Crowds expected to flock to 2013 PJPII exhibit

A major exhibit of the personal effects of Blessed Pope John Paul II, entitled “I Have Come to You Again,” will open its three-city U.S. tour in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in February 2013, and the exhibit organizer who has handled four previous Vatican exhibits in the U.S. said he is bracing for record crowds.

Joining Archbishop Gregory Aymond April 13 to make the formal announcement of the exhibit, Father Malcolm Neyland, a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas, who also serves as director of the nonprofit National Exhibits Association, said he expected a huge turnout because the former pope is such a beloved figure to both Catholics and non-Catholics.

“All I can do is look back at the last four Vatican exhibits, which were frescoes and other types of art and mosaics,” Father Neyland said. “Those always brought in 200,000 to 300,000 people. This venue will bring in a lot more because we’re dealing with a people’s pope, with a person who is very, very loved to this very moment. I would predict at least over 200,000 or 300,000 easily.”

The New Orleans exhibit will open Feb. 4, 2013, and run through early May. It will be housed at Schulte Hall on the campus of Notre Dame Seminary. The exhibit will move on to the Archdiocese of Seattle from June through August and then to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., from September through November.

Father Neyland said more than 100 artifacts from the late pope,  including a first-class relic – a vial of his blood that was drawn just before his death in 2005 – will be on display. The items will be drawn from Pope John Paul II Center in Krakow, Poland, and from the Vatican Collections in Rome. They will include items such as his baby crib, the skis he used in cross country skiing expeditions, the cassock in which he was ordained, vestments, the Mass kit he used when camping and his desk from Krakow.

The exhibit will be broken down into four time periods: Pope John Paul’s childhood and adolescence (1920-38); his years as a laborer, priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal in Poland (1939-78); his tenure as the first Polish pope (1978-2005); and the years following his death through his beatification on May 1, 2011.

Archbishop Aymond was rector of Notre Dame Seminary in 1987 when Blessed John Paul visited New Orleans and spoke to hundreds of thousands at the Superdome and at an outdoor Mass at the University of New Orleans.

“It was one of the greatest events in the recent history of the city of New Orleans,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He’s coming back, but in a different way. This will be an opportunity for people to have contact with a saintly man, a man who gave his life for the church. There was an attempt on his life. He was a man who led the church as a great prophet, as a great priest and as our universal shepherd.”

There will be a nominal charge for admission – $8 for adults – and school children will be able to attend for free. Tickets were expected to be available beginning  April 18 through the National Exhibits Association website (

Father Neyland, who serves as judicial vicar of the Lubbock Diocese, had an interest in history but was not much of an art buff when he visited the Vatican Museums in 1988. As the museum was about to close one afternoon, he peered down the hallway and saw a man, on his knees, with a hand broom and dustpan, collecting pieces of a statue from the Roman Republic period that had been damaged.

“I thought he was doing it as a penance,” Father Neyland said. “I thought he had knocked over one of the Roman statues. I said, ‘Do you need any help?’ and he just looked up kind of funny at me and said, ‘Yeah.’ And he gave me a little brush and a pan.”

After they finished cleaning up, the man asked Father Neyland if he would like to have dinner with him and his family. The man turned out to be professor Francesco Buranelli, who would go on to be the secretary of the Pontifical Commission of the Cultural Patrimony of the Church.

From that personal encounter, Father Neyland formed his nonprofit exhibits company and worked with Buranelli to host a Vatican frescoes exhibit in Lubbock in 2002, an Etruscan jewelry exhibit in Oklahoma in 2004 and a Vatican art exhibit in Jackson, Miss., in 2008.

For the initial frescoes exhibit, he traveled to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II, and told the pope his idea was to bring Vatican art to people “who would never have the slightest idea or opportunity to see any art at all.”

“Where is Lubbock?” the pope asked him.

“It’s the center of the geographic United States,” Father Neyland replied.

The pope looked puzzled and said, “How did you figure that?”

“Well,” Father Neyland said, “if I take a compass and put one point on Lubbock and draw as big a circle as I want, Lubbock is always the center.”

Father Neyland said the pope looked at him with a smile and said, “You have the venue.”

Additional lighting and temporary walls will be added to Schulte Hall to accommodate the exhibit, but Archbishop Aymond said he did not think it would be a major expense. The archdiocese is seeking sponsors for the exhibit to help the National Exhibits Association with its costs.

Archbishop Aymond said he was working with the New Orleans Police Department to develop plans for traffic and parking in the area around the seminary.

“We looked at other locations, but we were very concerned about affecting the neighborhood,” Archbishop Aymond said. “One (location) was in the French Quarter at the Ursuline Convent, but there was a concern about buses getting to it. I really don’t think there will be a problem. We’re going to have all that managed through the police department.”

Father Neyland said about 200 volunteers would be needed throughout the course of the three-month exhibit.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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