The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“He was just a simple priest”: remembering the papal visit to Iowa in 1979

Incredibly, it’s been almost exactly 30 years since Pope John Paul II made his historic trip to America’s heartland, celebrating mass at a farm in Iowa.  (“We are all farmers,” he said at one point.)  
Well, the spirit of that visit, evidently, lives on in those who were there.

From the Des Moines Register 

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A pilgrim is one who embarks on a journey to find the sacred.


So it was pilgrims who walked rural Iowa highways and suburban neighborhoods and filed from school buses parked on the closed interstate. The great masses huddled, side by side in the bitter cold wind on the grounds of Living History Farms in Urbandale and a country church in Cumming, the day’s first event.


Pope John Paul II arrived in a helicopter called Angel One and the largest crowd in Iowa history — 340,000 pilgrims — waited for his sacred message.


Thirty years later, Oct. 4, 1979, is still recognized as one of Iowa’s most blessed and memorable days.


The memories are trivial: 9-year-old altar boy Bob Mulvihill’s eyeglasses slid down his nose, and he was too nervous to push them up as the leader of the world’s Catholics asked him if he was Irish.


They are significant: Iowa farmer Tom Frantzen was overcome by the pope’s message and altered his life’s work.

The pilgrims saw the pope as a gentle, humble man of God. He hugged children. His bright, blue eyes locked in on them. He was real.


“When I was a child, Catholics were seen as a far-out people who wore horns,” said Mary Jane Pray, 92, who sang in a choir that day. “I think it softened a lot of people’s hearts, especially if you were not Catholic. He was just a simple priest.”


His message was simple, too, but not easy: Care for the land and serve each other.

It’s exactly what some pilgrims did.


Check out the link for the rest of this long, enlightening and inspiring story.  

Photo: Marvin Klein, a Dunlap farmer, served as deacon alongside the pope for the Mass at Living History Farms. He thought he would be afraid when reading the Gospel, but now recalls 30 years later, “It was amazing. I wasn’t.”  From the Des Moines Register file. 
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Elizabeth Mahlou

posted September 28, 2009 at 3:57 am

Inspiring! Thanks for posting it.

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posted September 28, 2009 at 2:01 pm

On my first road trip to California when I was 19 yrs old (hippie days) my friends and I camped out on the edge of an Iowa cornfield.
I am always reminded of that adventure when I hear Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” When the sun rose over the Iowa cornfield, the fields shined of gold. Creation as Sacrament!
How appropriate that our dear Holy Father John Paul II would celebrate Holy Mass at a farm in Iowa.

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Deacon Mike Keable

posted September 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

I had been ordained just one year when my wife and I traveled by bus for several hours from St. Cloud, MN down to be near our beloved pope. It was dark, cold, rainy and miserable the many hours we stood waiting for His Holiness to descend upon us. When he arrived, all thoughts and feelings of discomfort disappeared. We were so blessed to be there and hear his words of peace and love. Truly, a joyous day!

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