WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pope Francis sent his blessings to those gathered for the dedication ceremony of the Museum of the Bible on Friday, one of the most highly anticipated museums to open in the nation’s capital in decades.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who visited Washington earlier this week, sent the pope’s blessings, which were delivered by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.
“It is his fervent hope that this significant cultural institution through its extensive collections and exhibits will promote a better understanding not only of the rich and complex history of the biblical texts, but also the enduring power of its message to inspire and shape the lives of individuals of peoples of every time and place,” wrote Parolin.
“He is confident that those who revere the sacred scriptures as the word of God will here find nourishment for their faith, while many others will be introduced to a fascinating and vital chapter in the spiritual history of the human family,” he continued.
“Pope Francis likewise entrusts that the museum’s engagement with scholars of various traditions will help to advance interreligious understanding and cooperation in communicating the Bible’s teaching of every man and woman made in God’s image and called to join in shaping a more just and reconciled world,” Parolin wrote.
After reading Parolin’s message, Wuerl offered the ceremony’s opening prayer.
“We ask that you bless all of those who visit the museum and their ears, hearts, and minds will be open to the good news that pours forth from the pages of the Holy Bible,” said Wuerl.
Also on hand for the ceremony was gospel R&B performer CeCe Winans, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Barry Black, Muriel Boswer, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, all of whom offered prayers or remarks.
Steve Green, co-founder of the Museum of the Bible, said the $500 million dollar museum had been an ongoing dream, finally fulfilled after seven years of fundraising and hard work.
Green is also the president of Hobby Lobby, whose company successfully sued the federal government in 2014 to receive an exemption from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception.
In 2011, the museum had its public debut at an event at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. for government officials, academics, religious leaders, and potential patrons.
The 430,000 square-foot museum is located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol and includes a number of pieces on loan from the Vatican museums and the Vatican library, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The stated purpose of the museum is for visitors to engage in “the history, the narrative, and the impact” of the Bible, according to executive director Tony Zeiss.
According to Zeiss, the museum’s leadership has a two-question litmus test that guides its decision-making: “Will this lift up the Bible and will this lift up people?”
The museum aims to be “the most technologically advanced museum in the world” and will offer free admission to its visitors.
In addition to the interactive exhibitions, more than 500 historical artifacts are on display at the museum. Curators estimate that it would take visitors nine 8-hour days to visit every artifact and exhibition on display.
While the museum’s leadership maintains that it does not have any official religious affiliation, it does hope to promote greater awareness of the world’s best selling and most read book to people of faith and no faith alike.