There are about half a million Catholics in Iowa, and local church leaders are scheduling special masses during the period of mourning for their Pope, who died this past Saturday. Pope John Paul the second made many trips to the U.S., including a trip to Iowa a year after he became the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. When he landed at the Des Moines airport on October 4th, 1979, the Pope blessed the ground on which he and those who welcomed him stood. “Now, I shall bless all the persons present here,” the Pope said, then he launched into a Latin prayer. “Thank you very much for your coming, your reception and God Bless you.” Robert Ray was Iowa’s Governor at the time, and he spoke on behalf of Iowans. “This afternoon, we join you in thanks for the many blessings of life and in prayer for the people of the world,” Ray told John Paul. The Pope visit came in the midst of the harvest, and he praised farmers and their special connection to the land and to god. John Paul boarded a helicopter and flew to tiny St. Patrick’s Church at Irish Settlement near Cumming, Iowa, to lead an intimate prayer service for the congregation of 205. “May God bless you through the incession of Mary, the mother of Jesus and the mother of his church,” John Paul said. The capstone of the Pope’s visit was an outdoor appearance on the grounds of Living History Farms in Urbandale. John Paul led mass for the thousands who had gathered to hear him; the stretch of Interstate nearby was closed and used for parking. Officials estimate about 350-thousand people saw the Pope during that visit, the first of five trips John Paul would make to the United States during his papacy. Each Catholic parish in Iowa was given a portrait of John Paul the second when he visited Iowa back in 1979. Parishes have been asked to place that portrait in the altar area of the church and drape it with either white or purple cloth. A candle is to burn near the portrait.