A retired pastor from Des Moines says the pope’s visit to Iowa in 1979 was a great moment in Iowa’s history.
Back then, Gus Nelson was the top administrator for the Presbyterian Church in most of Iowa, and he got to greet the pope moments before John Paul the second said mass to 350,000 people who’d gathered at Living History Farms.
Bishops and other church executives from a variety of faiths met across the street, then walked onto the Living History Farms field where the mass was to be staged. The group of non-Catholics stood in front of the throng and was there to welcome Pope John Paul when he arrived.
“We were very pleased that we were included in the celebration,” Nelson says. He says it all happened because Maurice Dingman, the bishop who was heading the Des Moines Diocese at the time, had a unique way of reaching out to people of other faiths. Nelson says it was “very meaningful” to the non-Catholics like himself to be included in such an historic mass. Nelson has fond memories of the Pope’s homily or sermon. “He reached out to us also, I felt, in the words that he said to the whole group,” Nelson says.
The Church of the Land which sits on the site where Pope John Paul II said mass is a continuation of that theme, according to Nelson, because it is not a Catholic church but an ecumenical church, open to all faiths. “It symbolizes this reaching out that the Pope had for all peoples,” Nelson says. Nelson’s title at the time of the pope’s visit was executive presbyter of the Des Moines Presbytery. He is retired.