Remembering Pope John Paul II in Iowa 30 years ago

My first big assignment in the Catholic press was an unbelievable 30 years ago — covering the visit of Pope John Paul II to America’s heartland in October 1979. I was working at the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese, and at the last minute my editor decided I should head to Iowa with a Catholic group making a pilgrimage there by bus. Our destination: Living History Farms in Urbandale, near Des Moines.

When I saw an announcement a few weeks ago of an Oct. 2-3 symposium marking the anniversary of the pope’s historic visit taking place in Des Moines, I was reminded of the stories I did at the time, so I went back to my old clips to see what I had written:

 “The crowd of young and old blanketed the fields and brought a life and color to the area which had been quiet pasture land just three weeks ago.

“The bus ride, the early mornings, the walking and the waiting seemed to be quickly forgotten as the helicopter bearing the pope landed. He celebrated Mass and discussed the beauty and importance of the rural way of life, and as the papal visit came to a close, the event was the highlight of a lifetime, according to the Denver group.”

I remember being impressed by the sea of people — numbering about 350,000 — and watching them move across the fields as they found a place to wait for the pope’s arrival and for the Mass he would celebrate. When it was over, I couldn’t help but wonder what a sight it must have been for the pope as his helicopter flew overhead as the people streamed down the highway on foot (a portion of it was closed), leaving for home and to reflect on his message.

The pope’s words that day about respecting the land and the work of  farmers and everyone involved in raising our food and getting it to us still have resonance:

“Land is God’s gift … land is man’s responsibility,” Pope John Paul told the crowd. “To all you farmers and all who are associated with agricultural productions, I want to say the church highly esteems your work. … You support the lives of millions. … Conserve the land well so that future generations will inherit an even richer land than was entrusted to you.”

‘My mom’s a saint’ tops most-viewed stories for September

One of our favorite stories last month was also one of yours: our feature on Laura Molla, whose mother is a saint — not just the “my mom’s a saint” kind of saint, but a real, official, declared-by-the-church saint.

Medjugorje, Ted Kennedy’s funeral, health care and sex were also popular topics for our readers during September.

Here’s the complete list:

1. Saint’s daughter hopes to follow her mother’s example of loving life (Sept. 14)

2. Mostar bishop reiterates rules for Medjugorje parish (Sept. 28)

3. Cardinal, priests discuss what guides decisions on Catholic funeral (Sept. 3 — our backgrounder on the rules for Catholic burial following the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy)

4. Bishops urge united Catholic voice on key elements of health reform (Sept. 4)

5. British prayer book for spouses includes ‘Prayer Before Making Love’ (Sept. 2)

6. Human trafficking remains largely in the shadows across the US (Sept. 8)

7. Bishops say health reform should include all immigrants, legal or not (Sept. 22)

8. War of words: Berlusconi, Boffo, beauties and bishops (Sept. 4)

9. Vatican’s got game: The Holy See’s sports hall of fame is revealed (Sept. 11)

10. Apostolic visitation questionnaire sent to US religious orders (Sept. 21)

U.S. ambassador’s speech to the pope

VATICAN CITY  — Here is the text of the speech given by U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz when he presented his credentials today to Pope Benedict:

Your Holiness,

It is a distinct honor to present to you my credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See and to bring to you warm greetings from President Barack Obama and the American people. I am very grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to represent him and my country to the Holy See. My wife and children, who have accompanied me to Rome, have also welcomed our President’s invitation to serve our country. They join me in offering our familial, cultural, and educational experiences at the service of diplomacy.

Your Holiness, I would like to begin by recalling your first meeting with President Obama. President Obama was deeply touched to meet with you and appreciated the opportunity to hear your perspective on many important issues. With his support, the U.S. mission to the Holy See looks forward to building upon twenty-five years of formal diplomatic relations. Continue reading

Pope’s speech to new U.S. ambassador

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI accepted the credentials of the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, at a ceremony this morning at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.

Here is the Vatican text of the pope’s speech to the new ambassador:

Your Excellency,

I am pleased to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America. I recall with pleasure my meeting with President Barack Obama and his family last July, and willingly reciprocate the kind greetings which you bring from him. I also take this occasion to express my confidence that diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, formally initiated twenty-five years ago, will continue to be marked by fruitful dialogue and cooperation in the promotion of human dignity, respect for fundamental human rights, and the service of justice, solidarity and peace within the whole human family. Continue reading