Pope John Paul I (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. I, Italian: Giovanni Paolo I), born Albino Luciani, (October 17 1912 — September 28 1978), reigned as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and as Sovereign of Vatican City from 26 August 1978 until his death 33 days later. His reign is among the shortest in papal history, resulting in the most recent Year of Three Popes.
In 1941 Luciani began to seek a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, which required at least one year's attendance in Rome. However, the seminary's superiors wanted him to continue teaching during his doctoral studies; the situation was resolved by a special dispensation of Pope Pius XII himself, on 27 March 1941. His thesis (The origin of the human soul according to Antonio Rosmini) largely attacked Rosmini's theology, and earned him his doctorate magna cum laude.
In 1947, he was named vicar general to Bishop Girolamo Bortignon, OFM Cap, of Belluno. Two years later, in 1949, he was placed in charge of diocesan catechetics. On 15 December 1958, Luciani was appointed Bishop of Vittorio Veneto by Pope John XXIII. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 27 December from Pope John himself, with Bishops Bortignon and Gioacchino Muccin serving as co-consecrators. As a bishop, he participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). On 15 December 1969, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice by Pope Paul VI and took possession of the archdiocese on 3 February 1970. Pope Paul created Luciani Cardinal-Priest of S. Marco in the consistory of 5 March 1973. Catholics were struck by his humility, a prime example being his embarrassment when Paul VI once removed his papal stole and put it on Patriarch Luciani. He recalls the occasion in his first Angelus thus:
Pope Paul VI made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!
Luciani was elected on the fourth ballot of the August 1978 papal conclave. He chose the regnal name of John Paul, the first double name in the history of the papacy, explaining in his famous Angelus that he took it as a thankful honour to his two immediate predecessors: John XXIII, who had named him a bishop, and Paul VI, who had named him Patriarch of Venice and a cardinal. He was also the first (and so far only) pope to use "the first" in his regnal name. In Italy he is remembered with the affectionate appellatives of "Il Papa del Sorriso" (The Smiling Pope) and "Il Sorriso di Dio" (God's Smile).
Observers have suggested that his selection was linked to the rumored divisions between rival camps within the College of Cardinals:
Outside the Italians, now themselves a lessening influence within the increasingly internationalist College of Cardinals, were figures like Cardinal Karol Wojtyła. Over the days following the conclave, cardinals effectively declared that with general great joy they had elected "God's candidate". Argentine Eduardo Cardinal Pironio stated that, "We were witnesses of a moral miracle." And later, Mother Teresa commented: "He has been the greatest gift of God, a sunray of God's love shining in the darkness of the world."
Even before the conclave began, journalists covering it for Vatican Radio noted increasing mention of his name, often from cardinals who barely knew him but wanted to find out more; not least, "What is the state of the man's health?" Had they known just how precarious his health was (his feet were so swollen he could not wear the shoes bought for him by his family for the conclave) they might have looked elsewhere for Paul VI's successor. Hence, to his own horror and disbelief, he was elected to the papacy. The surprise of his election is captured in his official portrait, his hair is clumsily brushed back, because unlike papabili cardinals who expect their election, he had not had his hair cut for the conclave. When he was asked if he accepted his election, he stated "May God forgive you for what you have done in my regard. Moments later, hesitating, he said: "I accept".
John Paul was the first pope to admit that the prospect of the papacy had daunted him to the point that other cardinals had to encourage him to accept it. He strongly suggested to his aides and staff that he believed he was unfit to be pope. Though Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo explicitly required that John Paul be crowned, he controversially refused to have the millennium-old traditional Papal Coronation and wear the Papal Tiara. He instead chose to have a simplified Papal Inauguration Mass. John Paul I used as his motto Humilitas. In his notable Angelus of August 27, delivered on the first day of his papacy, he impressed the world with his natural friendliness
John Paul I intended to prepare an encyclical in order to confirm the lines of the Second Vatican Council ("an extraordinary long-range historical event and of growth for the Church", he said) and to enforce the Church's discipline in the life of priests and the faithful. In discipline, he was a reformist, instead, and was the author of initiatives such as the devolution of one per cent of each church's entries for the poor churches in the Third World. The visit of Jorge Rafael Videla, president of the Argentine junta, to the Vatican caused considerable controversy, especially when the Pope reminded Videla about human rights violations taking place in Argentina during the so-called Dirty War.
John Paul impressed people by his personal warmth. There are reports that within the Vatican he was seen as an intellectual lightweight not up to the responsibilities of the papacy, although David Yallop ("In God's Name") says that this is the result of a whispering campaign by people in the Vatican who were opposed to Luciani's policies. In the words of John Cornwell, "they treated him with condescension"; one senior cleric discussing Luciani said "they have elected Peter Sellers". Critics contrasted his sermons mentioning Pinocchio to the learned intellectual discourses of Pius XII or Paul VI. Visitors spoke of his isolation and loneliness, and the fact that he was the first pope in decades not to have had either a diplomatic (such as Pius XI and John XXIII) or Curial role in the Church (such as Pius XII and Paul VI).
David Yallop ("In God's Name", p. 267-269) says repeatedly that Luciani was a highly capable person, fluent in six different languages, who was respected for his intelligence; if he chose simple words (such as the sermon that mentioned Pinocchio), he did this to communicate well to a wide audience. Yallop says that many in the Vatican were opposed to Luciani, and depicted him in their comments as being too simple. By contrast, he recounts two specific incidents from this short papacy:
"Foreign Minister Casaroli came to the Pope with seven questions concerning the Church's relationship with various Eastern European countries, Luciani promptly gave him answers on five of them and asked for a little time to consider the other two. ... Casaroli returned to his office and told a colleague what had occurred. The priest enquired: "Were they the correct solutions?" "In my view, totally. It would have taken me a year to get those responses from [Pope Paul VI]."
Yallop also talks about Cardinal Gabriel-Marie Garrone's discussion with Luciani about a document (Sapienta Christiana) that the curia had been preparing and revising for 16 years:
"[Luciani] told Garrone that he had spent most of the previous day studying the document. Then without referring to a copy of it he began to discuss it at length and in great detail. Garrone sat astonished at the Pope's grasp and understanding of such a highly complex document. ... Returning to his office [Garrone] remarked 'I have just met a great Pope.'"
Immediately following the Pope's death, rumours began. One rumour claimed that a visiting prelate, Nikodim, had recently died from drinking "poisoned coffee" prepared for the pope. A visiting prelate actually had died some days earlier, but there was no evidence of any poison. Another unsubstantiated rumour described the Pope's plans to dismiss senior Vatican officials over allegations of corruption. The suddenness of his embalming raised suspicions that it had been done to prevent an autopsy. The Vatican insisted that a papal autopsy was prohibited under Vatican law. However, one source (the diary of Agostino Chigi) reports that an autopsy was carried out on the remains of Pope Pius VIII in 1830. Nevertheless, suspicions persist to this day, particularly given the sweeping changes to Vatican personnel this Pope had already penned, along with the Mafia-riddled Italy of the time, and the number of subsequent murders of officials investigating the Vatican Bank along with its associates.
He was regarded as a skilled communicator and writer, and has left behind some writings. His book Illustrissimi, written while he was a Cardinal, is a series of letters to a wide collection of historical and fictional persons. Among those still available are his letters to Jesus Christ, the Biblical King David, Figaro the Barber, Marie Theresa of Austria and Pinocchio Others 'written to' included Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Christopher Marlowe. He is also remembered for being the first to refuse the traditional papal coronation. Instead, he chose an "investiture" to commence his brief papacy. One of his remarks, reported in the press, was that we should see God not only as Father, but also as Mother. This remark reinforced the image of a pastoral pope.
A number of campaigns have been started to canonize Pope John Paul I. Miracles have been attributed to him. On June 10, 2003 the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave its permission for the opening of the beatification process of Pope John Paul I, Servant of God. The "diocesan phase" of this process began in Belluno on November 23, 2003; a miracle has already been alleged, of an Italian man cured of cancer.
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