The heritage of Albino Luciani on the centenary of his birth

2012-08-26 L’Osservatore Romano

For the Catholic Church the summer of 1978 was not just an ordinary summer. Indeed Paul VI died on 6 August, after a 15-year Pontificate. On 26 August, following a very rapid Conclave – four ballots in two days – the Patriarch of Venice was elected Pope. He took the name of John Paul I:  “the smiling Pope”, “the humble Pope”, “The catechist Pope”, “the pastor of the world”, “God’s smile”. The pontificate of Albino Luciani lasted for only just 33 days. On 17 October 1978 he would have been 66, but he did not live to celebrate that birthday. At dawn on 28 September the new Pontiff was found dead in his bedroom.

We are eager to remember him on the occasion of his election to the papal throne. The following day, at the altar beneath Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, “this humble and most recent servant of the servants of God” gave his first and only Radio Message, broadcast in “mondovision”: the Urbi et Orbi Discourse.  He was still overwhelmed “at the thought of this tremendous ministry”, as a priest, teacher and pastor, but certain of the “comforting, dominant presence of the Son of God” in the Church, “Placing our hand in that of Christ” and “leaning on him...  the author of salvation and the principle of unity and peace”.  In this friendly way he addressed all men and women, seeing them as friends, as brothers and sisters, a world that “thirsts for a life of love”.

He developed his Discourse in six points, each one introduced by the words “we wish”, full of effect and unusual in the language of a Pope. A programme of original ideas flashes before our eyes: faith and culture find a felicitous synthesis.

It is an input tinged with solemnity, yet at the same time affection, and which seems to have been born from the delicate pulsation of his heart. Shortly afterwards, from the central loggia of St Peter’s and facing the spectacular square designed by Bernini, in a voice filled with emotion and awe and with a small boy’s smile, he commented on his election in a manner different from any other Pope. Making short shrift of the majestic “we”, he cancelled distances and, adjusting an escaping curl on his forehead, buried the practice of wearing the tiara on the head. His style of  “being” Pope,  humble, simple, creative and direct, instantly fired the enthusiasm of the crowd that filled the oval square and even elicited  outbursts of affection in the Vatican buildings.