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?