catholic center presenting the faith as illuminated by John Paul's pontificate. Could you trace the decision to change from the former to what it is now?
I don't know that you would really describe it as a decision to change — it was more of an evolution. I think that as the cardinal began to reflect more carefully about the center itself, it became clear that the life and ministry of the Holy Father is not something that is just captured in a given moment of time. It's deeply rooted in those who have gone before him, and what happens during this period of time, this special moment in history, is something that will impact tremendously on the future. It needs to be looked at as a total package and so it becomes a place where Catholic life is truly celebrated and proclaimed.
Will the center be a place of pilgrimage or simply a museum experience?
First, I think there is no question that the cultural center is a Catholic institution in the fullest sense of that word and is deeply committed to being an instrument of evangelization in the coming century.
At the same time, many of those who come there will be Catholic and will find it to be a very deeply religious experience as they reflect on and explore issues of faith. Other people may come who are not Catholic, who are not so much looking for a religious experience but are looking simply to observe and to explore certain questions and interests, and so for those people, it may be more of a museum-type experience, if you will. We certainly see this as a place where Catholic school children from all over the country, who come to Washington, will come to be part of this experience and hopefully their faith will be enriched. In many ways, I think it will be our hope that Catholics going through the Pope John Paul II cultural center will come away with a deep sense of pride in the fact that they are Catholics, and they will have been uplifted by the experience.
The center will present a juxtaposition of the old with the new, the papacy with modern technology.
Well, if we reflect back, even as we sit here in Rome, and we look to the various things that surround us, the artwork, the magnificent churches, the monuments and so on, all of those basically teach us something about what we believe in and who we are as a Catholic people. So traditionally, the great cathedrals of the past have been a great catechizing instrument for the Church and they certainly continue to be that for us today. In today's world, with the technology that's available to us, it would be unfortunate if the Church did not use the tools of today to evangelize, to proclaim the message of the Church in the same way that the Church of the past has used the tools that were available at that time.
It's not a question of relying exclusively upon technology. But not to use the latest technology puts us in the position of not utilizing the best that is available to us. Some of the people we have been meeting with — some of our major supporters — tend to be a bit older, and we have sometimes said that we can all be somewhat frightened by the technology. For younger people though, it's very much a part of their life and if we wish to speak to younger people then we need to speak in a manner and in a way that they will more easily understand. So we said to some of our donors, “Your grandchildren will appreciate this probably more that you do because they will know how to use it and it will be part of their life experience.”
That certainly is reflected even in the architecture of the building. Many of the initial conceptual drawings that were presented tended to be fairly traditional in orientation. But as we thought more about it and as we looked to some of the things that the Holy Father did as archbishop of Krakow — the Church at Nowa Huta for example, was a very contemporary building — we felt that the building itself ought to reflect the forward-looking vision that seems to be so much a part of his life and ministry.
Why was it decided to include a scholarly center in addition to a place for visitors?
The very heart of the center is the “intercultural forum,” the research center, in which the scholars will come together to study the relationship between faith and culture, and the impact of the papacy in particular in shaping our culture and the various cultures of the world. The Holy Father's own personal interest is in the intercultural forum where the theology of the Church can be explored. We hope that people who are looking for spokespeople for the Church would automatically turn to the cultural center as a place that speaks in the name of the Church or that can speak on behalf of the Church and in a manner that certainly presents Church doctrine and practice. The scholars in the research center and the intercultural forum will interact with visitors as well.
You are confident then that the center will have a strong Catholic identity?
Certainly, the John Paul II Cultural Center is going to be an institution that will be faithful to the teachings of the Church and the Holy Father. We will see in the teachings of the Holy Father what the Church believes, and will celebrate and proclaim that. It's clearly a Catholic center in the fullest sense of that word. The center itself will have an overall board of bishops who will provide the direction and leadership for it, while a board of directors will oversee day-to-day operations. The nature of the center is a center dedicated to the Holy Father and the impact of the papacy; obviously papal teaching will be a very significant part of that center.
Do you foresee a role for the center to be in conversation with the vast range of opinions to be found in Washington?
The center will be in dialogue with other institutions. But because one is in dialogue doesn't meant that you don't believe in something very specific. You have convictions and you believe in those and you come to the dialogue with those convictions. Dialogue is something that takes place between people of conviction. Issues can be explored, but for us, as a Catholic people, we explore issues in the framework of our Catholic tradition.
— Raymond de Souza
More information on the John Paul II center is available on its Web site (http://www.jp2culturalcenter.com).
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