Like a football match

2012-11-08 L’Osservatore Romano

 “When there is a football match” - wrote Mons. Albino Luciani in April  1962 explaining to the faithful of his diocese the meaning of the imminent Second Vatican Council -  “all those watching do not understand and enjoy it in the same way. He who knows the rules of the game, the precise job of the goalkeeper, of the wingers, of the fullbacks, of the center forwards, the tricks and moves will appreciate the successful shots, the technique and the skill of the manoeuvres and shots; he will be enthused because of his understanding. Instead, he who does not understand will enjoy the match much less. The Ecumenical Council, which is to open in six months in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, will be a kind of extraordinary match. The players will be more than 2,000 bishops; the referee will be in a certain way the Pope; the stadium will be the entire world; and we will be the spectators on the radio and television”.

The conference “Ostensus magis quam datus. 100 years after Albino Luciani's birth”, organized by our newspaper and “Il Messaggero di sant'Antonio” at the Old Synod Hall on Thursday, 8 November, was an opportunity to recall (for those who lived the 33 days) or to hear about (for those who were born after) who the “man from the Veneto” really was and not just about his birth. Albino Luciani entered the seminary at age 11 and left a priest at 23: he learned to be strictly disciplined and gained a pastoral concept of the function of the Church. A concept based on three assumptions: detachment from the world, obedience to superiors, absolute faithfulness to the institution, these three conditions were the beacon of his life until his papacy.

In this framework, Luciani added a very personal feature: great intellectual curiosity and endless interest in reading (an interest,  Romanato recalled, which worried his parish priest who became nervous about his vocation). The cataloguing of the library of Canale d'Agordo completed by the cleric Luciani during the summer, for example, demonstrates his ability to read, assimilation and judgement out of the ordinary in the Veneto clergy of the time, especially in a young seminarian.

The love for books marked his pastoral work in an unmistakable way, enriching it with citations and reference. In order to explain situations and concepts, Luciani constantly added quotes and references from articles, homilies, literary memories. Aesop, La Fontaine, the Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain (his favourite), Charles Dickens, Paul Bourget and Alphonse Daudet, Bernanos  and Claudel, Chesterton, Anatole France, Papini, Solovev, Trilussa, Bernardino da Siena, Piero Bargellini and Pierre l’Ermite. And neither rock music nor comics were left out of these references. 

However all of this was always aligned within the discipline of the Church of the time: “for as strong as the passion within me to read, to know and to be up-to-date”, he wrote, “I was not an avant-guard priest or one who was at the forefront for my sense of obedience, discipline, respect for the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops”. In sum Albino Luciani was not only a priest of the mountains. He was a very precocious journalist (in 1960 he reflected on the “'paper-wrapped' word of God”, the possibility of making newspapers a mode for evangelization) and then a Pope at ease in front of the camera. Luciani was a “20th century man”. He always aware of the central role of the media on contemporary life and of the need for the laity and religious to serve it in its apostolate.