The exhibit will include the coat of arms of John Paul — made up of 21 different types of wood — and a portrait of him in later years waving his right hand.
The show, called “I Have Come to You Again,” opens March 15 in Lubbock in west Texas before going on to St. Louis and Washington, D.C., later in 2013. Dates for the stops after Lubbock are not yet set.
The pope’s influence on the world is “undeniable,” even years after his death in 2005, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, a longtime Lubbock-area priest and executive director of the Lubbock-based nonprofit putting on the exhibit.
“This is indeed a first,” he said. “Never has the Roman Catholic Church, in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, offered this many objects and artifacts of a former pontiff.”
Exhibit items will come from the Vatican, Poland and 28 other museums and private collections. Artifacts include the skis and Mass kit that John Paul used on mountain backpacking trips, gifts and art objects presented to him by heads of state and artwork he collected.
There also will be pictures and mementos from his childhood and pontificate, and historic documents from his papacy. Neyland said the blood-stained shirt John Paul wore when he was shot in 1981 in St. Peter’s Square and part of the Berlin Wall also will be displayed.
Four phases will be covered: his childhood and adolescence in Poland from 1920 to 1938 when he was Karol Wojtyla; his years as a laborer, priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal in his native land from 1939 to 1978; his time as the first Polish Pope of the Roman Catholic Church; and his death through his beatification last year.
The beatification of John Paul by his successor, Benedict XVI, is the last major step before sainthood.
Neyland, who’s also president of the nonprofit National Exhibits Association, said nine cardinals have been invited to come to Lubbock for the exhibit.
This is the second exhibit with Vatican ties that has come to Lubbock, a city of more than 220,000 about 350 miles west of Dallas. In 2002, 31 frescoes from the Vatican Museums that had never been displayed brought more than 122,000 people to Lubbock. The frescoes went back to Rome and won’t be viewed by the public again until 2025.
Neyland, who said he once lunched with John Paul — they had chicken soup and crackers — at the Vatican about 20 years ago, understands why the pope was so popular, even to those outside the church.
“I think the thing that touched me the most was that charismatic smile that he had,” Neyland said earlier this week. “His total attention and concentration on who he was talking to, even as he was facing hundreds of thousands.”
The Polish-born pope displayed a common touch and keen understanding of the power of symbolism, which inspired even those who sharply disagreed with him on issues of faith. Many people seemed to warm to him and regarded him as genuinely holy even if they did not share his religious beliefs.
John Paul, who died at the age of 84, was the Vatican’s most-traveled pontiff, visiting 129 countries during his nearly 27-year papacy. He captured the world’s affection like no other pope.
The media savvy pontiff also entered the homes of hundreds of millions of faithful on television and many developed a deep affection for the kindhearted old man with the uncanny charisma.
He sought out the young, the poor, the oppressed — and they responded. At his funeral, crowds pleaded with the church to declare him a saint.