Canonisation of ‘smiling’ pope
The ‘smiling’ pope who lasted only 33 days in the papacy was beatified by Pope Francis on September 4.
John Paul I who was known as the smiling pope replaced Pope Paul VI who died on August 6, 1978, after his reign of fifteen years. John Paul I was born Albino Luciani at Forno di Canale in northern Italy on October 17, 1912.
He was the son of Giovanni Luciani, a bricklayer and Bortola Tancon. He had two brothers, Federico and Edoardo, and a sister, Antonia. On the day of his birth, he was baptised by the midwife because he wasn’t expected to live. He was officially baptised at the local church two days later.
In 1922 at the young age of 10, he was captivated by a Capuchin friar who preached in his village. It was then he knew he wanted to be a priest, so he asked his father for permission. Agreeing to his request, his father said, “I hope that when you become a priest you will be on the side of the workers, for Christ Himself would have been on their side.”
John Paul I entered the minor seminary of Feltre in 1923, where his teachers found him “too lively”, and later went on to the major seminary of Belluno where he tried to join the Jesuits but was denied by the seminary’s rector.
Ordained a priest on July 7, 1935, John Paul I then served as a curate in his native Forno de Canale before becoming a professor and the vice-rector of the Belluno seminary two years later. He was appointed Bishop of Venice by Pope John XXIII in 1958, a position he held until 1969.
As Patriarch of Venice from 1969 to 1978, John Paul I quarrelled with priests who supported the liberalisation of divorce in Italy, eventually suspending some of them. However, he was opposed to the 1974 referendum restricting divorce after it had been liberalised, believing that such a move would fail and expose a divided Church with dwindling influence.
Pope Paul VI made him the Cardinal of San Marco in 1973. John Paul I is the most recent Italian-born pope, the last in a succession of such popes that started with Clement VII in 1523.
Before the papal conclave was held in 1978 John Paul I stated he didn’t want to be elected, saying to several confidantes that if chosen he would decline the papacy. However, upon his election he changed his mind and accepted the papacy. When he was asked by Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot if he accepted the decision, John Paul I replied, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
He chose John Paul in honour of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI. He was grateful to John XXIII and to Paul VI for naming him a bishop and a cardinal, respectively. He was also the first pope to add the regnal number ‘I’, designating himself ‘the First’.
John Paul I is known in Italy as ‘Papa Luciani’ and in his hometown of Canale d’Agordo, a museum, dedicated to his life and papacy was built and named in his honour.
John Paul 1 was spiritual head of the world’s more than one billion Catholics from August 26 until his death on September 28, 1978. His 33-day reign is one of the shortest in papal history.
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