Presenting the day-to-day events in the brief papacy of His Holiness, Pope John Paul I. The final posts appear directly below. Click here to start from the beginning — with the passing of his predecessor, Blessed Pope Paul VI.
Friday, Sept. 29, 1978
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul I, the humble “little man” elected pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church just 34 days ago, died of a heart attack in his bed late Thursday. The 65-year-old pope’s reign was one of the shortest in history but his warmth and good humor had nonetheless endeared him to millions.
VATICAN CITY — The death of two popes within two months has touched off an international debate on medical care at the Vatican.
VATICAN CITY — Thousands of mourners, many weeping openly, filed past the body of Pope John Paul I today as the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church planned the pontiff’s funeral for Wednesday [Oct. 4] and set Oct. 14 to begin the conclave that will choose his successor.
Pope John Paul I: “He Only Had Time to be Loved” (Reuters, UPI)
Will the Holy Men Choose Another Like John Paul? (William Montalbano)
What do you see as the providential purposes of John Paul I’s papacy?
Thursday, Sept. 28, 1978
Today John Paul addressed a group of ten bishops visiting from the Philippines for their ad limina visit.
Just recently at a general audience, we spoke to the faithful about eternal life. We are convinced that it is necessary for us to emphasize this element, in order to complete our message and to model our teaching on that of Jesus.
More than ever before, we must help our people to realize just how much they need Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. He is their Savior, the key to their destiny and to the destiny of all humanity.
Leaving the event, the pope privately apologized to Msgr. Justin Rigali, who had served as a translator at the event, for keeping him from his office work at the Vatican. Rigali replied that it was an honor to be summoned by the pope. John Paul replied with a smile and said: “Thank you, thank you, disturbed Monsignor.”
Finally this church instills into one’s mind the desire for that heavenly home, where one may enjoy for all eternity the gifts, which the eye cannot see, about which the ear cannot hear, nor can they be adequately represented by any thought; indeed, “the building we have from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2nd Corinthians 5:1) This certainly gives true meaning and real importance to this short and often arduous life on earth. In times of adversity, let us long for that blessed life which will never fail, and let us not forget it in times of prosperity.
This evening, around 10 p.m., the Holy Father was informed that some neo-Fascist youths had fired upon a group of young people reading L’Unita, a Communist newspaper, outside one of the party’s offices in Rome. One boy was killed and another was seriously wounded. John Paul lamented, “Even the young are killing each other.” He then retired to his room to read Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ in bed.
In his Wednesday Audience, John Paul spoke on the third theological virtue, charity (or love.) He began and structured his address to 17,000 pilgrims with “a very well-known prayer” he learned from his mother and which he recites several times each day:
“My God, with all my heart above all things I love You, infinite good and our eternal happiness, and for your sake I love my neighbor as myself and forgive offences received. Oh Lord, may I love you more and more.”
In a word: to love means travelling, rushing with one’s heart towards the object loved. … To love God is therefore a journeying with one’s heart to God. A wonderful journey! When I was a boy, I was thrilled by the journeys described by Jules Verne (“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea,” “From The Earth To The Moon,” “Round The World In Eighty Days,” etc.) But the journeys of love for God are far more interesting.
God is too great, he deserves too much from us for us to be able to throw to him, as to a poor Lazarus, a few crumbs of our time and our heart. He is infinite good and will be our eternal happiness: money, pleasure, the fortunes of this world, compared with him, are just fragments of good and fleeting moments of happiness. It would not be wise to give so much of ourselves to these things and little of ourselves to Jesus.
John Paul also quoted from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio (23): “Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities.” In closing, the pope said:
From pile-dwellings, caves and the first huts we have passed to houses, apartment buildings and skyscrapers; from journeys on foot, on the back of a mule or of a camel, to coaches, trains and airplanes. And people desire to progress further with more and more rapid means of transport, reaching more and more distant goals. But to love God, we have seen, is also a journey: God wants it to be more and more intense and perfect. He said to all his followers: “You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14,) “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48.) That means: to love God not a little, but so much; not to stop at the point at which we have arrived, but with his help, to progress in love.
The pope then encapsulated his remarks for the benefit of the English-speaking pilgrims in attendance. (This is one of the few occasions the pope has spoken publically in English.)
His Holiness also met today with the eparch for the United States, Archbishop Joseph Tawil, and Patriarch Maximos Hakin, both of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Many people do not realize that the Roman Rite and the Latin Church are only one of the many Catholic rites and Churches in full communion with the pope.
What is the greatest journey you have ever made with and for the Lord?
Tuesday, Sept. 26, 1978
John Paul I Opening Communications (Jack Anderson, UFS, Spoiler Alert)
WASHINGTON — Confidential State Department cables reveal that [the pope is] actively seeking advice from world leaders on social and moral issues…
…State Department officials [have] informed a congressional delegation confidentially: “We believe that (the) Vatican would react favorably to [a] request for [a] private audience by [a] U.S. congressional group to brief the pope” on such sensitive subjects as population control, hunger, health, and family planning.
The Vatican’s cordial attitude, sources told associate Jack Mitchell, did not necessarily mean that the new pope was contemplating any action on these controversial issues. But he was willing to discuss them privately with U.S. experts.
It is a good thing for the pope to hear a wide range of other perspectives, even where the Catholic Faith would prevent full agreement with them.
Another Vatican Leak (John Allen, Spoiler Alert)
The report is also intriguing: This evening, the pope reportedly asked his personal secretary, Fr. John Magee, “Why did they select me [as pope]? There was somebody much better than me. Paul VI had even indicated him as his successor.” Magee did not ask whom he had in mind. But, on another occasion, the pope remarked that the “much better” choice had been sitting across from him during the conclave. According to Vatican records, someone seated directly across from Albino Luciani in the conclave was the Polish Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła.
Monday, Sept. 25, 1978
Did you know that the Vatican City State has its own flag, pontifical anthem, license plates, an army, and (potentially) a navy? It even has a mint which coins legal currency. For example, here are the heads and tails designs for a new Vatican coin which will be minted next year. It features Pope John Paul I and his papal coat of arms.
What is your favorite bit of Vatican City trivia?
Sunday, Sept. 24, 1978
In today’s Sunday Angelus, the pope lamented evils recently reported in the Italian press; the cold-blooded murder of a Roman student over a trivial dispute and the ongoing kidnapping of Luca Locci, a seven-year-old boy. In response to such violence, John Paul suggested love in the likeness of the sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne who were martyred during the French revolution:
During the trial they were condemned “to death for fanaticism.” And one of them asked in her simplicity: “Your Honour, what does fanaticism mean?” And the judge: “It is your foolish membership of religion.” “Oh, Sisters,” she then said, “did you hear, we are condemned for our attachment to faith. What happiness to die for Jesus Christ!”
They were brought out of the prison of the Conciergerie, and made to climb into the fatal cart. On the way they sang hymns; when they reached the guillotine, one after the other knelt before the Prioress and renewed the vow of obedience. Then they struck up “Veni Creator.” The song, however, became weaker and weaker, as the heads of the poor Sisters fell, one by one, under the guillotine. The Prioress, Sister Theresa of St. Augustine, was the last, and her last words were the following: “Love will always be victorious, love can do everything.” That was the right word, not violence, but love, can do everything. Let us ask the Lord for the grace that a new wave of love for our neighbor may sweep over this poor world.
The pope also dispatched a message to the bishops and faithful participating in Ecuador’s Third National Marian Congress; encouraging them and saying, in part:
“May Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church and sweetest Mother of each one of us, always be your model, your guide, your path to Big Brother and Savior of all, Jesus.”
What is your favorite Christian martyr quote or reflection on Mary?
Saturday, Sept. 23, 1978
For the first time in his papacy, John Paul I left the Vatican today to claim his cathedra, or seat. The Basilica of St. John Lateran, not St. Peter’s, is the cathedral of the pope and of the city of Rome. Along the way, he was greeted by the mayor at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. John Paul expressed his thanks to the mayor and pledged his efforts to benefit the people of Rome. In his Mass homily, the pope spoke about the city of Rome, the faithful of Rome, and the duties of the bishop of Rome:
Rome will be a true Christian community if God is honored by you not merely with a multitude of the faithful in the churches, not merely with private life that is lived morally, but also with love for the poor. These, the Roman deacon Lawrence said, are the true treasures of the Church. They must be helped, however, by those who can, to have more and to be more…
To reconcile the horse and the rider, liberty and authority, has become a social problem. It is likewise with the Church. …St. Francis de Sales would recall the example of St. John the Baptist who lived in the desert, far from the Lord, yet so greatly desiring to be near to him. Why? Out of obedience: “He knew,” writes the saint, “that to find the Lord outside of obedience meant to lose him.”
Let me add only one more thing: it is God’s law that one cannot do good to anyone if one does not first of all wish him well. On account of this, St Pius V, on becoming Patriarch of Venice, exclaimed in San Marco: “What would become of me, Venetians, if I did not love you?” I say something similar: I can assure you that I love you, that I desire only to enter into your service and to place the poor powers that I have, however little they are, at the disposal of all.
A Look Inside St. John Lateran’s (360° panoramas)
If you could only take one vacation for the rest of your life, where would you go and what would you do?
Friday, Sept. 22, 1978
A good while after John Paul I’s election, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger shared his reflections on the pope and the conclave that elected him in a magazine interview. (Thirty Days Magazine, Spoiler Alert)
“It is true that the German-speaking cardinals met a few times,” Cardinal Ratzinger said. “These meetings were attended by Cardinals Joseph Schröffer, former prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Joseph Höffner, archbishop of Cologne; Franz König, archbishop of Vienna, and Alfred Bengsch, archbishop of Berlin. Paulo Evaristo Arns and Aloisio Lorscheider, Brazilian cardinals of German origin, also met. It was a small group. We didn’t want to decide anything at all. We only wanted to speak. I let myself be guided by Providence, listening to the names and seeing how consensus was finally formed around the patriarch of Venice.”
After John Paul I was elected, “I felt very happy. To have as pastor of the universal Church a man of that goodness and luminous faith was a guarantee that everything was going well. He himself was very surprised and felt the weight of his great responsibility. It was obvious that he suffered somewhat because of this. He did not expect to be elected. He was not a man who sought a career.”
“Personally, I am totally convinced that he [is] a saint, because of his great goodness, simplicity, humanity and great courage,” the cardinal said. “He [has] the courage to say things with great clarity, even if he [has] to go against current opinions.”
What is your favorite written work by Cardinal Ratzinger and why?
Thursday, Sept. 21, 1978
Once, every five years, a bishop must travel “to the thresholds” of the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome to report to the pope on the state of the diocese he leads. This is called the ad limina visit. Today, bishops from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington state came to the Vatican to meet with the pope. John Paul addressed the U.S. bishops about “the domestic Church,” the Christian family:
Let us never grow tired of proclaiming the family as a community of love: conjugal love unites the couple and is procreative of new life; it mirrors the divine love…
Today we want to express our admiration and praise for all the efforts being made to guard and preserve the family as God made it, as God wants it.
This month, the Shroud of Turin (the linen shroud in which some believe Jesus Christ was buried and resurrected) is on public display in Turin, Italy. While he was the archbishop of Venice, Cardinal Luciani had intended to visit the holy shroud today. (Spoiler alerts) Instead, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of Turin in which he calls the display “a happy opportunity to strengthen faith.” Rumor has it that the pope intends to privately visit the exposition before its conclusion. Next month, the shroud will undergo extensive scientific testing by members of the newly formed Shroud of Turin Research Project (or STURP.)
Wednesday, Sept. 20, 1978
The pope’s remarks in today’s General Audience spoke on the virtue of Christian hope, the hope which is ours because we are attached to three truths:
God is almighty, God loves me immensely, God is faithful to promises.
Even our distressing sins should not deprive us of our hope. Echoing St. Francis de Sales, John Paul said:
God detests failings because they are failings. On the other hand, however, in a certain sense he loves failings since they give to him an opportunity to show his mercy and to us an opportunity to remain humble and to understand and to sympathize with our neighbor’s failings.
Does Christian hope in heaven cause a blameworthy passivity towards the problems on earth? John Paul noted the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that “the Christian message, far from deterring men from the task of building up the world … binds them, rather, to all this by a still more stringent obligation.” Yet he also observed that the “healthy, pure joys, which we meet on our way” in this world “must not be absolutized” :
They are something, not everything; they serve as a means, they are not the supreme purpose; they do not last for ever, but only for a short time. Christians, St. Paul wrote, “deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.” Christ had already said: “Seek first of all the kingdom of God.”
The pope then critiqued the allegedly Christian hope promised by communism:
It is wrong, on the other hand, to state that political, economic and social liberation coincides with salvation in Jesus Christ, that the Regnum Dei [Kingdom of God] is identified with the Regnum hominis [Kingdom of man,] that Ubi Lenin ibi Jerusalem [Where Lenin is there is Jerusalem.]
In other papal news, His Holiness sent a letter to the bishops of Argentina and Chile urging them to promote peace between their nations. These two military-led countries are threatening war in border dispute over possession of strategically-located islands south of Tierra del Fuego:
Without going into technical aspects, which are outside of our intent, we exhort you, with all the moral force at your disposal, to work for peace, encouraging all, rulers and ruled, toward goals of mutual understanding and generous comprehension with those who, though full of national barriers, are brothers in humanity, children of the same Father, united by the same religious ties.
Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1978
Some of Albino Luciani’s thoughts on irresponsible theologians and the pitfalls of Church reform in the post-conciliar years before he became Pope John Paul I.
From a 1976 homily referring to a French priest and doctor, Marc Oraison, who said that homosexual (romantic) love was Christian:
“If a priest preaches like he does then everything is ruined. Now even nuns are starting to dress like young ladies, and what about certain theologians? They have forgotten that a theologian is not just someone who speaks of God but also speaks to God. How many of them speak to Him and help us speak to Him?”
From a 1974 article on theologians:
“We cross sometimes into fiction-theology instead of theology. Certain working hypotheses could go by if announced in high-level reviews or congresses. On the contrary, we find them in all newspapers. Some, instead of limiting themselves to being vanguard theologians, become, according to the expression of Hans Kung, sniper-theologians.”
On change in the Church:
“It is necessary to know how to build on top of what exists, often being content with what we already have.”
In other news, as part of his ecumenical efforts, John Paul meets today (Spoiler Alert) with a delegation from the Syrian-Orthodox Church. In the first century, it was at Antioch (in modern-day Syria) that followers of the Way were called “Christians” for the first time.
Monday, Sept 18, 1978
Here is an article written less than two months ago by Cardinal Luciani on “Seeking God Through Ordinary Work.” It highlights the spirituality of Opus Dei and their founder, Msgr. Josemaría Escrivá, who died in 1975.
God does not want us simply to be good, he wants us to be saints, through and through. However, he wants us to attain that sanctity, not by doing extraordinary things, but rather through ordinary common activities. It is the way they are done which must be uncommon. There, in the middle of the street, in the office, in the factory, we can be holy, provided we do our job competently, for love of God and cheerfully, so that everyday work becomes, not “a daily tragedy,” but rather “a daily smile.
On one occasion in 1957 when an important person congratulated Msgr. Escrivá because a member of the association had been appointed a government minister in Spain, he received a rather curt reply, “What does it matter to me whether he is a minister of state or a street sweeper. What I am interested in is that he sanctify himself in his work.” In that reply we have the whole of Escrivá and the spirit of Opus Dei: each person should sanctify himself in and through his work, including the government minister, if he has been put in that position. What is truly important is that he should really seek holiness. The rest matters little.
Besides yourself, who would you like to see the Church canonize someday and why?
Sunday, Sept. 17, 1978
The day after tomorrow, twelve million Italian young people will be going back to school for their fall term. Today’s Sunday Angelus conveyed the pope’s cordial greetings and best wishes to the students and teachers alike.
Italian teachers have in their history classic cases of exemplary love and dedication to teaching. Giosué Carducci was a university professor in Bologna. He went to Florence for some celebration. One evening, he went to take leave of the Minister of Public Instruction. “No, no,” said the Minister, “stay tomorrow also.” “Excellency, I cannot. Tomorrow I have class at the University and the boys expect me.” “I dispense it.” “You can dispense me, but I do not dispense myself.” Professor Carducci had a really high concept both the school and the students. He was of the race of those who say: “To teach Latin to John is not enough to know Latin, you must also know and love John.”
To primary school students, I would like to recall their friend Pinocchio: who not one day skipped school to go see puppets; rather, Pinocchio took to liking school, so much so that during the entire school year, every day, he was the first to enter class and the last to leave.
[When I was a school boy,] nobody came to tell me “you will be pope.” If they had only told me, I would have studied more. I would have prepared myself. Now I am old, there is no time.
His Holiness also dispatched a message to Freiburg, Germany for the opening of the 85th Katholikentag (or “Catholic Day,“) a recurring festival held in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. Mother Teresa, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, is attending this year’s gathering with Munich’s Archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The pope wrote:
We may sometimes feel that Christian hope in our world has lost its stimulating force. On the one hand, we note a fear of living and despair, and other careless people imprudently want to build and secure their future with their own forces. Against any form of lacking faith and disorienting fatigue and against all forms of blind violence, Katholikentag opposes with a sign of certainty and confidence. Far from pride and man’s deceiving self-sufficiency, it anchors the future and hope in Him alone who can give them: God, the Lord of history.
In other news, after twelve days of secret negotiations, Egypt’s President and Israel’s Prime Minister signed the Camp David Accords today at the White House. This comes as joyful news for the pope and others around the world who have been praying for such a breakthrough. Hopefully, these accords will facilitate peace between these two nations and in the greater Middle East.
What would you like to see the pope to call upon the whole world to pray for?
Saturday, Sept. 16, 1978
Pope John Paul I met today with President Mohamed Said Barre of Somalia. (AP, Spoiler Alert) Is it appropriate for the pope to meet with the autocratic rulers of totalitarian states, such as Barre of Somalia? On one hand, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” (Mark 2:17) Such conversations hold the possibility of prompting humanitarian concessions and domestic reforms. On the other hand, such meetings can extend legitimacy to tyrants, deepening the suffering of the innocents under their rule. In the Gospels we see that Jesus Christ dialogued with Governor Pontius Pilate; however, the Lord refused to even speak to King Herod Antipas.
What was the difference between the Pilate and Herod?
Whom should the pope meet with and whom should he refuse?
Friday, Sept. 15, 1978
“After the first votes, the name came out immediately. ‘Luciani, why not?,’ so many people said. A good, intelligent and pious person. And the consensus was spread rapidly. We think on him as a new Pius X, also he is Patriarch of Venice, a good and holy pope. And [at the same time resolved] about the defense of the doctrine. That was necessary after the post-Council disorders.”
—Cardinal Silvio Oddi of Italy
“I remember that, Saturday morning, going out from the Sistine Chapel, we met Patriarch Luciani in the elevator. Then we told him: ‘The votes are increasing.’ He shielded himself saying: ‘This is only a summer storm.'”
—Cardinal Archbishop Lazlo Lékai
of Esztergom, Hungary
[I asked Cardinal Luciani,] “Eminence, where is the toilet?”
– “I don’t know.”
– “But you will know soon because you are going to be the owner of this house.”
– “Are you a prophet?”
After the election, John Paul I said: “You, Eminence, have been a prophet but my Pontificate will be brief.”
—Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Sin
of Manila, the Philippines
[At Luciani’s election,] “We stood up to applaud, but we did not see him. He was curled up on his chair; he had become little, little; he wanted to hide. It’s a pity we cannot tell what we have lived through, because it has been much more beautiful than you can imagine.”
—Cardinal Archbishop Vicente Enrique y Tarancón
of Madrid-Alcalá, Spain
“On Sunday morning, after a night of insomnia, the pope met Monsignor Caprio, Substitute of the Secretary of State. And he, jokingly, asked him: ‘Holiness, have you rethought it? Are you regretful?’ And the smiling pope answered: ‘Yes, but it has already no solution.'”
—Reported by Don Jesús Infiesta
Thursday, Sept. 14, 1978
“People give you strange looks when you tell them you are the pope’s cousin,” [admitted 79-year-old Silvio Luciani, a retired bricklayer from Marysville, Michigan.] “They move away and think you are crazy.”
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. My wife and I went to Venice. He was living in a castle there. He said he wanted to give us a good welcome, so he gave us Coca-Cola to drink. The new pope likes his Coca-Cola,” he said with a smile.
Pope John Paul met [today] with his American cousin Silvio Luciani… in an audience along with other relatives before their return home. Lucinai, first cousin of the pope, emigrated to the United States more than 50 years ago. He and the pope were born in the same village in the Italian Dolomites.
Who is the most famous person you are related or connected to, and what can you tell us about him or her?
Wednesday, Sept. 13, 1978
At today’s Wednesday Audience, the Holy Father shared his intention to speak in the weeks ahead on what Pope John XXII called the “Seven Lamps of Sanctification,” namely: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. Today’s audience featured the pope’s reflections on the first virtue, faith:
My mother used to tell me when I was a boy: “When you were little, you were very ill. I had to take you from one doctor to another and watch over you whole nights; do you believe me?” How could I have said: “I don’t believe you, Mamma”? “Of course I believe, I believe what you tell me, but I believe especially in you.”
And so it is in faith. It is not just a question of believing in the things that God revealed, but in him who deserves our faith, who has loved us so much and done so much for our sake.
He also reflected on our Mother, the Church, and the truths she contains despite her sometimes wayward children:
A certain British preacher MacNabb, speaking in Hyde Park, had spoken of the Church. When he finished, someone asked to speak and said: “Yours are fine words. But I know some Catholic priests who did not stay with the poor and became rich. I know also Catholic husbands who have betrayed their wives. I do not like this Church made of sinners.” The Father said: “There’s something in what you say. But may I make an objection?” “Let’s hear it.” He says: “Excuse me, but am I mistaken or is the collar of your shirt a little greasy?” He says: “Yes, it is, I admit.” “But is it greasy because you haven’t used soap, or because you used soap but it was no use?” “No,” he says, “I haven’t used soap.” You see. The Catholic Church too has extraordinary soap: the gospel, the sacraments, prayer. The gospel read and lived; the sacraments celebrated in the right way; prayer well used, would be a marvellous soap, capable of making us all saints. We are not all saints, because we have not used this soap enough.
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul I used the portable papal throne carried by 12 Vatican attendants [today] for the first time since becoming pontiff Aug. 25.
Vatican officials said John Paul decided to use the portable throne [called the Gestatorial Chair] Wednesday because of letters received by the Vatican saying those who attended the general audience last week were unable to see the pontiff.
Tuesday, Sept. 12, 1978
When in 1844 Bishop Pompallier, Vicar Apostolic of Central Oceania, declared his intention of establishing a mission [on the Fiji Islands] he met with instant protest from the Christian chiefs of Wallis. “Fiji! But the devil’s children are there!”
Today, the islands’ inhabitants are almost entirely Christians, with Catholics being somewhat less than 10% of the population. The people of Fiji are a powerful illustration of why we should count no one as beyond the Gospel’s converting touch.
Pope Invited to the New World, but Staying Put for Now (Ottawa Journal)
Mario Cardinal Casariego of Guatemala invited Pope John Paul I Monday to visit Guatemala next year, Vatican sources report. The sources said Casariego made the
invitation at a private audience with the pope. The pontiff thanked him but did not immediately say if he could make the trip. Last week the pope said he was unable to accept an invitation to the Latin American bishops’ conference in Puebla, Mexico, next month because of the many commitments of the start of his pontificate. A trip by John Paul to Guatemala would be the first visit by a pope to Central America.
Today, Pope John Paul I also visited the grottoes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. (AP, Spoiler Alert) There he prayed at the tomb of Pope Paul VI. Even ten years ago (in 1968, just five years into his papacy) Paul VI was “the most-traveled pope in history of the Roman Catholic Church.” (UPI)
In which lands has the gospel been least proclaimed and what can we do to promote Christ there?
Monday, Sept. 11, 1978
This week’s Time Magazine features a story which claims to unveil the factors and events which led the cardinals to elect Albino Luciani behind the locked conclave doors. Some of its details could only be known by the cardinals themselves. Yet, the cardinals each take a solemn oath to maintain “secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting,” and “promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff…”
This article, like every inside-the-conclave exposé, should be taken with a grain of salt. (Mutually-contradictory accounts seem to float to the surface after every conclave.) Yet I suppose some cardinals have more liberal conceptions of which conclave details are unrelated to the pope’s election and share these personal anecdotes with clear consciences. Articles like Time’s reinforce the old Roman jokes: “If something is a ‘pontifical secret’ it means that you can only tell one person at a time;” because, “In Rome, everything’s a mystery and nothing is secret.”
As the counting went on, two Cardinals who had entered the conclave as favorites listened attentively. Both are highly placed in the Vatican’s powerful bureaucracy, the Curia: Sergio Pignedoli, who sat just to the right of the altar, and Sebastiano Baggio, who sat just to the left. But the name that kept resounding toward the shadowy ceiling of the chapel belonged to no seasoned veteran of the Curia. It belonged to a Cardinal who had never drafted documents from the dry heart of the Vatican at all, or served overseas in the papal diplomatic service. He had, in fact, only rarely been outside Italy in his life.
The waiting world was surprised, then pleased by the new pope, a lifelong pastor and teacher who seemed to show a rare blend of strength and humility, a fine gift for words, a reassuring balance between kindness and worldly practicality. But how had he come to be chosen? And why? Had some kind of secret combine among the Princes of the Church brought Luciani to the fore? Or a compromise that, despite formal assertions of happiness, really left nobody happy?
Often the answers to such questions have remained locked in mystery, protected by the wall of secrecy that attends the conclave, the vows of silence taken by the Cardinals as they enter and are sealed from the outside world. It is clear that Luciani came to power through no accident, but as a result of a spontaneous consensus that evolved from three agreements reached during the lengthy pre-conclave period that followed the death of Pope Paul VI on Aug. 6.
Probably half of the 111 Cardinal-electors went into the conclave still undecided. But most were fairly convinced that the pope would, once again, have to be an Italian. Even many Asians and Africans, whose numbers are growing and whose concerns often differ from their brother Cardinals in Europe and the New World, conceded that an Italian was needed to handle the delicate role the papacy still must play in Italy’s uncertain politics. Beyond that some Cardinals feared that any non-Italian might give a threatening new tilt to the Vatican.
The second consensus, resisted to the end by some members of the Curia, was that the church, whatever its farflung political and administrative problems, needed a pastoral pope. “It is one thing to interpret the faith and another to convey it to the people in the parishes,” said one ranking Curia prelate. “That is something that the bishops— whatever their theology— understand better than the Curialists at their little desks.”
Another Cardinal said, “I think all of us had agreed in our own minds before the conclave that we needed to go back to a humble, pastoral man, although we did not really consult each other about it. And then, when we went in, it became clear to us that this was what we wanted.”
On participant said there was a consensus that the new pope be “not obvious, and not controversial.” Luciani was a man “not actively disliked by anyone, and actively liked by everyone who really knew him.”
On the fourth vote, “no other name but Luciani’s was read out. There were a number of blank ballots…. But roughly ninety votes went to Luciani.”
The Camerlengo, his face wreathed in smiles, asked the ritual question, “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” Luciani at first replied, “May God forgive you for what you have done in my regard.” Then he gave his assent, “Accepto.”
Those elected pope in the conclave can freely decline the office, in which case the balloting would continue. Therefore, I take Luciani’s remark as a playful jest, akin to saying, “You’re going to pay for this.”
The details about the final ballot’s voting are also interesting. I imagine that when one candidate appears on the verge of being chosen everyone feels a natural desire to be among those who elected him, or at least to not vote against him (and cast a blank vote.) An unanticipated, unanimous conclusion after just four ballots would jibe with several cardinals’ impressions (reported elsewhere) that the Holy Spirit was clearly at work.
What is an event from your life or our times in which you think the Holy Spirit was uncannily at work?
Sunday, Sept. 10, 1978
John Paul I’s Sunday Angelus message opened with thoughts on the ongoing Middle East peace talks at Camp David. He spoke of how the three leaders —Muslim, Christian, and Jewish— can all find encouragement for their efforts in their religious traditions’ confidence in God.
President Sadat’s brothers in religion are accustomed to say as follows: “there is pitch darkness, a black stone and on the stone a little ant; but God sees it, and does not forget it”. President Carter, who is a fervent Christian, reads in the Gospel; “Knock, and it will be opened to you; ask, and it will be given you. Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” And Premier Begin recalls that the Jewish people once passed difficult moments and addressed the Lord complaining and saying: “You have forsaken us, you have forgotten us!” “No!”—He replied through Isaiah the Prophet—”can a mother forget her own child? But even if it should happen, God will never forget his people”.
However, it is what the pope said next which will receive the lasting attention:
Also we who are here have the same sentiments; we are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, He wants only to do good to us, to all of us. If children are ill, they have additional claim to be loved by their mother. And we too, if by chance we are sick with badness, on the wrong track, have yet another claim to be loved by the Lord.
Unexpectedly, I cannot find any immediate reaction in the newspaper press to the pope’s comment. While it is surely silly to interpret a pope’s single remark as if it reoriented the entire theology of the Catholic Church, I am surprised that the media is not making more hay of this to advance their own agendas.
Paramount Pictures Perturbed Post Pope Paul’s Passing (Spokesman-Review)
Paramount Pictures is reportedly quite concerned over how their July-released comedy, “Foul Play,” will be affected at the box office in light of the recent death of Pope Paul VI. In the movie, Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase (in his first film) foil a plot to kill the fictional Pope Pius XIII. Though the story is farcical, even featuring an albino assassin, it is hard to predict how worldwide audiences will receive it.
What is your favorite Catholic movie and why?
Saturday, Sept. 9, 1978
Pre-papacy quotations from Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I.
On the Church:
“In the modern state, authority comes from the grassroots. They elect representatives and confer upon them power, control its exercise and possibly take it back. In the Church it is different. Christ established the essential features once and for all. Christ himself — and not the grassroots — confers authority on the pope and the bishops, also specifying in what way it should be exercised. That is, with a style of service, to the full and only advantage of the faithful who should be as younger brothers to their pastors rather than subjects, embarked on the vessel of the Church not as passengers but as the co-responsible crew.”
From a 1977 homily on the papacy:
“It requires of him especially three things: continuous and involved teaching, a dialogue unknown in previous times and loyalty to the (Second Vatican) Council.”
From a recent article on the priesthood:
“I hear people saying: The priest has lost his identity card. It is not so. Let’s not lose too much time asking who we are, because it is not a question of defining our priesthood but of living it. The example of Christ is before our eyes: Meek and humble, chaste, poor, and obedient.”
Friday, Sept. 8, 1978
Stories from Venice (AP)
One of Luciani’s first decisions in Venice was to allow parishes to sell jewels and precious stones in the churches and to give the proceeds to the poor. He refused to wear the customary precious ring that symbolized his office.
But when the ferments stirred by the Vatican Council reached Venice and its industrial mainland of Mestre, Luciani appeared to be on the conservative side. He was against worker priests — those who went into the factories and fields to labor with the laity — and criticized unions over strikes and workers’ demonstrations.
In 1975 he recommended disciplinary punishment for priests who spoke out in favor of the Communist Party or other leftist groups.
[H]is insistence has been on keeping in line with the liberalizing Second Vatican Council, which opened under the reign of Pope John XXIII and ended under Pope Paul VI.
John Paul, Mender of Fences (The Age)
In recent years Pope John Paul has been active in establishing family counseling clinics in Venice to help poor people cope with marital, financial and sexual problems. He is known as a champion of the poor and he once ordered the sale of gold in Venetian churches to provide money to help handicapped children.
He has been a critic of the Press, especially when it has attributed political epithets such as “Left” and “Right”” to individuals and groups within the church. Pope John Paul has said that such labels are a mistake and that people in positions of authority in the church have a duty to exercise their authority.
Thursday, Sept. 7, 1978
Today John Paul I gave an address to the priests of Rome, the native clergy of his new diocese, emphasizing the necessity of prayerful mediation for priests to remain “habitually united with God.”
At Milan station I once saw a porter, who, with his head resting on a sack of coal propped against a pillar, was sound asleep… Trains left whistling and arrived with clanking wheels the loudspeakers continually boomed out announcements; people came and went in confusion and noise, but he—sleeping on—seemed to be saying: “Do what you like, but I need to be quiet.” We priests should do something similar: around us there is continual movement and talking, of persons, newspapers, radio and television. With priestly moderation and discipline we must say: “Beyond certain limits, for me, who am a priest of the Lord, you do not exist. I must take a little silence for my soul. I detach myself from you to be united with my God.”
Not only priests, but all of us, must assert our need for daily quiet time in prayer with God. We cannot bless others if disconnected from the source of all blessings. As St. Francis de Sales said, “Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy— then we need an hour.” John Paul himself quoted some of this saint’s wisdom:
St. Francis of Sales wrote: “There is no vocation that does not have its troubles, its vexations, its disgust. Apart from those who are fully resigned to God’s will, each of us would like to change his own condition with that of others. Those who are bishops wish they were not; those who are married wish they were not, and those who are not married wish that they were. Where does this general restlessness of spirits come from, if not from a certain allergy that we have towards constraint and from a spirit that is not good, which make us suppose that others are better off than we are?”
Therefore, let all of us—bishops, priests, and laypeople—not imagine that the grass greener elsewhere, but labor joyfully in our section of the vineyard.
In Vittorio Vento, the 46-year-old bishop [Albino Luciani] was confronted by a financial scandal involving two priests who had piled up debts and overdrawn checking accounts. Luciani summoned all the 400 priests in the diocese and spoke to them about the need for the church to be poor. Then, he paid the two priests’ debts out of diocesan income. Luciani kept in constant contact with the parishes in the diocese, sometimes riding a bicycle for his “pastoral” visits.
After 11 years in Vittorio Veneto, Pope Paul named Luciani patriarch of Venice, one of Italy’s most prestigious episcopal posts.
Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1978
John Paul I invited up a member of the Maltese boys choir for a little chat today during the pope’s first general audience:
—Well, what is your name?
—James. And listen, have you ever been ill?
—Never been ill?
—Not even a temperature?
—Oh, how lucky you are! But when a child is ill, who brings him a little broth, some medicine? Isn’t it his mother? That’s it. Afterwards you grow up, and your mother gets old; you become a fine gentleman, and your mother, poor thing, will be in bed, ill. That’s it. Well, who will bring the mother a little milk and medicine? Who will?
—My brothers and I.
—Well said! “His brothers and he,” he said. I like that. Did you understand? But it does not always happen.
The pope went on to remind us that the fourth commandment (“Honor your father and mother“) is not commandment given just for young children:
As Bishop of Venice, I sometimes went to homes. Once I found an elderly woman, sick.
—How are you?
—Well, the food is all right!
—Are you warm? Is there heating?
—So you are content?
—”No” She almost began to cry.
—But why are you crying?
—My daughter-in-law, my son, never comes to see me. I would like to see my grandchildren.
Heat and food are not enough, there is the heart; we must think of the heart of our old people. The Lord said that parents must be respected and loved, even when they are old.
The pope also offered a lighthearted illustration of how all the commandments are intended by God for our greater freedom and happiness:
Once a man went to buy a motorcar from the agent. The latter talked to him plainly: “Look here, it’s a good car; mind that you treat it well: premium petrol in the tank, and for the joints, oil the good stuff.” But the other replied: “Oh, no, for your information, I can’t stand even the smell of petrol, nor oil; I’ll put champagne, which I like so much, in the tank and I’ll oil the joints with jam” “Do what you like: but don’t come and complain if you end up in a ditch with your car!”
The Holy Father also retold a story from Dale Carnegie, greeted those attending the Seventh International Congress of the Organ Transplant Society this week in Rome, and encouraged people to pray for the success of the Middle East peace talks begun today between the rulers of Egypt, Israel, and the United States at Camp David in Maryland.
VATICAN CITY — Russian Orthodox Archbishop Nikodim, an advocate of Christian unity and one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches, died [this morning] of a heart attack during an audience with Pope John Paul I. The new pontiff gave him absolution and a final blessing.
He had just conveyed his congratulations to the pope when he slumped in his chair in the pontiff’s private library. An aide dashed to bring pills from the Russian churchman’s attaché case and a doctor was summoned. But Nikodim, who had survived five previous heart attacks, succumbed. The pope then administered the last rites, officials said.Pope John Paul said he was “deeply moved” by Nikodim’s death and called Nikodim a “devoted servant of his church.”
Monday, Sept. 4, 1978
Albino Luciani was born Oct. 17 1912, in Italy’s Dolomite Alps. His early years in this impoverished, rural area ultimately would make him more than a perfunctory champion of the poor.
Life was difficult for the Luciani family, with his father serving as a migrant bricklayer in Switzerland until at last he was able to gain steady employment as a glass artisan in the island town of Murano, near the Venetian waterways.
Although his father was a socialist activist, the son… has taken a hard line against socialist politics, saying it is not consonant with the Christian faith. He said Marxism, “even as practiced in Italy, is incompatible with the faith.”
[Yet, on another occasion, he wrote,] “The Church’s real treasures are the poor, the little ones, who should not be helped by means of mere occasional alms, but in such a way to ensure their promotion.”
VATICAN CITY — Albino Luciani, now John Paul I, the 263rd Roman Catholic pope, is the product of one of the thousands of villages that dot the Italian countryside — where a simple life prevails.
“I am a little man accustomed to little things and to silence,” the 65-year old cardinal recently told a reporter.
Many in his home village, which was renamed Canale D’Agordo in 1964, remember seeing him cutting the grass wearing the black cassock seminarians then wore.
[As an aide to the bishop of Belluno in charge of catechesis, he] concentrated on making this teaching as simple as possible so that illiterate mountain folks could understand it. He recounted his experiences in a book entitled “Catechism in Crumbs,” now in its seventh edition.
He was vicar general in Belluno for four years, when Pope John XXIII named him bishop of Vittorio Veneto, south of Belluno, in 1958.
Sunday, Sept. 3, 1978
It so happens that today, 3 September, he was elected pope and I am officially beginning my service of the universal Church.
ROME — Pope John Paul I formally inaugurated his pontificate [tonight] with a concelebrated outdoor Mass in St. Peter’s Square while police, supported by armored cars, battled with leftwing demonstrators nearby. The violence broke out during protests against the presence in Rome of President Jorge Videla of Argentina, one of several heads of state attending the pontifical rite. [It does not appear that Rev. Jorge Bergoglio, the Jesuit Provincial Superior in Argentina, traveled to the papal event.]
Sunday’s rite in St. Peter’s Square broke with a church tradition of more than 1,000 years by omitting investiture of the new pontiff with the triple crown or tiara, a medieval symbol of the papacy’s spiritual and temporal powers. [The pope has also] vetoed the gestatorial chair, or portable throne, in which his predecessors had been carried during solemn functions.
In his drive for simplicity in the Vatican, the new pontiff [has] done away with another picturesque tradition. For at least five centuries, whenever a new pope was to be crowned, a chaplain of the pontifical household would hold up a reed with a tuft of flax in front of him. The flax would be lighted, flare up for a moment, and extinguish. The chaplain would intone the traditional reminder of the transitoriness of fame and honors: “Holy Father, thus passeth away the world’s glory.”
In a homily that the pope delivered during Sunday’s mass, he thanked god in Latin for his “humanly inexplicable” elevation to the papacy.
In his inauguration Mass homily, the pope spoke of St. Peter, the first pope, and closed invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” are the weighty, great and solemn words that Jesus speaks to Simon, son of John, after his profession of faith. This profession of faith was not the product of the Bethsaida fisherman’s human logic or the expression of any special insight of his or the effect of some psychological impulse; it was rather the mysterious and singular result of a real revelation of the Father in heaven. Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, thus signifying the conferring of a special mission. He promises to build on him his Church, which will not be overthrown by the forces of evil or death. He grants him the keys of the kingdom of God, thus appointing him the highest official of his Church, and gives him the power to interpret authentically the law of God. In view of these privileges, or rather these superhuman tasks entrusted to Peter, Saint Augustine points out to us: “Peter was by nature simply a man, by grace a Christian, by still more abundant grace one of the Apostles and at the same time the first of the Apostles.”
Surrounded by your love and upheld by your prayer, we begin our apostolic service by invoking, as a resplendent star on our way, the Mother of God, Mary, Salus Populi Romani [Safety of the Roman people], and Mater Ecclesiae [Mother of the Church], whom the Liturgy venerates in a special way in this month of September. May Our Lady, who guided with delicate tenderness our life as a boy, as a seminarian, as a priest and as a bishop, continue to enlighten and direct our steps, in order that, as Peter’s voice and with our eyes and mind fixed on her Son Jesus, we may proclaim in the world with joyous firmness our profession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Amen.
One by one, the cardinals walked up the steps of the basilica to kneel before the new pope and kiss his ring in their first act of reverence. They received from him the “kiss of faith” a kiss on both cheeks.
At time 3:30 in the inauguration footage below, we see the pope receiving homage from Cardinals Ratzinger and Wojtyla.
Rome — A powerful bomb exploded [tonight] at the residence of the pope’s vicar [at the Lateran Basilica] in Rome four hours after Pope John Paul I was installed as head of the world’s Roman Catholics in ceremonies at St. Peter’s Basilica.
There were no injuries.
Some disgruntled partisans in the United States expressed their grievances using much more peaceful means:
Football Fans Complain About Pope on TV (St. Petersburg Times)
Saturday, Sept. 2, 1978
Papal Best Seller (AP)
A book called “Illustrissimi,” (“Most Illustirous Men”) a volume of satirical letters by Albino Luciani, became an instant best-seller when he was elevated to become Pope John Paul I.
The Pope I Want (New Republic)
William F. Buckley’s thoughts come to press about a week too late, but they remain interesting reading:
On the understanding that I am neither theologian nor close observer of Vatican politics, I write as a lay Catholic about the events precipitated by the death of Pope Paul. So to speak, I write as a consumer of Catholicism; or as one shareholder in the enterprise, always with the understanding that the pope has all the voting stock. These metaphors, I confidently believe, will not upset the Holy Spirit.
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul I prayed with leaders of other Christian churches [today] and recited the Lord’s Prayer in English with them in a sign of unity on the eve of his installation.
Assuming your letter could reach them and perhaps even change their story, which fictional or historical person would you write to and what would you tell them?
Friday, Sept. 1, 1978
Pope Asks Press to Focus on Substance of the Church (AP & UPI)
The pope, who once wanted to be a journalist himself, had many gracious things to say when he addressed members of the international press at the Vatican today, including this:
We know, in a word, the ideal goal towards which each of you, despite difficulties and illusions, direct your own energy. You wish to arrive through “communication” at a true and satisfying “communion.” As you well know, this is the goal towards which the heart of the Vicar of him who taught us to call God the unique and loving Father of every human being, aspires.
The pope’s other business for the day included proclaiming Our Lady of the Good Journey the patroness of the city of Itabirito, Brazil and elevating the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Piacenza, Italy to the status of Minor Basilica. The pope also wrote to his papal legate at Ecuador’s Marian Congress, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Sending the German cardinal to represent him in Latin America, where liberation theology has been influential, was an interesting choice.
Pope Impresses U.S. Catholics (Los Angeles Times)
For Catholics in America, Pope John Paul I begins his pontificate with their high hopes and expectations, but with a long agenda of problems they would like to see him unravel:
“He has to show the poor of the world that the church is at their service.”
“He must establish the credibility of leadership.”
“He will have to hold the right and left together.”
“I hope he would follow on the interests of Pope Paul in the development of peoples in the Third world.”
“I guess it’s a funny thing for a theologian to say but I like his smile,” said the Rev. Walter Burghardt, editor of the scholarly journal, “Theological Studies.”
But at the same time, [Rev. Avery Dulles of Catholic University] warned, “We shouldn’t over-do the idea of the simple pastor. He is a doctor in theology and has taught theology” and his writings reflect “learning, wit and imagination… He’ll need all of that.”
[The new pope has reportedly never traveled outside of Italy.] “If we thought Pope Paul traveled a lot, I think Pope John Paul will travel a lot more,” [Rev. Ronald Saucci, communications director for the Maryknoll Missionaries] predicted.
Can New Pope Bridge Gap With “Fallen Away” Catholics? (Boston Globe)
Now, the Rome watchers suggest that we wait and see. Wait and see if this pope with such an infectious smile and kindly manner is a man of conservatism or a man of change — or a man who walks a line, as one suggested, right down “the extreme center.”
The “Rome watchers” are right; the most infallible way to determine what a pope will do is to wait for him to actually do it. In her column, Ms. Goodman argues that conservatism need not be defined as anti-change. Indeed, the Catholic Church is conservative, seeking to conserve what we have received from Christ, but we believe that these gifts are very much meant to transform us and the world.
Make Celibacy Optional, Pope Urged by Rice (Pittsburgh-Post Gazette)
I doubt that Pope John Paul reads American newspapers all that much. If Msgr. Rice had wanted to offer his suggestions to the pope he should have just written a letter to:
His Holiness Pope John Paul I
Thursday, Aug. 31, 1978
Today Pope John Paul addressed the diplomatic corps assigned to the Holy See. He spoke, in part, of the unique role that the smallest country on earth and the seat of the Catholic Church plays in international affairs:
In the range of diplomatic posts your role here is unique, just as the mission and competence of the Holy See are unique. Obviously we have no temporal goods to exchange, no economic interests to discuss, such as your States have. Our possibilities for diplomatic interventions are limited and of a special character. They do not interfere with purely temporal, technical and political affairs, which are matters for your Governments.
…Our activity, at the service of the international community is also—we would say, chiefly—situated on another level, one that could be more specifically called pastoral and which belongs properly to the Church. It is a matter of contributing… to forming consciences— chiefly the consciences of Christians but also those of men and women of good will, and through these forming a wider public opinion— regarding the fundamental principles that guarantee authentic civilization and real brotherhood between peoples. These principles are: respect for one’s neighbour, for his life and for his dignity, care for his spiritual and social progress, patience and the desire for reconciliation in the fragile building up of peace; in short all the rights and duties of life in society and international life, as they have been set forth in the Council’s Constitution Gaudium et Spes and in so many messages by the late Pope Paul VI.
Since 1968, the Holy See has been a (non-member) permanent observer state at the United Nations.
What issues do you think the Holy See should be advancing more at the U.N.?
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 1978
Pope John Paul addressed the college of cardinals at the Vatican today, remarking on the marvel of “all the Bishops of the world united to this Apostolic See with the strong bond of one communion:”
This unity transcends space, ignores racial difference and enriches us with the true values present in diverse cultures. Though peoples differ in geographical location, in language and mentality, through this one communion, they become a single great family.
As the college of Cardinals became more and more international with each consistory, speculation grew that Pope Paul VI’s successor could be non-Italian, particularly considering the universal nature of the Roman Church.
But the dominant feeling at the Vatican was that time was still not ripe for a non-Italian pope. A secret “working paper” prepared by the Italian ambassador to the Vatican and obtained by the Rome newspaper LaRepubblica reported the Curia favoring another Italian pope, citing the knowledge of Italian cardinals of the complex Vatican bureaucracy and their non-nationalistic attitudes as past popes.
Italy was only one of fifty countries represented in the conclave, but 26 of the 111 cardinal-electors were Italians, casting 23% of the votes.
Since Italian cardinals numbered far less than two-thirds of all the conclave’s electors it was inevitable that non-Italians would be “key” in electing anyone. My bold prediction for the next conclave: “Non-Italians Will Play Key Role in Papal Election.”
What other headlines for the next conclave could already write themselves?
Tuesday, Aug. 29, 1978
ROME — This Sunday’s installation of Pope John Paul I probably will be the simplest and least pompous coronation in modern history, Vatican officials said Monday. This time…the Vatican isn’t even calling it a coronation.
The papal tiara, the elaborate beehive-shaped headdress with origins dating back to the third century, has been a traditional part of coronation ceremonies, but probably will not be used this Sunday.
Pope Paul wore a tiara that cost an estimated $10,000 given him by his former diocese of Milan for his coronation on June 30, 1963. But Pope Paul gave it to U.S. Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1964 as evidence of his concern for the world’s poor, and it was used to raise money for charity. It is presently [on permanent display] at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
VATICAN CITY — How Pope John Paul I will tackle the major issues dividing the Roman Catholic Church — birth control, the ordination of women and priestly celibacy — remain a mystery, and the hints attributed to him are unclear.
Monday, Aug. 28, 1978
VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul I took up the reigns of papal power [today] and reinstated the Vatican hierarchy of his predecessor in his first action in support of a pledge to follow the footsteps of Pope Paul VI.
Church sources said the new pope, who was not in close contact with the cardinals of the Curia—the Vatican government—when he was Cardinal Albino Luciani, patriarch of Venice, decided to postpone any leadership changes until after he is better acquainted with men and issues.
Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis said “none of us expected” the move toward Cardinal Albino Luciani. “It just developed.” … “It was just beautiful, very encouraging.”
“The motion in the conclave was clearly the Holy Spirit moving in one direction,” Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit said.
Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia said he had “never seen the Holy Spirit act in such a dramatic fashion. It was really a delightful surprise.” … “We were really praying up a storm,” Krol said. “There was tranquility and serenity and in the end a sense of exhilaration.”
“It was unnerving,” Cardinal John Cody of Chicago echoed.
Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York said Luciani was in his mind as a possible pope when he went into the conclave. But he said, “We did not expect the vote so soon.” Cooke said the conclave was “a marvelous spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit brought us together so beautifully. There was no doubt about the wishes of the Lord.” Asked about the Pope’s unusual choice of two names, Cooke said, “At first I was surprised. But in a moment or two I said, ‘that’s perfect’.”
John Paul, the first pope to take a double name, has combined and adapted the heraldry of his two predecessors’ papal coats of arms to create his own.
The motto (or mottos) that a pope choses for his reign suggests insights into the man:
- Pope Pius XI’s mottos were “The Peace of Christ in the Realm of Christ,” and “It goes by swiftly” from Job 6:15 (perhaps in reference to the passing glories of this life.)
- In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Pope Pius XII chose Isaiah 32:17, “The work of justice [shall be] peace.”
- Pope John XXIII’s motto was “Obedience & Peace.”
- Pope Paul VI’s mottos were “With Him on the Mount,” (alluding to the Transfiguration) and “In the name of the Lord.”
What motto would you choose for yourself and why?
Sunday, Aug. 27, 1978
At noon today, Pope John Paul I appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to bless an estimated 100,000 Romans, pilgrims, and tourists.
The huge crowd broke into shouts of “long live the pope!” and applauded when the frail figure of the new head of the church became visible. The pope was clad in white. He smiled and waved and improvised a speech in Italian, using the first person singular rather than the pontifical “we.”
In this, the pope’s first Sunday Angelus address, John Paul I shared some of his experience of the conclave:
Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: “Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.” The other colleague said: “Don’t be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new pope.” When the moment of decision came, I accepted.
John Paul says that he chose his unprecedented, two-part papal name to honor his immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI. The former consecrated him a bishop and the later made him a cardinal. The pope recalls one occasion when Pope Paul had profoundly embarrassed him (with what may have been a prophetic sign):
“Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St. Mark’s Square, he 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!”
Also today, in a worldwide radio address, John Paul described his experience of being the new leader of the Church as feeling like St. Peter as he walked across the waves with Jesus:
We are still overwhelmed at the thought of this tremendous ministry for which we have been chosen: as Peter, we seem to have stepped out on treacherous waters. We are battered by a strong wind. So we turn towards Christ saying: “Lord, save me!” Again we hear his voice encouraging and at the same time lovingly reminding us: “Why do you doubt, oh you of little faith?” If human forces alone cannot be adequate to the task before us, the help of Almighty God who has guided his Church throughout the centuries in the midst of great conflicts and opposition will certainly not desert us, this humble and most recent servant of the servants of God. Placing our hand in that of Christ, leaning on him, we have now been lifted up to steer that ship which is the Church; it is safe and secure, though in the midst of storms, because the comforting, dominant presence of the Son of God is with it.
His radio address also laid out a six-point plan to continue the program of Pope Paul, his predecessor—Deo volente. John Paul’s stated agenda, in short:
To implement the Second Vatican Council.
To revise canon law.
To remind the entire Church of “its first duty” to evangelize.
To promote ecumenical reunion without diluting doctrine.
To pursue constructive dialogue with all.
To encourage peace and social justice in the world.
What would be on your to-do list if you became pope?
Saturday, Aug. 26, 1978
We have a pope! Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice has been elected on the conclave’s second day. He has chosen the name John Paul I. (And no, that “first” is not a typo but the new pope’s own addition.)
“The Roman Catholic Church has a New Pope” (NBC Nightly News)
Of all the biographical profiles prepared by the Holy See Press Office before the conclave, Cardinal Luciani’s was the briefest. But we will soon be learning more about this man whose election on the fourth ballot has surprised the world. The pope’s first Urbi et Orbi Blessing “to the city [of Rome] and the world” has already revealed that he has a beautiful chanting voice.
What name would you choose if you were elected pope, or what papal name would you like to see someone take?
Friday, Aug. 25, 1978
Estimates for the time required for one of the cardinals to get the two-thirds majority required for election ranged from four days to a week or more. But whoever is elected, “there will be no return to the past” in papal policies. Cardinal Michele Pellegrino said [yesterday] in a lecture in the town of Assisi.
Pellegrino, 75-year-old retired archbishop of Turin, said conservatives who would like to roll back the work of the 1962-65 Vatican Ecumenical Council have “some representation in the conclave, because the hierarchy is a composite world.” But “only a minority would want a return to the past.” All but 11 of the 111 cardinals participating in the conclave were appointed by Pope Paul during his 15-year reign.
Cardinals Expected to be Cautious (Smith Hempstone)
Few here expect this momentous conclave to be a brief one, although the heat of a Roman August may serve to expedite the work of the Holy Spirit.
The election of Pius XII in 1936 required less than 36 hours. John XXIII, who was perceived because of his age (76 at election) as a caretaker pontiff, emerged from a conclave that was deadlocked for five days. So obvious were the intellectual abilities and spiritual qualities of Paul VI that the white puff of smoke proclaiming a new Vicar of Christ issued from the roof of the Sistine Chapel in less than 48 hours.
The First Televised Papal Conclave (ABC News)
A Look Inside the Sistine Chapel (360° panorama)
Thursday, Aug. 24, 1978
VATICAN CITY — The Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church drew lots for their rooms in their last business meeting [today] to prepare for the secret conclave to elect a successor to Pope Paul VI. One of the Vatican’s leading commentators said the race was wide open and the conclave may be lengthy.
Virgilio Levi, assistant editor of the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, … said that because of a lack of a clear favorite he doubted the conclave would be brief. The initial voting will be used exclusively for a “reciprocal sounding out and clarification.”
History’s longest conclave began in 1268 and took two years and eight months to elect Pope Gregory X. The deadlocked cardinals received added motivation to arrive at their decision when the local villagers locked the cardinals in, reduced their rations to bread and water, and removed the roof above their heads. No such measures are expected to be necessary for the upcoming conclave.
What is your favorite strange but true pope story from Church history?
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 1978
Papal Conclave Setting Resembles a Monastery (New York Times)
ROME — Ambassadors and press reporters from many countries [today] visited the secluded area in the Vatican where the cardinals will elect a new pope in isolation and secrecy beginning Friday. The setting for the forthcoming conclave was found to resemble an austere and strictly cloistered monastery.
Doors and passageways were boarded up and windows chalked over. Two revolving hatches — one for official correspondence and another, bigger one for food — and one telephone for emergency use will remain the only links between the participants in the papal election and the outside world.
The 111 cardinals, most of them in their sixties and seventies, will live in Spartan quarters that are officially called cells — and do look like the cells of monks. The furniture of each consists, uniformly, of a bed, a night-table, a writing desk, a kneeling stool and a large crucifix.
The College of Cardinals views the conclave as a spiritual discernment retreat, rather than as an international board meeting or business conference. The cardinals’ simple accommodations reflect this.
Friday, Aug. 19, 1978
Statistically, the chances of a non-Italian Roman Catholic being elected pope are better than they’ve ever been in modern times. Yet, it’s still not expected. The pattern of 455 years is against it. Church experts say the choice remains wide open at this point, however, with no clear-cut favorites.
“The chances for a non-Italian pope seem pretty good this time,” says the Rev. Andrew Greeley of Chicago, a noted researcher… “But it’s still a wide open contest,” he adds, “and no one has anywhere near the two-thirds-plus-one needed for election in the opening rounds.”
Devotion Dwindles Beyond Papal Wall
Deeply discouraging reports like this cause one to wonder with Jesus, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) The Church finds hope in Christ’s assurance that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against” her. (Matthew 16:18) Yet not everyone who says “I’m Catholic” will enter the kingdom of heaven, “but only the one who does the will of [the] Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Sunday, Aug. 13, 1978
The question often arises as to why the popes of the world-wide Roman Catholic Church are nearly always Italians. The answer lies in history, geography, politics and just plain custom.
Of the 252 popes counted by the church in the last 2,000 years, all but about 40 of them have come from the Italian peninsula.
“The chances for a non-Italian have improved steadily,” says historian [James F. Hitchcock of St. Louis University.] But he still expects the [next] choice to be an Italian.
Do you think there will be an American pope in our lifetimes?
How about an African? An Asian? Why or why not?
Saturday, Aug. 12, 1978
VATICAN CITY — Pope Paul VI, the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics who reigned over 15 years of reform and controversy, was eulogized Saturday before the largest crowd to ever watch a papal funeral.
An estimated 250,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the funeral Mass, including the American first lady, Rosalynn Carter. She was seated in the eighth row of dignitaries, perhaps because the U.S. and Holy See do not have full diplomatic relations. Mrs. Carter was next to Imelda Marcos, the wife of the Philippines president.
The cardinals cited in this article as leading papal candidates include:
Italians: Pignedoli, Benelli, Baggio, Felici
Non-Italians: Willebrands of The Netherlands, Koenig of Austria, Villot of France, Gantin of Benin
(No American cardinal is considered to have any chance. Vatican observers say the reason is not that the [eight] American cardinals are not qualified, but that there is a reluctance to link the Vatican to a superpower.)
You know what they say: “He who enters the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal.”
Betting Criticized (AP)
LONDON, ENGLAND — Simon Mahon, a Catholic member of Parliament, complained this week that Ladbroke’s, a British bookmaking firm, is taking bets on who will succeed Pope Paul VI. He said he had written a letter to Ladbroke’s protesting “in the most fervent terms about their appalling taste.” The Labor Party legislator said, “We are electing a successor to Jesus Christ and that is not a matter for Ladbroke’s.” Ladbroke’s lists the Italian Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli as the 5-2 favorite, which means that a $2 bet would win $5 if Pignedoli were selected.
(Actually, the pope is not elected to be the successor to Jesus Christ, but rather that of St. Peter, the first pope.)
What do you think the 1st century odds on Simon the fisherman would have been?
Tuesday, Aug. 8, 1978
In 1975 Pope Paul laid down even stiffer rules on secrecy, instructing cardinals to “ensure the enclosure is not violated in any way.” The pope was reported to have been angered by frequent news leaks from the Vatican and by a book by two Italian journalists titled “Sex in the Confessional” based on their own confessions, tape-recorded without the knowledge of the priests. Under Pope Paul’s directive, two technicians must be at hand to test for the presence of instruments for the recording, reproduction, or transmission of voices and images in the Sistine Chapel.
In the conclave that elected Pope Paul [cardinals’] notes were sent afterward for storage in the Vatican’s secret archives. Pope Paul’s rules now bar this and the only permanent record will be that of the papal chamberlain, French Cardinal Jean Villot, whose record will then be stored in the archives.
“Although anyone is free to speak any language, they will probably communicate in Latin most of the time,” said Ernesto Civardi, secretary of the Sacred College of Cardinals.
Locked in with the cardinals will be barbers, physicians, pharmacists, nuns to cook, and a number of workmen.
Cardinals or any of the staff locked in with them — a total of about 400 people — are automatically excommunicated if they reveal what goes on at the election.
Many business and government organizations hold private (or secret) meetings. Why do you think the media fixates so much on the secrecy of the conclave?
Monday, Aug. 7, 1978
VATICAN CITY — Under the precise protocol of the Vatican, detailed plans for public mourning and an elaborate funeral were being implemented yesterday only minutes after Pope Paul VI died at his summer palace in Castel Gandolfo.
They began with the tolling of Rome’s church bells when word flashed that the pope was dead. The Vatican’s yellow and white pontifical flags were drawn to half-mast.
Inside the papal bedchamber, the corpse was being dressed in splendid vestments that hundreds of thousands will see. Then the pope’s confessors were expected to take up posts by the bed, allowed to stand the first watch over the body.
[After the funeral,] the body, enclosed in triple caskets of lead, cypress and oak, will be taken down to the grottos beneath the basilica and put into a crypt.
The cardinals can only wear violet robes of mourning until a new pope is elected, when they will again put on their usual crimson.
In 1963, the Church lifted the ban on cremation for Catholics.
How would you feel about the body of a deceased pope being cremated?
Sunday, Aug. 6, 1978
“Pope Paul VI, 1897-1978” (ABC News Report)
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Pope Paul VI, the Pilgrim Pope who traveled six continents preaching Christian unity but whose pontificate left the Roman Catholic church divided, died Sunday following a heart attack. He was 80.
Within minutes, papal palace guards dressed in mustard uniforms knelt down, crossed themselves and prayed through suppressed sobs in the cobblestoned square outside the palace, 15 miles south of Rome.
Archbishop Gaetano Bonicelli said the pope’s final words were: “The death of a pope is like that of other men, but it can always teach others something.”
Paul VI: Helmsman in the Storm (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Pope Paul VI Guided the Church Through Era of Change (New York Times)
What do you think Pope Paul VI’s greatest legacy will be?
[Click “Funeral Preparations” below to see the next post.]