A new exhibit at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine, “Habemus Papam: The Journey from Conclave to Pope,” includes items used by Cardinal Wuerl at the recent conclave that elected Pope Francis. CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
A new exhibit at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine, “Habemus Papam: The Journey from Conclave to Pope,” includes items used by Cardinal Wuerl at the recent conclave that elected Pope Francis. CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
A new exhibit at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington offers viewers a dramatic journey through the recent conclave that elected Pope Francis. The exhibit, Habemus Papam: The Journey from Conclave to Pope, provides dramatic photos and personal artifacts related to the conclave and into the election of Pope Francis as the 266th pope.

"Our goal is to provide visitors with a unique experience of physically walking through the election of the new pope," said Patrick Kelly, executive director of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine. "The visitor will witness highlights of the great pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, walk through the doors of the Sistine Chapel into conclave, and proceed into the new pontificate of Pope Francis."

Viewers first walk through a hallway with displays highlighting the key themes of the life and papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Then they enter a room, almost as if they are entering the conclave, with large photos of the cardinals processing into the Sistine Chapel, with its dramatic painting of Michelangelo's Last Judgment.

Facing walls display biblical quotes related to Jesus' call to Peter and his response, and then nearby large photos show the drama of the conclave unfolding, with several items on display that were used by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the recent conclave, where he and the other cardinals gathered to elect the successor to Peter. The artifacts from Cardinal Wuerl include extra ballots that were to be used had the conclave continued, the pen he used to vote, and the conclave schedule.

A timeline shows how the present rules for conclaves developed in the history of the Church. Then photos and videos display the dramatic emergence of the new Pope Francis on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

A panoramic transparency on a window shows the huge crowd gathering in St. Peter's Square for the inaugural Mass of the new pope. Then poignant photos trace milestones in the life of Pope Francis and show his pastoral approach to the papacy. The exhibit concludes with a list of all the popes from Peter to Francis, with artifacts and photos illustrating the unique brotherhood of the papacy, including a recent photo of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI kneeling and praying together.

"We're trying to bring the conclave to American Catholics," said Kelly, who added that he hopes the exhibit helps Catholics at home experience those dramatic events in Rome.

Father Gregory Gresko, the chaplain at the Blessed John Paul II Shrine, said that since it has been designated as a shrine of the Archdiocese of Washington, he hopes that individuals and groups from local parishes and schools will visit the exhibit and bring their friends. "We want to provide a personal experience of faith for Catholics who come," he said.

Kevin Smith, the program specialist at the shrine, noted, "It's an amazing, one of a kind exhibit. There's nothing like it in the United States, maybe in the world."

Also included in the exhibit are zucchetti (skullcaps) worn by five past popes: Benedict XVI, Blessed John Paul II, Paul VI, Pius XII and Pius XI.

The exhibit continues through late July, 2013. The Blessed John Paul II Shrine is located at 3900 Harewood Road, N.E., in Washington, D.C. It is accessible via the Brookland/CUA Metro stop and is near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Catholic University of America. The Blessed John Paul II Shrine is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit jp2shrine.org.