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Catholic News Herald

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110917 jp1VATICAN CITY —  Pope Francis recognized that Pope John Paul I, who served only 33 days as pope, lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way.

The Vatican announced Pope Francis' decision Nov. 9. It marks the first major step on the path to sainthood for the pope who died in 1978 at the age of 65, shocking the world and a church that had just mourned the death of Blessed Paul VI.

Pope Francis would have to recognize a miracle attributed to the late pope's intercession in order for him to be beatified, the next step toward sainthood. A second miracle would be needed for canonization.

Stefania Falasca, vice postulator of Pope John Paul's sainthood cause, said one "presumed extraordinary healing" had already been investigated by a diocese and a second possibility is being studied, but the Vatican does not begin its investigations until a sainthood candidate is declared venerable.

Although his was one of the shortest papacies in history, Pope John Paul left a lasting impression on the church that fondly remembers him as "the smiling pope."

"He smiled for only 33 days," read the front page of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, while the Catholic Telegraph of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati reported: "Saddened church seeking another Pope John Paul."

The surprise of his death after just over a month in office opened a floodgate of rumors and conspiracy theories, running the gamut from murder to culpable neglect. The Vatican doctor insisted then, as the Vatican continues to insist, that Pope John Paul died of a heart attack.

His papal motto, "Humilitas" ("Humility") not only emphasized a Christian virtue but also reflected his down-to-earth personality and humble beginnings.

"The Lord recommended it so much: Be humble. Even if you have done great things, say: 'We are useless servants.' On the contrary, the tendency in all of us is rather the opposite: to show off. Lowly, lowly: This is the Christian virtue which concerns us," he said Sept. 6, 1978.

Born Albino Luciani in the small Italian mountain town of Canale D'Agordo Oct. 17, 1912, the future pope and his two brothers and one sister lived in poverty and sometimes went to bed hungry.

His father, a bricklayer by trade, would often travel to Switzerland and Germany in search of work.

During a general audience Sept. 13, 1978, the pope told pilgrims he was sickly as a child and his mother would take him "from one doctor to another" and watch over him "whole nights." He also said he had been hospitalized eight times and operated on four times throughout his life.

Despite his weak health and poverty, his father encouraged him to enter the minor seminary. He did so, but would return to his hometown in the summers and often was seen working in the fields in his black cassock.

He was ordained a priest in 1935 and was appointed bishop of Vittorio Veneto in December 1958 by St. John XXIII. More than 10 years later, he was named patriarch of Venice by Blessed Paul VI and was created a cardinal in 1973.

During his time as patriarch of Venice, then-Cardinal Luciani was known for his dedication to the poor and the disabled.

In February 1976, he called on all priests in his diocese to sell gold and silver objects for the Don Orione Day Center for people with disabilities. Leading by example, he started the fund drive by putting up for auction a pectoral cross and gold chain -- given to him by St. John XXIII -- that had once belonged to Pope Pius XII.

His contribution, he wrote, "is a small thing compared to the use it will have. Perhaps it is worth something if it helps people understand that the real treasures of the church are the poor."

After Blessed Paul VI's death, his name was hardly at the top of anyone's list of potential popes, least of all his own.

When asked if he might be elected pope, he quoted a Venetian proverb: "You don't make gnocchi out of this dough."

His surprise election, nevertheless, did not sway him from continuing his humble manner of living, such as rejecting the use of the traditional papal tiara and preferring to call his first Mass as pope the "inauguration" of his papal ministry rather than a coronation.

His humility also was reflected in the 19 speeches and talks he gave as pope, especially the four Wednesday general audience talks before his untimely death.

"Let us try to improve the church by becoming better ourselves," he said Sept. 13, 1978. "Each of us and the whole church could recite the prayer I am accustomed to reciting: 'Lord, take me as I am, with my defects, with my shortcomings, but make me become as you want me to be.'"

— Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

Pope John Paul I's speeches showed warmth, sense of history

VATICAN CITY — During his brief pontificate in 1978, Pope John Paul I delivered 19 speeches -- many of which included folksy stories and examples from his own life.

Here is a sampling of quotes from those talks, as presented in a story published by Catholic News Service at the time:

On Christian community: "Rome will be a true Christian community if God is honored not only with an influx of faithful in churches and not only when private life is lived morally, but also through love of the poor. These people, said the Roman Deacon Lawrence, are the real treasures of the church."

On papal primacy: "To my left and my right are seated cardinals and bishops, my brothers in the episcopacy. I am only their older brother."

On faith: "My mother told me when I had grown up a bit, 'As a child you were very sick. I had to carry you from one doctor to another and often stay up all night with you. Do you believe me?' How could I have said, 'Mamma, I don't believe you'? -- 'Yes, I believe what you said, but I believe especially in you,' and so it is with faith. It is not a matter of believing only the things God reveals, but also of believing in him who loved us so much."

On nonbelievers: "As a bishop I was very near those who do not believe in God. I got the idea that these people fight not against God but against the mistaken idea they have of God."

On humility: "The Lord counseled us to be humble. Even if we've done great things, say 'We are useless servants.' Our tendency, however, is quite the opposite -- to put ourselves on display."

On the elderly: "As bishop of Venice, now and then I went to nursing homes. Once I came upon an elderly sick lady.

'How's it going, Ma'am?'

'Well, I eat alright and it's warm enough.'

'Well, then, are you a happy lady?'

'No,' she said crying. 'My daughter-in-law and my son never come to see me. I want to see my grandchildren.'

Food and heat are not enough. There's the heart. We must also see to the needs of the heart of our elderly."

On the Middle East: "May the (Camp David) meetings open the way toward a just and complete peace. Just, that is, satisfactory to all involved. Complete, that is, without leaving unresolved any issues: the problem of the Palestinians, the security of Israel, the Holy City of Jerusalem."

On defects in the church: "If a mother is sick, or if my mamma becomes lame, I love her all the same. The same goes for the church. If there are -- and there are -- defects and shortcomings, our affection for the church must never lessen."

On redemption: "A woman, who confessed to me many years ago, was discouraged because she had led a morally stormy life.

'May I ask you how old you are,' I questioned.


'Well, you can live another 40 or 50 years and do a pile of good. Contrite as you are, don't think of the past, but project yourself toward the future and renew your life with God's help.'"

On doctrine: "The truths are what they are. We must walk along that road, understanding them always more deeply, updating them, and presenting them in a form adapted to new times."

On Christian pilgrimage: "When I was a boy, I was in ecstasy reading the voyages described by Jules Verne in '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' 'Around the World in 80 Days,' etc., but our voyages of love toward God are much more interesting."

On liberation theology: "I think that the church's magisterium can never insist enough on presenting and offering solutions to the great problems of freedom, justice, peace and development. Lay Catholics can never work hard enough to overcome these problems. But it is wrong to affirm that political, social and economic liberation coincides with salvation in Jesus Christ, or that the kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of man, that where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem."

On free will: "Once a man went to the car dealer to buy a car. The dealer told him, 'Look, the car is well equipped. Treat it well with premium gas and oil.' But the buyer said, ' No, I can't even stand the smell of gas and oil. I'll lubricate the engine with marmalade.' 'Do as you please,' said the dealer. 'But don't complain to me if you wind up in a ditch.' The Lord does something similar with us. He gave us these bodies enlivened with a soul and free will. He said, 'This mechanism is worth something, treat it well.'"

On liturgy: "I would like to see Rome give a good example with liturgies celebrated piously and without jarring 'creativity.' Such abuses have favored reactionary attitudes which have led to positions untenable in themselves and in contrast with the Gospel. ... I would like to assure you that every liturgical irregularity will be diligently avoided."

On priestly life: "Once I saw a porter at the Milan train station who slept peacefully on a sack of coal against a pillar. The trains leaving and arriving sounded their whistles, the loudspeakers gave booming announcements and the noisy crowds shuffled by. But the porter, continuing to sleep, seemed to say: 'Do whatever you want, but I need to sleep.' We priests have to do somewhat the same thing. Around us there is continuous movement. People, the newspapers, radio and television continue to speak out. With priestly discipline we must say: 'Beyond certain limits, for me, 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.'"

— Catholic News Service