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Pope_John_Paul_I

Pope John Paul I

Pope John Paul I (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. I, Italian: Giovanni Paolo I), born Albino Luciani, (October 17 1912September 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.

Biography

Early years

Albino Luciani was born on October 17 1912 in Forno di Canale (now Canale d'Agordo) in Belluno, a province of the Veneto region in northern Italy. He was the son of Giovanni Luciani (1872? - 1952), a bricklayer, and Bortola Tancon (1879? - 1948). Albino was followed by two brothers, Federico (1915 - 1916) and Edoardo (1917 - 2008), and a sister, Antonia (b. 1920).

Vocation

Luciani entered the minor seminary of Feltre in 1923, where his teachers found him "too lively", and later went on to the major seminary of Belluno. During his stay at Belluno, he attempted to join the Jesuits but was denied by the seminary's rector, Bishop Giosuè Cattarossi. Ordained a priest on 7 July 1935, Luciani then served as a curate in his native Forno de Canale before becoming a professor and the vice-rector of the Belluno seminary in 1937. Among the different subjects, he taught dogmatic and moral theology, canon law, and sacred art.

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!

Papacy

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."

Long conclave predicted

Many, including the cardinals, expected a long conclave, deadlocked between the camps. Luciani was an easy compromise. He was a pastor more in the spirit of Vatican II than an austere intellectual, a man with few autocratic pretensions and so less unwelcome to some than Giovanni Cardinal Benelli. And for Italian cardinals, determined not to "lose" the papacy to a non-Italian for the first time in centuries and faced with other controversial Italian candidates, Luciani was an Italian with no baggage. He had no enemies created through a high profile career in the Curia, made no controversial or radical statements or sermons and was just a smiling gentleman, a pastor.

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".

Vincent Browne's claim

The belief that Luciani's election was a decision not made until during the conclave was challenged by senior Irish journalist Vincent Browne, who in 2005 revealed that he had been told by a senior Vatican source, whom he declined to name, that a number of cardinals had already decided informally amongst themselves to elect Luciani pope (though Luciani himself was unaware of it) during the sede vacante period between Pope Paul VI's death and the conclave. The source told him to expect a quick election. Browne recounted discussing this with sociologist and priest Father Andrew Greeley, who dismissed the claim, the idea of a short conclave and Luciani's chances of election. Their discussion was cut short by the crowd reacting to the traditional white smoke issuing from the Sistine Chapel's chimney, the conclusion of what indeed had turned out to be an abnormally short conclave. To Greeley's visible astonishment Luciani was announced as the new pope.

The smiling pope

After his election, John Paul quickly made several decisions that would "humanise" the office of pope, admitting publicly he had turned scarlet when Paul VI had named him the patriarch of Venice. He was the first modern pope to speak in the singular form, using 'I' instead of the royal we, though the official records of his speeches were often rewritten in more formal style by traditionalist aides, who reinstated the royal we in press releases and in L'Osservatore Romano. He was the first to refuse the sedia gestatoria until Vatican pressure convinced him of its need, in order to allow the faithful to see him.

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

New Pope, new rules

As a theologian, he was expected to be an interim pastor who would make few if any major changes. However, he did meet with representatives of the United Nations to discuss the issue of overpopulation in the Third World, a controversial issue in light of the Church's anti-contraceptive stance.

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.'"

Death

John Paul I was found dead sitting up in his bed shortly before dawn on September 29, 1978, just 33 days into his papacy. The Vatican reported that the 65-year old Pope most likely died the previous night of a myocardial infarction. However, a degree of uncertainty accompanies this diagnosis since an autopsy was not performed. This uncertainty, coupled with inconsistent statements made following the Pope's death, has led to a number of conspiracy theories concerning his death. These statements concern who found the Pope's body, at what time he was found, and what papers the Pope had in his hand.

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.

On November 11, 2006, the first part of his beatification process concluded at the Belluno cathedral.

Legacy of Pope John Paul I

Pope John Paul I was not in office long enough to make any major practical changes within the Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church (except for his abandonment of the Papal Coronation). His impact was twofold: his image as a warm, gentle, kind man captivated the world. This image was immediately formed when he was presented to the crowd in St. Peter's Square following his election. The warmth of his presence made him a much-loved figure before he even spoke a word. The media in particular fell under his spell. He was a skilled orator. Whereas Pope Paul VI spoke as if delivering a doctoral thesis, John Paul I produced warmth, laughter, a 'feel good factor', and plenty of media-friendly sound bites. Secondly, the manner of his death raised many questions about the conduct of senior Vatican figures. Even among those who dismiss conspiracy theories, there are some that admit that the Vatican mishandled the circumstances of his death. For others, the suspicion remains that the 'smiling pope', who charmed the world, died in a manner that has yet to be explained adequately.

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.

John Paul II on his predecessor

Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyła was elected to succeed John Paul I as Supreme Pontiff on Monday, October 16, 1978. According to at least one news report, his choice of the name John Paul was no surprise, although his election was. The next day he celebrated Mass together with the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. After the Mass, he delivered his first Urbi et Orbi (a traditional blessing) message, broadcast worldwide via radio. In it he pledged fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and paid tribute to his predecessor:

"What can we say of John Paul I? It seems to us that only yesterday he emerged from this assembly of ours to put on the papal robes—not a light weight. But what warmth of charity, nay, what 'an abundant outpouring of love'—which came forth from him in the few days of his ministry and which in his last Sunday address before the Angelus he desired should come upon the world. This is also confirmed by his wise instructions to the faithful who were present at his public audiences on faith, hope and love." (source: L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 26 October 1978, p.3)

Media

  • In 2006, the Italian Public Broadcasting Service, RAI, produced a television miniseries about the life of John Paul I, called Papa Luciani: Il sorriso di Dio (literally, "Pope Luciani: The Smile of God"). It stars Italian comedian Neri Marcorè in the titular role.
  • The Fall's 'Hey! Luciani' is about Pope John Paul I.
  • Patti Smith's recitative song "Wave" is about Luciani, and her Wave album is dedicated to him.
  • The 1990 film The Godfather Part III included the assassination theory of Pope John Paul I.

References

External links

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