Vermillion woman cherishes memory of Pope John Paul II

Vermillion woman cherishes memory of Pope John Paul II Denis Tita, a graduate physics student at USD from the Cameroon, recites the rosary Monday evening in the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Vermillion following Saturday's death of Pope John Paul II. Editor's note: Lucille O'Connor of Vermillion wrote this account shortly after traveling to Des Moines, IA, to see Pope John Paul II in 1979. We thank her for allowing us to share it with our readers.

By Lucille O'Connor

Today I saw the POPE � Oct. 4, 1979.

But where do I find words to express my feelings as I stood with an estimated 350,000 people on a hill at Living History Farms, in Des Moines, IA?

It was a raw and chilly afternoon � temperatures reaching 50 degrees. Many huddled under blankets, pulled garbage bags over their heads and shoulders to cut the brisk October winds but not once did we hear anyone complain about the cold and long wait. They all came to Living History Farms, the heartland of Iowa, to see the Pope.

The crowd arrived by chartered bus, shuttle bus and on foot. It was so well planned that there were very few traffic problems. Our daughter and her family live a short distance from Living History Farms. They sent a restricted sticker to put on the windshield of my car so when I got to Urbandale I could get to their house without trouble.

The National Guard were on all the streets to check cars for stickers. They were using all precautions for the safety of the Holy Father. Interstate 80, that was closed to all but bus traffic that day, was reopened about 9:30 that evening, hours earlier than expected. It was a spiritual crowd that came and left.

Almost like a miracle the sun broke through the clouds as the Pope's plane touched down at Des Moines Airport. It was so windy at the airport that the red carped kept flapping in the wind. A couple young men put boxes of engine oil on the carpet to hold it down.

Some officials objected to the Holy Father having to look at engine oil so minutes before the plane set down, a special tape was used to fix the carpet. It worked! The elderly and handicapped were invited to wait for the Papal plane.

Our son, Tim, and his boys were there and said these people cried when the Pope raised his hand to give his blessing. Rosaries were handed to those who were waiting.

From the airport, John Paul traveled by Marine Corps helicopter � a helicopter called Angel One � to St. Patrick's, a small rural parish of an Irish settlement. This perhaps was the most intimate visit of his American tour.

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The helicopter landed in a green alfalfa field on the John Connor farm across from the church. Connor had drawn up a Massey-Fergusen corn picker, two John Deere tractors, and a large disc in full view of the helicopter. The Pope also could see several large rolled bales of hay and as he walked toward the church he passed a shock of corn decorated with ears of field corn, big orange pumpkins and squash.

Inside he was greeted by the newly appointed parish priest, the Rev. John Richter, who was 28 years old, and his 205 parishioners. John Paul stopped at nearly every pew to hug and kiss babies and children. He asked Father Richter if it got very cold here; his answer was yes indeed it gets very cold and does snow in Iowa.

During the long wait for John Paul to arrive, the president of the parish council joked that when he met the pontiff, "I hope I don't swear."

Father Richter told the congregation to pose for a group of pictures outside when the Pope left the church, since we'll probably never have everybody so well dressed again.

One of the first things John Paul did when he entered the church was to pat the altar boy, (Bobby) Mulvihill, on the head in blessing. Bobby said the Pope asked him his name and when he told him Mulvihill, he asked, "Is that Irish?" Bobby said he didn't know. "Your father is going to kill you," his mother said when she heard the story.

A few children fussed and some babies cried while the Pope was in church, but the mothers said it was quieter than most Sundays. We are used to it and the Pope didn't mind it in the least.

Pope John Paul only stayed at St. Patrick's Church for about a half hour, but there was no question that their rural community will never forget his visit.

Then came the Mass at Living History Farm. This Eucharist feast was celebrated in a field where livestock grazed only a few weeks before. It was harvest time in Iowa so what could be more appropriate than the prayers repeated whenever people gathered for Mass.

"Blessed are you God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made."

In Iowa, Pope John Paul was talking to rural America. "You are stewards of some of the most important resources God has given the world.

"Therefore conserve the land well so that your children's children and generations after them will inherit an even richer land than was entrusted to you."

In farming you cooperate with the creator in the very sustenance of life on earth.

He said rural America has a special obligation to feed the hungry of the world, but it is Christ alone who is the bread of life. Among those taking part in the Mass was Hays, the 38-year-old farmer and factory worker, whose hand-written invitation to John Paul is credited with having much to do with the Vatican decision to include a rural stop on the American tour.

Pope John Paul's warmth was overwhelming and we responded. People cheered, waved, clapped their hands, and smiled back. Catholics and non-Catholics all felt the love of this extraordinary man.

As he flew back to the airport to leave Iowa, the Holy Father told reporters that he expected the joyous welcome he had received in Ireland, but did not expect the welcome he received in America.

The great event was over, but with great pride we displayed a sticker on the back of our car which reads: I saw Pope John Paul II. Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 4, 1979.

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