POPE FOR 33 DAYS
“At Midday on Sunday, August 27, 1978, Alberto Luciani, the newly elected Pope John Paul I, came out on the balcony of St Peter’s in Rome to recite the Angelus. The Conclave at which he has been elected had begun in the evening of August 25. No ballot was taken that evening. At 6.30pm on August 26 the white smoke gave notice that there had been an election. A little over half an hour later the formal announcement of the election was made. The name of the newly elected pope was revealed.
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
When Pope John Paul came out on the balcony to recite the Angelus on Sunday, August 27, he said: ‘Yesterday morning I went peacefully to the Sistine Chapel to vote. I could never have imagined what was going to happen. Scarcely had it become dangerous for me when the two colleagues who were near me whispered words of encouragement. One of them said: ‘Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.’ And the other said: ‘Don’t be afraid! Throughout the world there are many people praying for the new pope’.’
The pope went on to explain why he had chosen to be called John Paul. He recalled that it was Pope John who had consecrated him a bishop in St Peter’s Basilica and that he had been, though unworthily, his successor in the See of St Mark at Venice. It was Pope Paul who had made him a Cardinal. He briefly summarised the achievements of these two popes and concluded: ‘I have not got the ‘wisdom of heart’ of Pope John. Neither have I the preparation or the culture of Pope Paul. But I am in their place and I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers…’
REFUSED TO BE ENTHRONED
The simple, direct style of Pope John Paul combined with his endearing smile appealed greatly to his audience and they responded accordingly. Equally simple was the official ceremony of his installation as Pope on September 3. He refused to be ‘crowned’ or ‘enthroned’. Instead the ceremony consisted of the placing on his shoulders of the pallium, the traditional vestment worn by all metropolitan archbishops both Eastern and Western. It is presented as coming from the tomb of St Peter.
A BETTER WORLD
On September 23, Pope John Paul took possession of the Basilica of St John Lateran, his cathedral church as Bishop of Rome. The following day when he came out to recite the Angelus from the balcony of St Peter’s he spoke of the happiness of the occasion due to the people of Rome, the courtesy of the mayor and of members of the Italian Government. He continued: ‘It was not happiness but, on the contrary, it was sadness to have learned from the papers a few days ago that a Roman student had been coldly murdered over a paltry incident. It was one of so many cases of violence which continually upset this poor, disturbed society.’ He went on to refer to a recent kidnapping of a seven year old child and continued: ‘People sometimes say that we are living in a society which is totally fragmented and dishonest. This is not true. There are still very many good and honest people. We should rather ask what we can do to make a better society. I would say that each one of us should seek to be good and to infect others with a goodness that is shot through with the gentleness and love that Christ has taught us.’
Five days later the Pope was dead. He died of a massive heart attack shortly after going to bed. He was found dead at 5.30am on September 29. He had been Pope for thirty three days.
THE LARGEST CONCLAVE
The August Conclave which elected Alberto Luciani was the largest and geographically, the most widespread of any in the long history of the Papacy. There were one hundred and eleven cardinals present only eleven of whom had attended a previous conclave.
In a pastoral letter to his diocese Cardinal Hoffner of Cologne wrote: ‘There was no need to count the names, because the only name read out by the scrutineers was that of Luciani.’ According to the same source the first words of the newly elected pope were: ‘God will forgive you for what you have done to me.’ Vatican Radio announced that the election was ‘almost by acclamation.’ Cardinal Hume said: ‘Seldom have I had such an experience of the presence of God… I am not one for whom the dictates of the Holy Spirit are self-evident. I’m slightly hard-boiled on that… But for me he was God’s Candidate.’ He was elected at either the third or fourth ballot.
The communist Mayor of Alberto Luciani’s village of Canale d’Agordo in Northern Italy, who had not been seen in the church for over twenty years, arrived there in the afternoon of the day that the news of the election reached the village. He decked the village with flags and organised transport to take the villagers to the inauguration.
NO TIME FOR POMP
Alberto Luciani had been born in Canale d’Agordo in 1912. The family was not well off, his father being for a time a migrant worker. After attending the local seminary and doing his military service he was ordained a priest on July 7, 1935. He was sent to Rome for further studies which he completed in theology at the Gregorian University. A short spell as a curate was followed by ten years of teaching in the local seminary. He became Vicar-General to the Bishop and was charged with responsibility for catechists.
In 1958 Pope John appointed Luciani Bishop of Vittorio Veneto and in December 1969, he was named Patriarch of Venice. In this capacity he hosted five ecumenical conferences and from 1972 to 1975 he was Vice-President of the Italian Conference of Bishops. He was named a Cardinal in March 1973. As a Bishop, Luciani was noted for his disregard for the traditional trappings of episcopal authority. He declined to make a triumphal entry to his diocese on a splendidly arrayed gondola. He regularly walked about the diocese dressed as an ordinary priest. He liked meeting and talking to people.
Before being elected Pope, Luciani’s experience would have been the experience of an Italian Bishop practically involved with the pastoral care of his diocese. Unlike his four immediate predecessors, he had no diplomatic experience nor had he ever worked for the Roman Curia. He was practically unknown outside of Italy. His death brought to an end the four and a half centuries of tradition that the Pope should be an Italian.”
POPE JOHN PAUL, PRAY FOR US!
– The above article by Henry Peel OP, entitled “Pope for 33 days”, was published in “Saint Martin Magazine” issue August 2013. For information about the Saint Martin Apostolate and for subscriptions please visit http://www.stmartin.ie (external link).