Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs

By Lesa Ukman Nov 23, 2015

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs

The Holy See was treated as one of the 140 participating countries at the recently concluded Expo Milano 2015. However, its pavilion promoted the Vatican more than Vatican City, as has been typical of the church’s participation in World’s Fairs dating back to London’s 1851 Exhibition and including nearly every major expo since, in addition to many of the smaller, specialized expos.

The theme of its Milan pavilion, "Non di solo pane" (“Not by bread alone”), was a Gospel-infused variation of the theme of the expo, which was "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life."

Inside the pavilion, treasures from the Vatican museums and holdings were displayed. These were complemented by a series of conversations on world hunger, food sustainability, diet and nutrition, and a theological conversation on the relationship between food and mankind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Milan archdiocese and the Italian Conference of Catholic Churches.

On top of the Vatican’s 164-year history of going in big, considering the host country was Italy, the pavilion’s 747 square meters—which cost a reported 3 million euros—was, if anything, considered modest.

Pope Francis did not agree. According to Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, the decision to participate was made before Francis became pontiff and was condemned by him, saying it promotes a “culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development."

By the fair’s opening May 1, the pope turned the expo into an opportunity to influence. Via video address, he urged fair-goers not to be distracted by the shining pavilions and the delicacies they offered, but to focus on the exhibition's theme of Feeding the Planet and instead help those who suffer from hunger.

“The expo is a good opportunity to globalize solidarity. Let us not waste it but to fully appreciate it,” Pope Francis said, referring to the millions of people “today who will not eat in a manner worthy of a human being.”

Other Catholic Pavilions at Expo 2015
The Catholic Church had other representation at Expo 2015.

  • There was a pavilion for the church NGO Caritas, a network of 164 Catholic charities that advance access to food as a human right.
  • There was also a pavilion from Salesian, also known as the Don Bosco Network. John ‘Don’’ Bosco is a local hero—priest, educator and saint—whose bicentennial falls in 2015. The Salesian pavilion aimed to draw young people into issues of food justice and sustainability.
  • The Milan cathedral installed a replica of its newly restored golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

Why the Vatican Invests In Events
Holy See pavilions at past World’s Fairs have served many functions depending on the political, social and religious context of the time and host country, as well as the aspirations of the sitting pope.

For example, participation in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was in part a response to the anti-Catholic-school lobby sweeping the U.S. Designed to counter rumors that its institutions were turning out kids with behavior problems, a coalition of Catholic educational institutions joined forces to create a 30,000-square-feet Catholic Educational Exhibit.

The Vatican’s presence at the 1937 Esposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris was directly tied to the simultaneous release of two encyclicals published that year by Pope Pius XI that opposed Communism on the one hand and Nazism on the other. The “Pavillon Pontifical” was characterized by its “supranational” character, with displays focused on man’s upbringing and education during his various stages of life, beginning with a great baptistery at the entrance to the pavilion. Roman Catholic teaching was presented in opposition to totalitarian political regimes.

The Vatican decided to bring the Pietà to the New York World’s Fair of 1964-1965 at the conclusion of the Second Council of the Catholic Church, where a key theme was the need for the church to engage more with the modern world. In addition, the New York World’s Fair motto was “each through understanding” and the Vatican positioned its involvement in the fair as an opportunity to facilitate peace and to promote dialogue among nations. On his one-day visit to New York on Oct. 4, 1965, Pope Paul VI spoke on the topic at the UN General Assembly).

One constant: World’s Fairs give the Church the opportunity to promote its spiritual identity through its artistic masterpieces, with pavilions functioning as a mobile Vatican museum.

Through the years, the Holy See not only understood the power of its art, it became a master at stagecraft. For example, as if it were not dramatic enough that Michelangelo’s left St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time ever to appear in New York, the display was amplified by Broadway lighting and set designers, who positioned the Pietà in front of a royal blue backdrop and illuminated it with 400 flickering lights attached to a halo and suspended on strings. Attendees were transported on one of three moving walkways operating at different speeds to the calm and even arrangements of Gregorian chants.

It was the second-most-visited attraction at the fair, drawing 78,000 people each day.

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Exterior of the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
The Vatican Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair featured Michelangelo’s Pietà

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Hostesses guided visitors through the 10 rooms of the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Seven Other Religious Pavilions at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair

In the midst of the Cold War and the perceived threat of the Communist nations to liberty, fair organizers hoped for a single interfaith pavilion, such as the one at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. The thinking was that it would be best to present an image of a united American religious community. 

However, this did not occur, as individual religious groups did not feel they had intersecting agendas. Even within the same faith, there were splits. For example, there were four Protestant pavilions.

By far the most successful belonged to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, which was originally contacted by the Protestant Council of the City of New York to rent exhibition space in the council’s venue.

But the BGEA concluded that participating in the Protestant Pavilion would limit the BGEA to showing a film at designated times in rotation with other groups’ films. It believed its conception of evangelistic outreach would be considerably limited or even harmed if surrounded by exhibitions from other Protestant denominations striving to be ecumenical.

There was also the fear that the council was anxious to have the BGEA's presence in its pavilion because of the pulling power of the Billy Graham name, which would not serve the BGEA's own interests.

The BGEA chose instead to erect its own 50,000-square-feet, octagon-shaped pavilion near the fair’s main entrance. The structure included a 400-seat theater and counseling rooms for ministry purposes.

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Pamphlet for the Billy Graham Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

Moody Bible Institute was another evangelical Protestant group with its own “Sermons from Science” pavilion. According to the fair’s information manual: “The Christian endeavor aims to illustrate the compatibility of faith and knowledge through live demonstrations and films, thereby winning men and women to Christ and fellowship in His church.”

The intent, as a 1963 preview brochure noted, was to be "accurate from a scientific point of view; exciting from an entertainment point of view; stimulating from an intellectual point of view; and faithful from a Biblical point of view."

Among the many live demonstrations used to illustrate scriptural points were "Metal Rings Floating in Air" (when placed over an electric transformer); "Invisible Energy Sets Steel Aflame" (steel wool actually, placed inside a copper coil fixed to a transformer); "Frying an Egg On a Cold Stove" (the key being the presence of a coil of wire inside the cold plate affixed to a high voltage source, which demonstrated the "selective nature of physical forces"); and "The Cry that Can Shatter Glass" (placing a glass above an "electronic voice" and adjusting it to the right frequency).

The most famous demonstration was the "Million Volts of Man-Made Lightning," in which demonstrators would literally allow a million volts of electricity to pass through their body and ignite wood they held in their hands, but without causing any injury. At the conclusion, the central lesson of relating science to scripture was taught: Natural laws needed to be followed. Even those not interested in the pavilion's religious message found this demonstration worth seeing.

MBI’s building, with its 500-seat circular theater and scalloped roof, was reached by a ramp which curved over a reflecting pool. Jets of flaming gas and splashing water ringed the area and drew attention to the pavilion.

Another Protestant organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators, also had a pavilion. The missionary group’s Two Thousand Tribes pavilion exhibited blowguns (“just one of the hazards WBT missionaries have encountered”) along with panels showing “the conversion of an Amazon jungle headhunter.”

The original Protestant pavilion, the council’s Protestant & Orthodox Center, was there too. The film the council commissioned, Parable—which depicted human life as a circus and Christ as a clown—was widely condemned and subsequently withdrawn, but a few years later became the basis of the acclaimed Broadway musical Godspell.

The Mormon Church reportedly spent $3 million building its 1964-65 World’s Fair pavilion, which replicated the east spires of its Salt Lake Temple.

Inside, visitors were met by a giant Christus sculpture, to counter the notion that Mormons were not Christian, according to news reports. Art and dioramas depicted Church doctrine, the Apostasy and latter-day Restoration, the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the westward trek of the Mormon pioneers, and the commission to take the gospel to all the world. Missionaries acted as tour guides, and the Book of Mormon was featured prominently.

The pavilion’s theme was “Man’s Search for Happiness,” and a 15-minute film was produced for it.

ROI: A new branch was created as a result of World’s Fair converts, according to a Mormon history of the fair. “The year previous to the fair there were only six converts baptisms in (the New York/New Jersey area), but (there were) a thousand baptisms in each of the two years the fair was open and in the succeeding several years, there were six to eight hundred per year.”

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Exterior of the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

The Christian Science Pavilion was designed by famed modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, and the seventh religious installation at the event was a two-acre Garden of Meditation built by the fair organizers, bordered by pine, birch and oak trees; as well as mountain laurel, azaleas, lilies, irises and other plants around a pool with placards of Biblical verses and a quotation on the wonder of nature from Christian philosopher Sir Francis Bacon.

This chart from an October 1965 Christianity Today article summarizes the performance of the major religious pavilions at the fair, showing attendance in relation to cost.

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair: Model for Disney World & Event Sponsors, But Not a Real World’s Fair

The New York World’s Fair was not a World’s Fair. At least not according to the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), which since 1928 has been the governing body of these events. New York violated multiple BIE rules including:

Length. It ran for two six-month periods, in violation of the BIE’s maximum run of six months.

Frequency. Only one expo can be held in the same country within a ten- year period, and the Seattle World’s Fair had already been sanctioned for 1962.

Fees. The BIE mandates 5,000 square feet of free exhibition space per country, but the promoters of the New York event were not willing to give anything away for free.

When organizers went ahead without sanction, the BIE asked member countries not to participate. Forty opted out, including the U.K. and Canada.

In place of those countries, the fair turned to American industry: Among the 50 corporate participants were AT&T, Chrysler, Clairol, Coca-Cola, Ford, Formica, General Cigar, General Electric, General Motors, Hertz, IBM, Johnson Wax, Kodak, Pepsi, Traveler’s Insurance and U.S. Steel.

The Walt Disney Company, which began buying land in Florida for Walt Disney World in April 1964—the month the fair opened—built four of the corporate pavilions.

Indeed, the fair’s presence can still be seen at Disney parks: The Ford Motor Co.'s "Magic Skyway," included scenes that became the Primeval World on the Disneyland Railroad; The State of Illinois' "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," now plays at Disneyland; GE’s "Progressland," now plays as the "Carousel of Progress" at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom; and Pepsi-Cola's "It's a Small World," now plays at Disneyland and spawned copies at all Disney theme park resorts worldwide.

Religious Exhibits/Pavilions at World’s Fairs

1851 London

The first World’s Fair—officially the “Great Exhibition of the
Works of Industry of All Nations”—laid the groundwork for many of the “Universal Exhibitions” throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. World’s Fairs developed into showcases, not only for new industrial techniques and materials, but also for cultural education. Hundreds of displays, dioramas, and booths aimed to educate fairgoers about the variety of people throughout the world and highlight interesting aspects of those different cultures.

  • Vatican City

1855 Paris

  • Vatican City

1867 Paris

  • Vatican City

1883 Chicago

  • Vatican City

1889 Paris

  • Vatican City

1893 Chicago

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1890, LDS issued its manifesto condemning polygamy. Participation in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, a cultural extravaganza that influenced the national consciousness like no other event of its time, marked a landmark moment for the Church. Through its exhibit, the Mormon Pavilion, the Church introduced what many then considered a marginal religion to a national audience and created the template for new proselytizing methods. The Mormon Pavilion presented the faith to fairgoers through architecture, artwork, missionary presentations, and a film, a template that can still be seen at Mormon Visitor Centers. Through its organization of and participation in Utah’s Territorial Building, its exhibits in other places on the fairgrounds—such as the Agricultural Building—through its involvement in the Congress of Women, and through the first national performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, LDS shaped an image of itself and of its faith that blunted a half-century of sometimes vicious stereotypes and paved the way for acceptance of Utah into the Union, according to Mormon historian R.L. Neilson.
  • Vatican City

1900 Paris

  • Vatican City

1933 Chicago

  • Vatican City

1935 Brussels

  • Vatican City

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Catholic Life Pavilion at Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles

1937 Paris

  • Vatican City

1939 San Francisco

  • Moody Bible Institute. The Sermons from Science Pavilion marked the first MBI participation in a World’s Fair and included film, demonstrations and evangelistic outreach

1939-1940 New York

  • The Temple of Religion. This pavilion represented only mainstream U.S. religions—Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.*The intergroup relations movement—a collaborative effort that originated in the early twentieth century with Jewish self-defense organizations, but which later expanded its mission to help eliminate prejudice and racism in all forms—helped these three American faiths coalesce. The movement’s aims expanded before and during World War II as it emphasized how the Axis powers sought to destabilize American society by opening racial, religious and ethnic rifts.

1958 Brussels

  • Protestant Churches Pavilion
  • Vatican City. The Holy See’s Pavilion, “Civitas Dei,” was one of the Church’s most successful communications operations of the post-war period, according to Vatican historians. The Pavilion themes were vast and rich, dealing with Man and God, the Papacy, Evangelization, Charity, Science, Social Action, Education, International Catholic Organizations and new means of Communication. Numerous congresses were organized, but what stood out most was the focus on contemporary issues.

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Corbusier-like design of Holy See Pavilion at Expo 58

1962 Seattle

  • Christian Pavilion & Children’s Center
  • Christian Science Pavilion
  • Christian Witness Pavilion
  • Moody Bible Institute Sermons from Science Pavilion

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Christian Pavilion & Children’s Center, 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Stamp promoting the “Million Volt Man” demonstration at Moody Bible Institute’s Sermons from Science Pavilion at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair

1964-1965 New York

  • Billy Graham Evangelical Association
  • Christian Science
  • Protestant Council of the City of New York’s Protestant & Orthodox Center
  • Moody Bible Institute
  • Mormon Church
  • Vatican City
  • Wycliffe Bible Translators

1967 Montreal

  • Christian Pavilion
  • Cybernetics Pavilion
  • Moody Bible Institute
  • Jewish Pavilion

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
Moody Bible Institute’s Sermons from Science Pavilion at Montreal’s Expo 67

Unorthodox Sponsorship: The Vatican and World’s Fairs
The Pavilion of Judaism at Expo 67 projected an image of the Jewish community as a faith community, as distinct from the Israeli Pavilion. Israel had turned down a request by the Canadian Jewish community for representation, as Israel is a nation-state of many religions

1970 Osaka

  • Mormon Church
  • Vatican City

1974 Spokane

  • Moody Bible Institute (The fifth and final Sermons from Science Pavilion)

1977 Belgrade

  • Vatican City

1982 Knoxville

  • Association of Christian Denominations
  • Baptist Ministries’ Southern Baptist Pavilion. The pavilion housed an antique display case filled with bibles made by the U.S.’s first bible publisher: AJ Holman and Co.
  • Church of Christ Pavilion

1984 New Orleans

  • Christian Pavilion World’s Fair Ministries
  • Church of Christ Pavilion
  • Seventh Day Adventist Church Pavilion
  • Vatican City. The Vatican’s pavilion, managed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, included many priceless religious works of art. It was the only Vatican pavilion to charge an admission fee ($5.00), was one of the most popular.

1988 Brisbane

  • Vatican City

1992 Seville

  • Vatican City. The Vatican Pavilion was devoted to explaining the evangelization of America, as well as the scope of faith with Christ as the central figure, through illustrated of works of art, books and maps from various collections and archive. It included a series of masterpieces by El Greco, Caravaggio, Murillo and Goya.

1998 Lisbon

  • Vatican City

2000 Hanover

  • Christ Pavilion of the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Germany. The pavilion was later reconstructed at the monastery in Volkenroda.
  • Vatican City. Themes of the Vatican Pavilion were tied to its 2000 Jubilee Celebration: Peace and Justice; Women; Children; Family; and Human Dignity. The primary attraction was the "Mandylion," a sixth century painting valued at £120 million, said to be “the true depiction of Christ.” The painting had never left the pope's private chapel. The pavilion was voted among the top six of the 172 pavilions at the fair and attracted more than 2.5 million people.

Sponsors of Expo Milano 2015

Global Partners

  • Accenture, Systems Integration
  • Enel, Smart Energy and Lighting Solutions
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles/CNH Industrial, Official Sustainable Mobility
  • Finmeccanica, Official Safe City & Main Operator Centre
  • Intesa Sanpaolo, Official Banking
  • Samsung, Official Edutainment
  • TIM, Official Integrated Connectivity & Services

Official Carriers and Official Premium Partners

  • Alitalia and Etihad Airways, Official Global Airline
  • Msc Crociere, Official Cruise Line
  • Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, Official Global Rail Coop, Official Food Distributor
  • Manpower, Official HR Partner
  • Algida, Official Ice Cream
  • Beijing Huiyan Food & Beverage, Official Partner of the Clusters of Fruits & Legumes and Spices
  • Birra Moretti, Official Beer
  • Bologna Fiere, Biodiversity and Organic Farming Partner
  • Came, Official Automation Management and Access Control of Visitors
  • Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Fondo Strategico Italiano and Sace, Official Partners for Italy’s International Growth
  • Cisco, Official IP Networks & Solutions
  • Coca-Cola, Official Soft Drink
  • Eni, Official Sustainability Initiatives in African Countries
  • Eutelsat, Official Satellite
  • Ferrero, Official Confectionary Specialties
  • Fiera Milano, Operations Partner
  • Illycaffe, Official Coffee
  • Regione Siciliana, Official Bio-Mediterranean Cluster Partner
  • S. Pellegrino, Official Water
  • Technogym, Official Wellness Partner



Cotter, Bill, Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair A Century of Progress, 2015, Arcadia Publishing

Catalogo Ufficiale Expo Milano 2015, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., 2014

Guide to the New York World’s Fair: 1939 and 1940, Incorporated Records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library,

Le journal de la Expo 58, Supplement au journal du 10 avril 2008, Les Editions L’Avenir, S.A.

Official Guide Expo 67, Montreal, Canada, 1967

Official Guide to the New York World’s Fair: 1964-65, Time-Life Books, 1964

Official Guide Book: Golden Gate International Exposition, H. S. Crocker Co., 1939

Official Guide Book: The 1982 World’s Fair, 1982

Official Guide Book of the World’s Fair of 1933-34, Century of Progress International Exposition Publishers, 1933

Geissel, Fred and Franich, Frank, Official Guidebook, 1982 World's Fair, Exposition Publishers

Kogan, Nathaniel Smith, The Mormon Pavilion: Mainstreaming the Saints at the New York World’s Fair, 1964-65, The Journal of Mormon History, Fall, 2009, Vol 35, No. 4

Neilson, Reid L., Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Oxford University Press, 2010

The New York World’s Fair 1964-1965 Corporation, Records, 1959-1971, New York Public Library Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division,

Rydell, Robert, All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916, 1984, University of Chicago Press

Samuel, Lawrence, R., The End of the Innocence:
The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, Syracuse University Press, 2007

Vatican pavilion website

World’s fair community, Billy Graham chat room, retrieved data,

World’s Parliament of Religions at World’s Columbian Exhibition, 1893, Chicago, Vol. 1,



Please login to post a comment.

Patrick Kaffana 11/26/2015 12:08 AM
even me I need a sponser

Sponsorship Report

A Must Read for Anyone in the Sponsorship Industry. More info