By Barb Arland-Fye
Marking the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Iowa brought to a conscious level a message that bears repeating.
“The Holy Father had talked about evangelization and creating Christian communities with concern for each other as well as for the land,” Bishop Martin Amos told The Catholic Messenger.
Bishop Amos and retired Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Diocese traveled to West Des Moines last weekend to concelebrate Mass with five other bishops as part of the celebration of the late pope’s visit. The Mass took place Oct. 3 at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, a Vatican diplomat, presided at the Mass and was a keynote speaker at an anniversary symposium. In his homily, the archbishop reflected on Pope John Paul II’s homily, delivered Oct. 4, 1979, at Living History Farms near Des Moines.
“The archbishop had a wonderful example in his homily. He said if all the Bibles in the world were to cease to exist, we should be able to recreate the Bible in its entirety just by looking at Christian communities,” Bishop Amos said.
Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s social action director, and Glenn Leach, a diocesan volunteer, had the opportunity to listen to Archbishop Migliore’s keynote address Oct. 2 at Dowling Catholic High School.
Ferris was struck by an observation Archbishop Migliore made in reference to the second creation story in the Book of Genesis. “He distinguished protection of creation from defending the environment,” Ferris said. “Protection of the environment implies a creator’s involvement; defending the environment loses that creation element. It separates us from our responsibility to safeguard creation as stewards.”
That observation was something Ferris expects to reflect on further in his work as social action director. “Because we are Catholics and concern ourselves with social teaching, we really do need to be mindful of protecting creation and all that involves.” He noted that the archbishop also said that the poor and the powerless bear the brunt of environmental degradation.
Also addressing that issue at the symposium was Father Bud Grant, an assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Thirty years ago, he was a seminarian serving as an acolyte at the papal Mass. This time around he brought St. Ambrose students Justin Heaton, Lisa Wiggers and Lizzy Oberhoffer to assist him with a presentation on environmental ethics.
Fr. Grant argued that Pope John Paul II was the author of church environmental ethics in his 1979 address in Iowa about gratitude, stewardship and generosity. He said the “pope was way out in front” in terms of saying creation has its own dignity and ought to be respected for that, not just for what society can gain from it.
The Holy Father laid out some objectives about ensuring that “all share equitably from the results of the labor of our nation’s farmers,” Leach said. He noted a difference of opinion at the symposium about how well the nation is doing in responding to Pope John Paul II’s message. Some who spoke believe that big agriculture is the answer and that the United Sates should feed the world. But some folks in sustainable agriculture noted that “in trying to feed the world we often cause damage to the rest of the world,” Leach said.
“A whole world opened up to me with respect to the interconnectedness of what we grow, how we grow it, who consumes it and where it’s consumed and even its impact on other nations,” he continued. “I found out the issues involved with agriculture are far greater than the number of bushels you can get out of an acre of ground.”
He thinks Pope John Paul II would have appreciated the 30th anniversary celebration. “I think the spirit of looking back and, from that perspective, looking forward would please him.”