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John Paul I, on his way to the altars, with a program that took him to heaven

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope Luciani, John Paul I, opening the way for his beatification. Professors Onésimo Díaz and Enrique de la Lama review significant facts of his life, of his 33 days as Pope, and a program that he could only outline.

Rafael Miner-October 24, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
John Paul I

The year 1978 was somewhat turbulent for the Church. There were three Popes, and this had happened only thirteen times in the two thousand year history of the Church, although it was surpassed by 1276, the year in which there were four Roman Pontiffs. The last year that the Catholic Church had three Popes was 1605, four centuries ago.

Italian priest and writer Mauro Leonardia collaborator of Omnes, told this portal a few days ago that he had the good fortune to be present at the first audience of John Paul I, the Pope of the "33 days" who will soon be beatified. He spent the month of August 1978 in Rome and was thus able to be present at the funeral of St. Paul VI, who died on the 6th of that month, and at the announcement of the election of the Patriarch of Venice, Albino Lucianiwhich took place on August 26.

"The activity in which I participated ended at the beginning of September, so I was able to attend the first General Audience, which was held on September 6," he recalled. "Although his pontificate was very short-lived, he made it clear that, among many other things, it would be necessary to give the figure of the Pope a dimension closer to the people. This was the path, already undertaken by Paul VI and John XXIII, which was later strongly adopted by John Paul II", all of them canonized by Pope Francis.

The surprising fact in that first Audience of John Paul I was the sudden decision to call a child, an altar boy, to dialogue with him. You can read 'With the Pope of the 33 days'.The anecdote recounted by Mauro Leonardi reflects, in his opinion, that "God wanted not only to 'be' closer to men, but also to 'seem' closer to them".

He could not even write an encyclical

"John Paul I has gone down in history for the brevity of his pontificate, for his smile and for being the last Italian pope for more than four centuries to date. The Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani (1912-1978), was a simple man, formed in a Christian and humble family, the eldest of four brothers. Following in the footsteps of St. John XXIII and St. Paul VI, he joined their names as a sign of continuity with his two predecessors," he explains. Onésimo Díazauthor of History of the Popes in the 20th century, Base, Barcelona, 2017, and professor at the University of Navarra.

"John Paul I did not have time to write an encyclical, or even to move his books and things to the Vatican. The 'Pope of the Smile' died suddenly on September 29, 1978," says the researcher. Onésimo Díazwhich tells of the following initiative of the patriarch of Venice. "Out of his catechetical zeal, he embarked on the enterprise of publishing a monthly letter, the addressee of which was a famous personage of the past, such as the writers Chesterton, Dickens, Gogol and Péguy. This peculiar collection of letters was published under the title Distinguished Gentlemen. Letters from the Patriarch of Venice (Madrid, BAC, 1978)".

Undoubtedly the boldest and most profound letter was addressed to Jesus Christ, which ended thus: 'I have never felt so discontented in writing as on this occasion. It seems to me that I have omitted most of the things that could have been said about You and that I have said badly what I should have said much better. I am consoled only by this: the important thing is not that one should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ'. And, fortunately - in spite of everything - this continues to happen even today", says Professor Diaz.

Metropolitan of Leningrad dies

"We do not know what would have become the fruitfulness of that gentle rain, which was the gentle doctrine and sweet disposition of the new pope," he wrote. Enrique de la LamaBut in that brief period of time important things had happened, some of them pathetically beautiful and full of meaning.

For example, on September 5, two days after his solemn enthronement, Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad, who had come to Rome to attend the funeral of Paul VI and to meet the newly elected Pontiff, was received in audience by John Paul I in his private library. Professor De la Lama recounts: "The noble metropolitan, who was about 50 years old, died suddenly a few minutes after the beginning of the conversation:

Two days ago - the Holy Father [Pope Luciani] confided to the clergy of Rome - Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad died in my arms. I was responding to his greeting. I assure you that never in my life I have heard so beautiful words for the Church as those he has just pronounced; I cannot say them, they remain secret. I am truly impressed: Orthodox, but how he loves the Church! And I believe that he has suffered much for the Church, doing so much for the union'".

The program he came to outline

"Those were intense days for him."Enrique de la Lama continues, detailing some of his activities during those days, part of that "program that he could not fulfill": "In four weeks, in addition to the traditional inaugural audiences to the Diplomatic Corps, to the representatives of the 'media', to the special missions arriving for the solemn enthronement and liturgical imposition of the 'primacial pallium', he spoke on successive days to the Roman clergy, received the episcopate of the United States and spoke to them on the greatness and holiness of the Christian family, spoke to the Filipino bishops on evangelization, insisted on the option for the poor, taught on the nature of episcopal authority, deplored liturgical irregularities and cried out against violence".

"He would also have liked to give a strong impetus to the juridical solution of Opus Dei and in fact he had approved a letter in order to initiate the corresponding deliberations: but he did not sign it", revealed Professor De la Lama (see John Paul I and John Paul II on the threshold of the third millenniumYearbook of Church History, 6 (1997): 189-218). As is well known, the configuration of Opus Dei as a personal prelature of universal scope of the Catholic Church was carried out by St. John Paul II, after a broad consultation with the world episcopate, in 1982.

"Seeking God in everyday work".

The Cardinal Luciani had already written about Opus Dei. In fact, a few weeks before he was elected pontiff, he published an article on Opus Dei in a Venetian magazine, titled "Seeking God in everyday work". (Gazzetino of VeniceJuly 25, 1978), in which the patriarch recalled that "Escriva speaks directly of 'materializing' - in a good sense - sanctification. For him, it is the material work itself that must be transformed into prayer and holiness," said Onésimo Díaz.

The researcher Diaz points out that the writings and the captivating smile" of Patriarch Luciani, then John Paul I for 33 days, "transmit the image of a man of God, that we will see very soon on the altars, like his predecessor St. Paul VI and his continuator St. John Paul II. For the time being, in the next few months he will be proclaimed Blessed".

"Evangelization, the first duty"

On the other hand, De la Lama recalls in his letter the initial statement of the newly elected Pope John Paul I about his future work: "Our program will be to continue his (that of Paul VI). [...] We wish to remind the whole Church that her first duty remains evangelization, the main lines of which our predecessor Paul VI condensed in a memorable document. We wish to continue the ecumenical effort, which we consider to be the last will of our two immediate predecessors. We want to continue with patience and firmness in that serene and constructive dialogue which the never sufficiently mourned Paul VI placed as the foundation and program of his pastoral action, describing its main lines in the great Encyclical Ecclesiamsuam. Finally, we want to support all praiseworthy and good initiatives that can protect and increase peace in the troubled world: for which we ask the collaboration of all good, just, honest, upright and upright-hearted men".

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