Self-portrait of the church

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Pilgrims visiting the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington soon will be welcomed by the beautiful new Redemptor Hominis Chapel. Cradled in the heart of the shrine, the chapel will feature a magnificent display of mosaic sacred art.

World renowned mosaicist, Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus to design the art for this sacred space. Father Rupnik and his mosaic team from the Centro Aletti studio in Italy have been creating beautiful sacred art since 1999. Saint John Paul II himself commissioned Father Marko to create mosaics for the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican.

A special preview of the mosaics Sept. 9 drew more than 200 guests for a lecture by Father Rupnik on the history and role of sanctuary art.

"The walls must reflect what is happening on the altar," said Father Rupnik. "They must say this (is a) 'new way of living.'"

According to Father Rupnik, this new way of living in communion with one another has been an inspiration to sanctuary artists from the very beginning. He explained that although the early works are simple and sometimes childlike they are very meaningful and work together to create a single image that reflects the Eucharist and the body of Christ.

The style Father Rupnik chose for the chapel references the art of these early Christians and has within it the spirit of the new evangelization. The mosaic begins outside the chapel doors with images of Jesus' Passion and continues through a short passage until it opens up into the brightly lit sanctuary. Pillars featuring mosaics of American saints line the aisle toward the altar. Biblical scenes cover the walls from floor to ceiling in one continuous narrative. Scenes on the left wall tell the story of the fall of man from the Old Testament. Each life size scene is connected to a corresponding picture on the wall directly across. On this wall scenes from the New Testament respond to the fall of man with humanity's salvation through Jesus Christ.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015