Pope John Paul I, born Albino Luciani, was a Pontiff of Roman Church from 6 August 1978 to his sudden death 33 days later. His reign is among the shortest in papal history, resulting in the most recent Year of Three Popes, the first to occur since 1605. John Paul I remains the most recent Italian-born pope, ending a succession of Italian-born 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.
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”. 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 for naming him a bishop and to Paul VI for creating him a cardinal. Furthermore, he was the first pope to add the regnal number “I”, designating himself “the First”.
His sudden death has led to a number of conspiracy theories. 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) and “Il Sorriso di Dio” (The smile of God). Time magazine and other publications referred to him as The September Pope. He is also known in Italy as “Papa Luciani”.
In his town of birth, Canale d’Agordo, there is a museum that has been made and named in his honour that is dedicated to his life and his brief papacy. I want to tell an episode of the pontificate of which I am especially fond.
During the recital of Angelus on September 10 1978 he reported a discourse made by the Israeli Premier Menachem Begin on the occasion of one of the Middle East crisis: “You have forsaken us, you have forgotten us! No, can a mother forget her own child? But even if it should happen, God will never forget his people”. (see Isaiah chap. 49, verse 15). After have reported this speech, the Pope said:
“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.”
Even though the words about God’s motherhood are found in the Bible (see Isaiah chap. 66, vers. 13; Psalm 131, verse 2), at that time those words caused a sensation among cardinals used to a very formal language. The brief Pontificate of John Paul I was in fact the first of a series of popes – John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – that would have changed forever the Church’s way to evangelize people all around the world. (Sources: Wikipedia and Vatican.va)