Remembering John Paul I

35 Years Ago Today, Luciani Was Elected Successor of Peter

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Thirty-five years ago Aug. 25-26, Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice was elected Pope after the death of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI. The conclave of 101 cardinals lasted two days and he was elected on the fourth ballot. Luciani took the name of John Paul I – the first pope to have two names.  He wanted to continue the work of Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII. 

Luciani was born in Canale d’Agordo near Belluno, Italy, on Oct. 17, 1912. He entered the seminary at 11 years old, was ordained a priest at 23 years old, and was the Patriarch of Venice from 1969 until he became Pope on Sept. 3, 1978.  Luciani held a theology degree from Gregorian University in Rome.

Because of his rural background and his ability to explain the catechism with such clarity and simplicity, Pope John Paul I was called “The Peasant Pope.” But he was known most for being “The Smiling Pope.”

During his years as Patriarch of Venice, he wrote letters each week for the Diocesan newspaper to various bibilical, literary, imaginary characters throughout history. Those letters have been published in a collection entitled “Illustrissimi,” “to the illustrious ones.” The letters contain profound messages to people of all times.

His reign lasted for a brief 33 days, with his sudden death occurring on Sept. 28, 1978. During his brief pontificate, he only had four general audiences. Those days of September 1978 were momentous ones that shook the world and the Church. It was one of the briefest pontificates, but it left a lasting impression. Many inside and outside the Vatican felt that a man of extraordinary humility and goodness had passed their way — like a meteor that lights up the sky and quickly disappears.  Here is the link to Cardinal Carlo Confolanieri’s homily at John Paul I’s funeral mass:

This is the homily that was preached at a memorial mass for Pope John Paul I in the Cathedral of Munich and Freising by then German Archbishop of that diocese, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Oct. 6, 1978:

In that moving tribute, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said: “[Pope John Paul I]… didn’t just tell us a story, he made us a gift of his smile; he allowed us to get a glimpse into the depth of the “human essence” to guess something of paradise lost.”

As we look back over those momentous summer days of 1978, we slowly realize that the mission of Albino Luciani, John Paul I, was to prepare the Church and the world for the one who would come after him in the person of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla – John Paul II.  The rest is history.

Many have remarked on the great similarities that exist between John Paul I and the current Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis.

Excerpt from “To Jesus: I Write in Trepidation”
By Cardinal Albino Lucini, Patriarch of Venice
In “Illustrissimi”

“At this spectacle of people rushing to a Crucifix for so many centuries and from every part of the world, a question arises: Was this only a great, beneficent man or was He a God? You Yourself gave the answer and anyone whose eyes are not veiled by prejudice but are eager for the light will accept it.

When Peter proclaimed: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God,” You not only accepted this confession but also rewarded it. You have always claimed for Yourself that which the Jews reserved for God. To their scandal You forgave sins, You called Yourself master of the Sabbath, You taught with supreme authority, You declared Yourself the equal of the Father. Several times they tried to stone You as a blasphemer, because You uttered the name of God.

When they finally took You and brought You before the high priest, he asked You solemnly: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” You answered, “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” You accepted even death rather than retract and deny this divine essence of yours.
I have written, but I have never before been so dissatisfied with my writing. I feel as if I had left out the greater part of what could be said of You, that I have said badly what should have been said much better. There is one comfort, however: the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ. And fortunately – in spite of everything – this still happens.”

The link to “Illustrissimi,” the full collection of Pope John Paul I’s letters, written when he was Patriarch of Venice:

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Thomas Rosica

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