September 4, 2015

‘Sacred Journeys’ at Children’s Museum opens doors of faith to world religions

Chris Carron, left, director of collections at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, guides Ken Ogorek through the museum’s new “National Geographic Sacred Journeys” exhibit. Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis and an exhibit advisor, helped secure two stations of the cross for a display on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

Chris Carron, left, director of collections at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, guides Ken Ogorek through the museum’s new “National Geographic Sacred Journeys” exhibit. Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis and an exhibit advisor, helped secure two stations of the cross for a display on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

Journeys of faith can lead people across the world—or simply across a parking lot.

Ken Ogorek experienced the latter not long ago in his role as an advisor to a new exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. He received a request to locate a visually stunning set of the stations of the cross that the museum could borrow. Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis, knew this would be a challenge, as stations typically are on permanent display in churches.

He decided to take a short walk from his office at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis to the archives of the archdiocese, which he had never visited previously.

In what Ogorek calls a providential moment, archivist staffers Karen Oddi and Teresa Law immediately led him to a complete set of framed oil-painting stations dating to the early 20th century. Two of those stations are now key elements in the “National Geographic Sacred Journeys” exhibit, which opened on Aug. 29 at The Children’s Museum.

As he toured the exhibit for the first time two days before its opening, Ogorek displayed the kind of wonder and awe that he hopes will be shared by everyone who visits the museum in the coming months.

“I have goose bumps—I really do,” he said, strolling through the 7,000-square-foot exhibit that includes fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and a life-size replica of the Shroud of Turin. (Related: Shroud of Turin expert to present lectures on Sept. 19)

“I think all people of good will would agree that decisions about faith and religion should be informed decisions,” Ogorek said. “The big idea [behind the exhibit] is that when we have accurate information about religion presented in respectful ways, bridges of understanding are built.”

Years in the making, Sacred Journeys combines artifacts from the world’s major religions with spectacular images from National Geographic magazine that serve as backdrops to the displays. Visitors follow the personal journeys of five young people representing the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths. Their stories are told in video clips that guide museumgoers through the exhibit.

“In each of these guides, we see joy,” Ogorek said. “People of faith should be people of joy. And I do think the beauty and the joy of the life of faith comes through loud and clear in this exhibit.”

Luis is the fictional guide who embarks on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. He wants to better understand why this Marian shrine—one of the most visited sacred sites in the world—is so important to his grandmother and to millions of other people. The young man’s journey leads to a corresponding display of artifacts and artwork that enlightens museum visitors about this monumental place in the Catholic faith.

All of the guides have questions about faith and their family traditions. Those instrumental in planning the exhibit hope that “Sacred Journeys” will in turn provoke important questions and discussions among museum guests.

“Most of our visitors come here as families,” said Christian Carron, director of collections for The Children’s Museum. “We’re always focused on asking, ‘How do families learn together?’ With this exhibit, it’s not our job to tell you what you should believe. People receive instruction from their own families of faith. What we’re trying to do is provide a safe place that people can go to have a conversation about their own faith and about the faith of their neighbors.”

Other highlights of the exhibit, made possible by Lilly Endowment Inc., include:
 

  • A pamphlet by Protestant reformer Martin Luther published in 1519.
  • A letter penned by Pope Gregory XVI in the 19th century.
  • A Bible published in 1845 and owned by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African-American church in Indianapolis and an important part of the Underground Railroad.
  • Items used in the Jewish faith that astronaut David Wolf, an Indianapolis native, took to the International Space Station.
  • Artwork of the Golden Temple, a Sikh holy site, by Indianapolis artist K.P. Singh.
  • A 500-year-old handwritten Quran.
  • A throne built for the Dalai Lama on a 2010 visit to Bloomington.

“Some of the items come from our own collection, some we commissioned or purchased, and others come from about 20 different lenders,” Carron said. “Part of the curation of an exhibit like this is finding those things that have meaning for people and that tell the story.”

One example is a sash worn by Victor Galea Salomone, who as a 12-year-old in 1974 spent his summer assisting as an altar server at the Vatican. Years later, he was a fraternity brother of Carron, who recently called to ask his friend if the museum could include the sash in the exhibit. “It was this great formative moment in his life, and something he has held onto,” Carron said.

Advisors from around the country and locally—including leading voices in academia and from various faith communities—were instrumental in shaping the exhibit, according to Carron.

“We’re very good at preserving objects and presenting objects,” he said. “But we really needed to rely on experts, who were our academics and our community practitioners, to tell us the particulars.”

Ogorek said he could not be more pleased with the results.

“As director of catechesis for the archdiocese, one of my main goals is simply for the Catholic faith to get a fair hearing,” he said. “And I have to tell you, the Children’s Museum has done a masterful job of presenting the diversity and complexity within the Christian faith in ways that are accurate, and, I would say, profoundly respectful.

“From the perspective of the Catholic Church, we would hope that families will have fun [at the exhibit] … that they will experience beauty and joy together, and that they will just learn more about their neighbors and in turn learn more about themselves,” he continued. “In a way, this will be a gift that keeps on giving. Conversations that start here will bear a lot of fruit in families’ lives.”
 

(The exhibit is included with general admission. Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

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