Pope John Paul I

Pope Venerable

John Paul I
Bishop of Rome
Paus Johannes Paulus I (kop), Bestanddeelnr 929-9074 (cropped).jpg
John Paul I on 19 September 1978
Papacy began 26 August 1978
Papacy ended 28 September 1978
Predecessor Paul VI
Successor John Paul II
Ordination 7 July 1935
by Giosuè Cattarossi
Consecration 27 December 1958
by John XXIII
Created cardinal 5 March 1973
by Paul VI
Personal details
Birth name Albino Luciani
Born (1912-10-17)17 October 1912
Canale d'Agordo, Belluno, Veneto, Kingdom of Italy
Died 28 September 1978(1978-09-28) (aged 65)
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Previous post
Motto Humilitas (Humility)
Signature John Paul I's signature
Coat of arms John Paul I's coat of arms
Venerated in Catholic Church
Title as Saint Venerable
Patronage Catechists[1]
Other popes named John Paul
Ordination history of
Pope John Paul I
Diaconal ordination
Date 2 February 1935
Priestly ordination
Ordained by Giosuè Cattarossi
Date 7 July 1935
Place Church of San Pietro, Belluno, Kingdom of Italy
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecrator Pope John XXIII
Co-consecrators Girolamo Bortignon (Padua)
Gioacchino Muccin (Bell. & Felt.)
Date 27 December 1958
Place Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Elevated by Pope Paul VI
Date 5 March 1973

Pope John Paul I (Latin: Ioannes Paulus I; Italian: Giovanni Paolo I; born Albino Luciani [alˈbiːno luˈtʃaːni]; 17 October 1912 – 28 September 1978) was head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City from 26 August 1978 to his death 33 days later. He was the first pope to have been born in the 20th century. His reign is among the shortest in papal history, resulting in the most recent year of three popes and the first to occur since 1605. John Paul I remains the most recent Italian-born pope, the last in a succession of such popes that started with Clement VII in 1523.

He was declared a servant of God by his successor, John Paul II, on 23 November 2003, the first step on the road to sainthood. Pope Francis confirmed his heroic virtue on 8 November 2017 and named him as venerable.

Before the papal conclave that elected him, he expressed his desire not to be elected, telling those close to him that he would decline the papacy if elected, but, upon the cardinals' electing him, he felt an obligation to say yes.[2] He was the first pontiff to have a double name, choosing "John Paul" in honour of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI. He explained that he was indebted to John XXIII and to Paul VI for naming him a bishop and a cardinal, respectively. Furthermore, he was the first pope to add the regnal number "I", designating himself "the First".

His two immediate successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, later recalled the warm qualities of the late pontiff in several addresses. In Italy, he is remembered with the appellatives of "Il Papa del Sorriso" (The Smiling Pope)[3] and "Il Sorriso di Dio" (The smile of God).[4] Time magazine and other publications referred to him as "The September Pope".[5] He is also known in Italy as "Papa Luciani". In his hometown of Canale d'Agordo a museum built and named in his honor is dedicated to his life and brief papacy.

Early life and education

Birthplace of John Paul I
Luciani as a young priest, 1936

Albino Luciani was born on 17 October 1912 in Forno di Canale (now Canale d'Agordo) in Belluno, a province of the Veneto region in Northern Italy. He was the son of Giovanni Luciani (c. 1872–1952), a bricklayer, and Bortola Tancon (c. 1879–1947). Albino was followed by two brothers, Federico (1915–1916) and Edoardo (1917–2008), and a sister, Antonia (1920–2010). He was baptised on the day he was born by the midwife because he was considered to be in danger of death, and the solemn rites of baptism were formalised in the parish church two days later.[6]

Luciani was a restless child, in 1922, aged 10, he was awestruck when a Capuchin friar came to his village to preach the Lenten sermons. From that moment he decided that he wanted to become a priest and went to his father to ask for his permission. His father agreed and said to him: "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".[7]

Luciani 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. During his stay at Belluno, he attempted to join the Jesuits but was denied by the seminary's rector, Bishop Giosuè Cattarossi.[8]

Ordination and teaching career

Ordained a priest on 7 July 1935, Luciani then served as a curate in his native Forno de Canale before becoming a professor and the vice-rector of the Belluno seminary in 1937.[6] Among the different subjects, he taught dogmatic and moral theology, canon law and sacred art.

In 1941, Luciani started to work on a Doctorate of Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.[6] This required at least one year's attendance in Rome. However, the Belluno seminary's superiors wanted him to continue teaching during his doctoral studies. The situation was resolved by a special dispensation by Pope Pius XII on 27 March 1941. His thesis (The origin of the human soul according to Antonio Rosmini) largely attacked Rosmini's theology and earned him his doctorate magna cum laude in 1947.[6]

In 1947, he was named chancellor to Bishop Girolamo Bortignon, OFM Cap, of Belluno.[6] In 1954, he was named the vicar general for the Belluno diocese.[6] Luciani was nominated for the position of Bishop several times but he was passed down each time due to his poor health, stature and his resigned appearance. In 1949, he published a book titled Catechesis in crumbs. This book, his first, was about teaching the truths of the faith in a simple way, directly and comprehensible to all people.


Luciani in 1966

On 15 December 1958, Luciani was appointed Bishop of Vittorio Veneto by Pope John XXIII. He received his episcopal consecration later that month from Pope John XXIII himself, with Bishops Bortignon and Gioacchino Muccin serving as the co-consecrators. Luciani took possession of the diocese on 11 January 1959, with Humilitas (Humility) as his episcopal motto.[6] In his first address to his new diocese, he told the people that he sought to be "a bishop who is a teacher and a servant".[7]

As a bishop, he participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). On 18 April 1962, Luciani issued a pastoral letter, entitled "Notes on the Council", in order to alert the faithful to the structure of the proceedings and the overall purpose of the Council, chiefly, the doctrinal and practical issues.[9]

Between 1965 and 1969 he faced the schism of Montaner: almost all the residents of Montaner, a frazione of Sarmede, decided to renounce Catholicism and embrace the Orthodox religion, because they had great disagreement with their bishop Monsignor Luciani. The people did not agree with Luciani's decision to appoint John Gava as a new priest in 1966 since the people wanted their own choice, rather than the one Luciani had settled on. The people then wanted a compromise: make their choice the parish's vice-rector if not parish priest. But Monsignor Luciani said the small village needed only one priest, and that he was the sole authority on priestly selection. Continually, he recommended new priests, but each was denied by the people. Finally, he was escorted by the police and took the Eucharist from the Montaner church, leaving the church unblessed, and waiting for their next move.

In 1966, Luciani visited Burundi in East Africa.[10]

On 15 December 1969, Luciani was appointed the new Patriarch of Venice by Pope Paul VI, taking possession of his new archdiocese the following February. That same month he received honorary citizenship of the town of Vittorio Veneto, where he had previously served as bishop.

1971 Synod of Bishops

At the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1971, to which he was personally invited by the pope, Luciani suggested to the bishops assembled that dioceses in countries that were heavily industrialised should relinquish around 1% of all their income to Third World nations to be given "not as alms, but something that is owed. Owed to compensate for the injustices that our consumer-oriented world is committing towards the 'world on the way to development' and to in some way make reparation for social sin, of which we must become aware".[7]


Pope Paul VI created Luciani the Cardinal-Priest of San Marco in the consistory on 5 March 1973.[6]

During his time as Patriarch of Venice, Luciani clashed with priests who supported the liberalisation of divorce in Italy, eventually suspending some of them.[2] At the same time, he was opposed to the 1974 referendum restricting divorce after it had been liberalised, feeling that such a move would fail and simply point out a divided Church with declining influence.[2]

In 1975, Luciani travelled to Germany in May. Later that year (6–21 November), he visited Brazil where he met with members of the clergy, including Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider. Upon his return to Italy, he suffered an embolus in his right eye. A few months after that, Luciani also made a visit to Fatima. While there, he met with Sister Lucia dos Santos, the surviving visionary of three children who in 1917 claimed to see apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (revered in this form under the title Our Lady of Fatima). When Cardinal Luciani met Sister Lucia, she referred to him as "Holy Father". This greeting shocked the humble cardinal.[11] In January 1976, he published Illustrissimi ("To the Illustrious Ones"), a collection of letters penned by him in previous years, whimsically addressed to historical and literary figures such as Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Maria Theresa of Austria, Saint Teresa of Avila, Goethe, Figaro, Pinocchio, the Pickwick Club, King David. and Jesus. These letters written in very clear and simple, yet often witty language as a way of relating elements of the Gospel to modern life.

In 1975, he suggested that there be disciplinary punishment for priests who spoke out in favor of the Communist Party or other leftist groups.[12]

In 1976, Luciani sold a gold cross and pectoral gold chain that Pope John XXIII had given to him (which once belonged to Pope Pius XII before him) to raise money for disabled children.[13] He also urged fellow priests in Venice to sell their valuables to contribute to this cause and as a way for them to live simply and humbly.[10]

As Patriarch of Venice, Luciani would establish family counseling clinics to assist the poor cope with marital, financial and sexual problems. He was seen as a champion of the poor and he even once ordered the sale of gold in churches to provide money to help handicapped children.[12] He was also against worker priests—those who went to work in the factories and fields to labor with the laity—and he also criticised unions over strikes and workers' demonstrations.



Pope Paul VI died on 6 August 1978, ending a reign of fifteen years. Luciani had gone to the late pope's funeral and mingled with the crowds who wanted to view the body. The crowds were such that he thought he would not reach the body, but once he was recognised he was then led to another place and was offered a bench to kneel and pray.[14]

Luciani was summoned to Rome for the conclave to elect the new pope. Luciani was not considered papabile at the time though mentioned upon occasion in several papers, but a few cardinals approached him with their opinion that he would make a fine pontiff. The electors did not want a Curial figure, as Paul VI had been, but a warm and pastoral figure like Pope John XXIII.

Luciani was elected on the fourth ballot of the August 1978 papal conclave. Luciani had previously said to his secretary, Father Diego Lorenzi and to Father Prospero Grech (later a cardinal himself), that he would decline the papacy if elected, and that he intended to vote for Aloísio Cardinal Lorscheider, whom he met in Brazil.[2] Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines told him: "You will be the new pope."[10]

Pope Paul VI makes Luciani a cardinal in 1973

However, when he was asked by Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot if he accepted his election, Luciani replied, "May God forgive you for what you have done" but accepted election. After his election, when Cardinal Sin paid him homage, the new pope said: "You were a prophet, but my reign will be a short one".[10] On the balcony of St Peter's Basilica, protodeacon Cardinal Pericle Felici announced that the cardinals had elected Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, who had chosen the name Pope John Paul I.[15] It was the first time that a pope chose a double name. He later explained that the double name was taken to gratefully honour his two immediate predecessors: John XXIII, who had named him a bishop, and Paul VI, who had named him Patriarch of Venice and Cardinal.[15] He was also the first pope to designate himself "the First" with the name.[16][17] (Pope Francis, elected in 2013, also took a previously-unused papal name but chose not to be called "the First".)

In the aftermath of the election, the pope confided to his brother Edoardo that his first thought was to call himself "Pius XIII" in honour of Pope Pius XI, but he gave up on the idea, worried that the traditionalist members of the Church might exploit this choice of regnal name.[18]

Observers have suggested that his selection was a compromise to satisfy rumoured divisions among seemingly rival camps within the College of Cardinals:[15]

  • Conservatives and Curialists supporting the highly regarded Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, who favoured a more conservative interpretation or even reversal of controversial ideas being promoted as "in the spirit of Vatican II" but which had actually never been discussed at the recent pastoral council.
  • Those who favoured a more liberal interpretation of Vatican II's reforms along with some Italian cardinals who supported Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who had created some opposition due to alleged "autocratic" tendencies.
  • The cardinals within the increasingly international College of Cardinals, beyond the Italians who were experiencing diminished influence, such as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.[15]

During the days following the conclave, the cardinals were generally elated at the reaction to Pope John Paul I, some of them happily saying that they had elected "God's candidate".[15] Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio stated, "We were witnesses of a moral miracle."[15] Mother Teresa, commenting about the new pope, "He has been the greatest gift of God, a sun beam of God's love shining in the darkness of the world."[15] British primate Basil Cardinal Hume declared: "Once it had happened, it seemed totally and entirely right ... We felt as if our hands were being guided as we wrote his name on the paper".[10]

A dramatic event, soon after the election, occurred when the leader of the delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad, collapsed and died after a ceremony on 5 September 1978. The new pope immediately came over and prayed for him.[19]

Church policies

After he became pope he had set six plans down which would dictate his pontificate:

  • To renew the church through the policies implemented by Vatican II.
  • To revise canon law.
  • To remind the church of its duty to preach the Gospel.
  • To promote church unity without watering down doctrine.
  • To promote dialogue.
  • To encourage world peace and social justice.[10]

After his election, John Paul I quickly made several decisions that would "humanise" the office of pope. He was the first modern pope to speak in the singular form, using 'I' instead of the royal we, though the official records of his speeches were often rewritten in more formal style by aides, who reinstated the royal we in press releases and in L'Osservatore Romano. He initially refused to use the sedia gestatoria until others convinced him of its need in order to allow himself to be seen by crowds. He was the last pope to use it. He was the first pope to refuse to be crowned. Instead of a coronation, he inaugurated his papacy with a "papal inauguration" where he received the papal pallium as the symbol of his position as Bishop of Rome.[20]

Moral theology

The moral theology of John Paul I had been openly debated because of his opinions expressed on a number of issues, particularly birth control. It is debated whether John Paul I was liberal, conservative, or a moderate in matters of church doctrine, thus it is difficult to assess his views.

Luciani had mixed feelings in regard to the traditional stance on contraception. In 1968, as Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, he submitted a report to his predecessor as the Patriarch of Venice, Giovanni Urbani, that argued that the contraceptive pill should be permitted. It was agreed on by fellow Veneto bishops and was later submitted to Pope Paul VI.[21] When Humanae vitae was released, Luciani defended that document. But he seemed to contradict that defence in a letter he wrote to his diocese four days after the release of the encyclical.[22] In May 1978, Cardinal Luciani was invited to speak at a Milanese conference to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the encyclical. He refused to speak at the event or even attend it.[21]

Raymond & Lauretta take a different view, saying that while serving as Patriarch of Venice, "Luciani was intransigent with his upholding of the teaching of the Church and severe with those, who through intellectual pride and disobedience paid no attention to the Church's prohibition of contraception, though while not condoning the sin, he was patient with those who sincerely tried and failed to live up to the Church's teaching."[3]

In his letter to Carlo Goldoni from the book Illustrissimi, Luciani took a critical perspective of abortion and argued that it violated God's law and that it went against the deepest aspirations of women, profoundly disturbing them.[23]

In an interview before the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978 when asked for his reaction to the birth of the first test-tube baby Louise Brown, Luciani expressed concerns about the possibility that artificial insemination could lead to women being used as "baby factories" but he refused to condemn the parents.

It was his view that, "from every side the press is sending its congratulations to the English couple and best wishes to their baby girl. In imitation of God, who desires and loves human life, I too offer my best wishes to the baby girl. As for her parents, I do not have any right to condemn them; subjectively, if they have acted with the right intention and in good faith, they may even obtain great merit before God for what they have decided on and asked the doctors to carry out." Luciani added, "Getting down, however, to the act in itself, and good faith aside, the moral problem which is posed is: is extrauterine fertilization in vitro or in a test tube, licit?... I do not find any valid reasons to deviate from this norm, by declaring licit the separation of the transmission of life from the marriage act."[24]

In 1969, Luciani was cautious of de facto relationships as a lesser evil to divorce. He said that unions like those shouldn't be the same as marriage but he added that "there are, in undeniably pathological family situations, painful cases. To remedy that, some propose a divorce, which, conversely, would aggravate this. But some remedy outside of divorce, you can't really find? Once the legitimate family is protected and made a place of honor, you will not be able to recognize with all appropriate precautions some civil effect to de facto unions."[25]

In a 1974 interview while he was the Patriarch of Venice, Luciani upheld the traditional line: "A sexuality that is worthy of man must be a part of love for a person of a different sex with the added commitments of fidelity and indissolubility."[26]

In a 1975 talk Luciani gave to a group of sisters, he expressed his views on the ordination of women into the priesthood:

You will ask: what about ... the priesthood itself? I can say to you: Christ bestowed the pastoral ministry on men alone, on his apostles. Did he mean this to be valid only for a short time, almost as though he made allowances for the prejudice about the inferiority of women prevalent in his time? Or did he intend it to be valid always? Let it be very clear: Christ never accepted the prejudice about the inferiority of women: they are always admirable figures in the Gospels, more so than the apostles themselves. The priesthood, however, is a service given by means of spiritual powers and not a form of superiority. Through the will of Christ, women—in my judgment—carry out a different, complementary, and precious service in the church, but they are not "possible priests" ... That does not do wrong to women.[27]


John Paul I reiterated the official views of the church in regard to Marxism and Catholicism being incompatible and believed it to be a "weapon to disobey" the Christian faith. As Patriarch of Venice, he struggled at times with Marxist students who were demanding changes in Venetian policies. He also forbade those factions that were Marxist threatening the faith.[28]

Interfaith dialogue

John Paul I was a friend to the Muslim people and as Patriarch of Venice said to Catholics that faithful Muslims had the "right to build a mosque" to practice their faith in the archdiocese. In November 1964 he explained the declaration of Dignitatis humanae: "There are 4,000 Muslims in Rome: they have the right to build a mosque. There is nothing to say: you have to let them do it".[25]

Universal call to holiness

Luciani stressed the need throughout his time as Bishop of Vittorio Veneto to answer the universal call to holiness as was an invitation in the Second Vatican Council. He believed that sainthood was something that all Catholics could achieve if they led a life of service to God. Luciani said that there were no barriers to sainthood and discussed this theme of the council in a homily on 6 January 1962: "We are called by God to be true saints". Luciani stressed the importance of this and said God invites Catholics and obligates them to sainthood. He also said that by professing love for God, Catholics say: "my God I want to be holy, I will strive to be holy".[29]


During his brief pontificate, John Paul I spoke three times on the concept of God's mercy. In his General Audience address on 13 September 1978, the pope said that the entire point of mercy is "to surrender to God" through faith in Him, which goes about "transforming one's life" in the fight against sin, and the pursuit of holiness. The pope continued that "God has so much tenderness for us" in which "He begs me to repent" from sin so as to return to God's embrace. The pope concluded that "the Church too must be good; good to everyone" in its own outreach to the faithful.[30]

John Paul I, in his Angelus address on 24 September 1978, spoke about the importance of doing good deeds through charitable and merciful acts in society, as to make the world more just, and to improve the overall conditions of society. The pope elaborated that it was important to "try to be good and to infect others with a goodness imbued with the meekness and love taught by Christ", while seeking to give our all in service to others. The pope further points out Christ's example on the Cross, in which he forgave and excused those who persecuted, referring to it as a sentiment which "would help society so much" if put into constant practice.[31]

The pope also spoke about mercy in his address at the General Audience on 27 September 1978, in which he referred to God as "infinite good" capable of providing for our "eternal happiness" in His love for us. John Paul I continued that it may be "difficult to love others; we do not find them likeable, they have offended us and hurt us", though says that forgiveness between brothers and sisters is very important for unity and peace among people. Additionally, the pope referred to the seven corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, which he said acted as a guide for Christians, though highlighting the fact that "the list is not complete and it would be necessary to update it" as times change since global situations change. The pope concluded that justice adds to charity, which is linked to the theme of mercy.[32]

Opus Dei

Prior to his election, Luciani wrote an article on 25 July 1978 for Il Gazettino di Venezia analyzing some of the aspects of Josemaría Escrivá's teachings of Opus Dei. He stated that he was more of a radical figure who taught about the universal call to holiness. While others emphasised monastic spirituality applied to lay people, for Escrivá "it is the material work itself which must be turned into prayer and sanctity", thus providing a lay spirituality.[33]

Interpretation of Vatican II

Luciani had attended all sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) while he was the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto. He had hoped that the council would highlight "Christian optimism" in terms of Christ's teachings against the culture of relativism. He denounced a fundamental ignorance of the "basic elements of the faith"—it was this point that he wished to focus on as opposed to secularism throughout the world.

In terms of global interpretation of the council, Luciani wrote: "The physiognomy and structure of the Catholic Church have been determined once and for all by the Lord and cannot be touched. If anything, superstructures can. Things that have not been determined by Christ, but were introduced by popes or councils or the faithful, can be changed, or eliminated today or tomorrow. Yesterday they might have introduced a certain number of dioceses, a certain way to lead missions, to educate priests, they might have chosen to follow certain cultural trends. Well, this can be changed and one can say "the Church that comes out of the Council is still the same as it was yesterday, but renewed". No one can ever say "We have a new Church, different from what it was".

In regard to religious freedom, Luciani wrote about the council's declaration, "Dignitatis humanae". In his writings, he said that there is only one true religion that must be followed and no other, affirming that Jesus Christ is the Truth, and that the truth will set one truly free. Though, he said that those that will not accept the one true Catholic Faith, for whatever reason, are indeed free to profess their own religion for various reasons. He makes a clear understanding of true and false liberty. He says that true freedom comes from God, that God makes man free. However, he does continue in repeating the teaching that error does not come from God, and although we are capable or err and sin, and that one who rejects truth cannot be forced to believe it, it is not a God given right to do error. He continues to say that religious freedom must be freely exercised by the individual. He writes that the choice of religion must be a free choice or else one's faith is not real or because they really believe. So he makes clear that for the purposes of keeping peace and order in a diverse society and accepting the free will of man, the freedom of an individual to profess their religion, within certain bounds, is indeed necessary.

International travels

On 12 September 1978, Cardinal Mario Casariego y Acevedo of Guatemala invited the pope to visit Guatemala in 1979. The pope was said to have thanked him for the invitation but did not provide a response. The week before this, the pope said he was unable to accept an invitation to the Latin American Episcopal Conference in Puebla, Mexico for October due to his schedule.[34]

Sainthood causes

No saints were canonised nor people beatified in his brief term on the papal throne, but José Gras y Granollers, Juan Vicente Zengotitabenoga Lausen and Giuseppe Beschin were made Servants of God during his pontificate on 22 September 1978.[35][36][37]


John Paul I was regarded as a skilled communicator and writer. His book Illustrissimi, written while he was a cardinal, is a series of letters to a wide collection of historical and fictional persons. Among those still available are his letters to Jesus, King David, Figaro the Barber, Empress Maria Theresa and Pinocchio. Others 'written to' included Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Christopher Marlowe.[38] He was also well-read, and was known for reading several newspapers each morning, including one from the Veneto region, before beginning his day.[39]

John Paul I impressed people with his personal warmth. There are reports that within the Vatican he was seen as an intellectual lightweight not up to the responsibilities of the papacy, although David Yallop (In God's Name) says that this is the result of a whispering campaign by people in the Vatican who were opposed to Luciani's policies. In the words of John Cornwell, "they treated him with condescension"; one senior cleric discussing Luciani said "they have elected Peter Sellers."[40] Critics contrasted his sermons mentioning Pinocchio to the learned intellectual discourses of Pius XII or Paul VI. Visitors spoke of his isolation and loneliness and the fact that he was the first pope in decades not to have previously held either a diplomatic role (like Pius XI and John XXIII) or Curial role (like Pius XII and Paul VI) in the Church.

His personal impact, however, was twofold: his image as a warm, gentle and kind man captivated the whole world. This image was immediately formed when he was presented to the crowd in St. Peter's Square following his election. The warmth of his presence made him a much-loved figure before he even spoke a word. The media in particular fell under his spell. He was a very skilled orator.

According to his aides, he was not the naive idealist his critics made him out to be. Cardinal Giuseppe Caprio, the substitute Papal Secretary of State, said that John Paul I quickly accepted his new role and performed it with confidence.[41]

John Paul I had admitted that the prospect of the papacy had daunted him to the point that other cardinals had to encourage him to accept it. He refused to have the millennium-old traditional papal coronation or wear the papal tiara.[42] He instead chose to have a simplified inauguration mass. John Paul I adopted as his motto the Latin word Humilitas ('Humility'). In his notable Angelus of 27 August 1978 (delivered on the first full day of his papacy), he impressed the world with his natural friendliness.[43]

Sister Margherita Marin, who worked in the Vatican during Luciani's papacy, said in comments made in late 2017 that the pope had admitted the sisters into his apartment chapel for morning Mass, unlike his predecessor Paul VI who had only admitted his secretaries.[39] Marin also said that Luciani would speak the Venetian dialect with those Venetian sisters to make them more comfortable, and to better interact with them. The religious also noted that the pope's humor was evident to all those who spoke with him, and he would often joke with the sisters when seeing his picture in the papers: "But you see how they got me", in reference to the quality of his picture.


Tomb of John Paul I in the Vatican Grottoes

On 29 September 1978, 33 days into his papacy, John Paul I was found dead in his bed with reading material and a bedside lamp still lit. He had probably suffered a heart attack the night before.[44]

John Paul I's funeral was held in Saint Peter's Square on 4 October 1978, celebrated by Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri. In his eulogy of the late pope, he described him as a flashing comet who briefly lit up the church. He then was laid to rest in the Vatican grottoes.

It was said that around 10 p.m. on the night of his death, the pope learned that several young neo-Fascists had fired upon a group of young people reading L'Unità, the Communist newspaper, outside one of the party's offices in Rome. One boy was killed while another was seriously wounded. The pope lamented to John Magee, "Even the young are killing each other." He later retired to his room to read Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ in bed.[45]

There are several conspiracy speculations related to his death.

2018 revelations

The journalist and vice-postulator for John Paul I's cause of canonization, Stefania Falasca, published a new book in 2017 titled Pope Luciani, Chronicle of a Death, in which she revealed that John Paul I had complained of chest pains hours before his death, and the evening before, but paid no attention to it and ordered that his doctor not be called.[46] Falasca confirmed, after interviewing the sisters who found him and documents from the Vatican Secret Archives, that John Paul I died of a heart attack in late evening hours of 28 September.[47]

The Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in his preface for the book, describes the various conspiracies regarding John Paul I's death as little more than "noir reconstructions". Parolin further says that the sudden death of the pope inspired "myriad theories, suspicions, [and] suppositions" based on opinion rather than fact.[46]

Falasca noted the 2009 testimony of Sister Margherita Marin (b. 1941), one of the two sisters who found the pope dead in his bedroom on the morning of 29 September. John Paul I had made it a practice to have a morning coffee in the sacristy and then go into the chapel to pray before tending to the day's matters.[48] Sister Vincenza had noted the pope had not touched the coffee she had left for him in the sacristy at 5:15am (after about ten minutes) and went looking for him but found him dead, and hastily summoned Marin who also went into the room. Marin testified that John Paul I's hands were cold, and she was struck by the darkness of his nails.[46] Sister Vincenza said: "He hasn't come out yet? Why not?” and knocked a few more times but heard silence, then opened the door and walked in. Marin remained in the hallway but heard the elder sister say: "Your Holiness, you shouldn't pull these jokes on me" because Sister Vincenza also had heart problems.[46][48][47] Marin further testified that original information provided by the Vatican regarding who discovered the pope was wrong, since it had originally been claimed the discovery was by the pope's secretaries Lorenzi and Magee.[47] Marin testified that "he was in bed with a slight smile" on his face. The reading light over the headboard was still on, with his two pillows under his back propping him up, with his legs outstretched and his arms on top of the bedsheets. John Paul I was still in his pajamas with a few typewritten sheets in his hands. His head was slightly turned to the right and his eyes were partially closed; his glasses rested on his nose.[48]

John Paul I had suffered a severe pain in his chest for about five minutes around 7:30pm while sitting reciting the vespers in the chapel with Magee before dinner, but insisted against calling for Doctor Renato Buzzonetti. The latter, the book claimed, was informed of that episode after the pope's death.[47] The book also revealed that, prior to the conclave that elected John Paul II, the cardinals had sent a series of written questions to the doctors who had embalmed John Paul I either on 10 or 11 October to check if there had been any signs of traumatic injuries, so as to ascertain if he died naturally rather than suspiciously.[48][49] Doctor Buzzonetti sent a detailed report to the Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli on 9 October 1979 detailing that the episode of pain John Paul I suffered was in the upper part of the sternal region.[48]

Sister Margherita noted in late 2017 in comments made in Belluno that the pope had made a half-hour phone call on the evening of his death to the Cardinal Giovanni Colombo and said he wanted the Salesian rector major Egidio Viganò to agree to serve as John Paul I's successor as Patriarch of Venice.[39]

Canonization process

Diocesan process

The process for the canonisation for John Paul I formally began in 1990 with the petition by 226 Brazilian bishops, including four cardinals. The petition was addressed directly to Pope John Paul II.

On 26 August 2002, Bishop Vincenzo Savio announced the start of the preliminary phase to collect documents and testimonies necessary to start the process of canonisation. On 8 June 2003 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave its assent to the work and on 17 June transferred the forum for the beatification process from Rome to Belluno-Feltre while also declaring the late pope as a Servant of God after declaring "nihil obstat" (no objections to the cause). On 23 November, on the Feast of Christ the King, the diocesan process formally opened in the Cathedral Basilica of Belluno with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins in charge and presiding over the inauguration.[50][51] The diocesan inquiry for the cause subsequently concluded on 11 November 2006 in Belluno with all the evidence collected being sent to the C.C.S. which received their validation on 13 June 2008. On 13 June 2008, the Vatican began the "Roman" phase of the beatification process for John Paul I, in which they would assess the documents and witness testimonies collected during the diocesan inquiry.

Roman phase

The documents in regard to the cause were supposed to be delivered to the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato on 17 October 2012 (the hundred year anniversary of the late pope's birth), in a large Positio dossier (consisting of a biography and investigation into his virtues) to examine the pros and cons of the cause. This was delayed due to the cause's supporters wanting another check over all the documents. In a mass at Belluno on 20 July 2014, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone announced that the cause of beatification was set to advance. The cardinal highlighted that the Positio would be delivered in September 2014.[52][53] But the dossier was not submitted to the C.C.S. until 17 October 2016; there were five volumes with around 3600 pages in total.

On 27 August 2015, Bishop Giuseppe Andrich announced that John Paul I would be beatified "soon". In a homily delivered during Mass in Canale d'Agordo, Luciani's home town, on the 37th anniversary of his election as Pope, Andrich said Church authorities had concluded the investigation into Luciani's heroic virtues. Following the conclusion of the "Positio" (3652 pages in total), they received several messages affirming personal experience of Luciani's holiness, including a handwritten card from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The testimony of a Pope or former Pope in considering a candidate for sainthood is extremely unusual. Benedict XVI apparently recommended waiving the requirement for miracles in Luciani's case.[54][55]

To determine whether or not the late pontiff should be declared Venerable, theologians and the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints must determine if the late pope lived a life of heroic virtue. This meeting took place on 1 June 2017 in which theologians unanimously approved the fact that the late pope exercised virtues to a heroic degree.[56] The cardinal and bishop members discussed the cause on 7 November 2017 and issued their unanimous approval.[57]

Pope Francis named John Paul I as Venerable on 8 November 2017 after confirming his heroic virtue.[13]


For Luciani to be beatified, the investigators have to certify at least one miracle attributed to his intercession. For canonisation there must be a second miracle, though the reigning pope may waive these requirements altogether, as is often done in the case of beatified popes.[58]

It was reported in 2016 that a potential miracle attributed to the late pontiff's intercession occurred to a nun in Buenos Aires, Argentina.[59]

Failed miracle

The postulation also drew upon the testimony of Giuseppe Denora di Altamura who claimed to have been cured of cancer by the intercession of the late pontiff. An official investigation into the alleged miracle commenced on 14 May 2007 and concluded on 30 May 2009 with the C.C.S. validating the process on 25 March 2010.[60] Of course, the C.C.S. could not begin their thorough investigation into this case until the decree on his virtues was signed.

The supposed miracle attributed to his intercession was taken to a medical board in Rome on 24 April 2015 and the commission came to the conclusion that it was not a miracle that could be attributed to Luciani. This means that another miracle will need to be found before the cause can continue.[61]


The postulator for the cause was Bishop Enrico dal Covolo from 2003 until 2016 when Cardinal Beniamino Stella was appointed to that position. Stefania Falasca is the current vice-postulator.


Pope John Paul I was the first pope to abandon coronation, and he was also the first pope to choose a double name (John Paul) for his papal name. His successor, Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyła, chose the same name. He was the first pope to have a Papal Inauguration and the last pope to use the Sedia Gestatoria. He was the first Pope born in the 20th century, and the last Pope to die in the 20th century.

Views of successors

The Pope Luciani museum

Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected John Paul I's successor as Pope on Monday, 16 October 1978. The next day he celebrated Mass together with the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. After the Mass, he delivered his first Urbi et Orbi (a traditional blessing) message, broadcast worldwide via radio. In it he pledged fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and paid tribute to his predecessor:[62]

What can we say of John Paul I? It seems to us that only yesterday he emerged from this assembly of ours to put on the papal robes—not a light weight. But what warmth of charity, nay, what 'an abundant outpouring of love'—which came forth from him in the few days of his ministry and which in his last Sunday address before the Angelus he desired should come upon the world. This is also confirmed by his wise instructions to the faithful who were present at his public audiences on faith, hope and love.

Benedict XVI spoke of the late pontiff on 28 September 2008 during his weekly Angelus address. Of the late pope, he said:

Because of this virtue of his, it only took 33 days for Pope Luciani to win people's hearts. In his addresses he always referred to events in practical life, from his family memories and from popular wisdom. His simplicity was a vehicle for a solid, rich teaching which, thanks to the gift of an exceptional memory and a vast knowledge, he embellished with numerous citations from ecclesiastical and secular writers. Thus, he was an incomparable catechist, following in the footsteps of St Pius X, who came from the same region and was his predecessor first on the throne of St Mark and then on that of St Peter. 'We must feel small before God,' he said during the same Audience. And he added, 'I am not ashamed to feel like a child before his mother; one believes in one's mother; I believe in the Lord, in what he has revealed to me.' These words reveal the full depth of his faith. As we thank God for having given him to the church and to the world, let us treasure his example, striving to cultivate his same humility which enabled him to talk to everyone, especially the small and the 'distant.' For this, let us invoke Mary Most Holy, the humble handmaid of the Lord.

Pope Francis spoke of his predecessor in his 2016 book The Name of God Is Mercy in which Francis recalls how touched he was by his predecessor's writings. More than any of his predecessors mentioned in his book, Francis refers to Luciani the most. The pope referred to Luciani's remarks at the latter's general audience of 6 September 1978 and mentioned how profound that his words were upon him; of the remarks Luciani made, he said:

There is the homily when Albino Luciani said he had been chosen because the Lord preferred that certain things not be engraved in bronze or marble but in the dust, so that if the writing had remained, it would have been clear that the merit was only God's.


See also


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    So strongly did the writings of Couwase [Jean Pierre de Caussade] influence him that Luciani began to think very seriously of becoming a Jesuit. He watched as first one, then a second, of his close friends went to the rector, Bishop Giouse Cattarossi, and asked for permission to join the Jesuit order. In both instances the permission was granted to them. Luciani would soon make his decision, and so he went and asked for permission. The bishop considered the request, then responded, "No, three is one too many. You had better stay here.

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Further reading

  • Cornwell, John (1989). A Thief in the Night: the Death of Pope John Paul I. London: Viking. ISBN 0-670-82387-2
  • Gurwin, Larry (1983). The Calvi Affair: Death of a Banker. London: Pan Books, 1984, cop. 1983. xiii, 251 p. + [8] p. of b&w photos. ISBN 0-330-28540-8; alternative ISBN on back cover, 0-330-28338-3
  • Hebblewaite, Peter (1978). The Year of Three Popes. First United States ed. Cleveland, Ohio: W. Collins, 1979, cop. 1978. ix, 220 p. ISBN 0-529-05652-6
  • Manhattan, Avro (1985). Murder in the Vatican: American, Russian, and Papal Plots. First ed. Springfield, Mo.: Ozark Books. 274 p. Without ISBN
  • Bérubé, Pierre,(Wikipedia en French: Pierre Bérubé) «  Jean-Paul I » « Il y a 30 ans, Jean-Paul 1er… Un passage qu'on ne veut pas oublier! » Le Soleil, (Québec), 2 October 2008, p. 27, Opinion (présentation version papier), article complet : Cyberpresse

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giuseppe Carraro
Bishop of Vittorio-Veneto
27 December 1958 – 15 December 1969
Succeeded by
Antonio Cunial
Preceded by
Giovanni Urbani
Patriarch of Venice
15 December 1969 – 16 August 1978
Succeeded by
Marco Cé
Cardinal-Priest of San Marco
5 March 1973 – 26 August 1978
Preceded by
Paul VI
26 August – 28 September 1978
Succeeded by
John Paul II