The Des Moines Catholic Diocese is marking the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s visit to Iowa with a two-day symposium at the state’s largest Catholic high school.
“We would like to have a fond remembrance of the pope’s visit here but to move it beyond that,” Des Moines Bishop Paul Pates says, “because we feel that the message of the Holy Father back in 1979 is still very applicable, particularly as it pertains to Iowa and our great agricultural heritage.”
On October 4th, 1979, Pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 340,000 who gathered at Living History Farms in Urbandale. The pope told the crowd the land is a gift from God, but it is man’s responsibility to serve as its stewards and “conserve it well.” Back in 1979, Pates was a priest in Washington, D.C., serving as a secretary one of the Vatican’s representatives in the U.S. Pates says Pope John Paul stayed in the Washington, D.C. compound where he was living and the pope spoke of his visit to Iowa.
“He surely enjoyed it. It was something that was very close to his own heart because of his own rural background,” Pate says, a reference to the pope’s roots in rural Poland. “He was particularly was fascinated by the huge crowd that turned out, the relative simplicity of the occasion and also the great importance he always attached to nature and to agriculture.”
This weekend’s symposium, which starts tonight (Friday) at 7:30, will focus on social justice and caring for all of God’s creation — the Earth and its people.
“It is somewhat of a call to action,” Pates says.
The current pope, Pope Benedict, has sent a message for the occasion.
“It communicated that, ‘His Holiness is confident that the symposium will highlight the indispensable contribution made by agricultural workers to the welfare of society, encourage a more just and responsible stewardship of God’s creation and draw renewed attention to the concerns, problems and needs in America’s heartland,'” Bishop Pates said, reading from Pope Benedict’s message.
The pope’s representative to the United Nations will attend the two-day event and the archbishop will deliver the homily in Saturday’s celebratory mass, which will begin at four o’clock at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, the site of all the weekend’s activities.