Francis beatifies today in Rome John Paul I, the second of the three popes in 1978. Elected on August 26, he died on September 28. Successor of Paul VI, Albino Luciani captivated the world with his smile, but his delicate health played a trick on him. He died of a heart attack on September 28. His traumatic death gave way to the second longest pontificate in the history of the Church, that of Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. Without bad intentions, the "entourage" of John Paul I "let him die", because he was alone in his papal apartment and, having just assumed office, he lacked in his rooms the infrastructure of a person with such delicate health. . This is how Giovanni Maria Vian, editor and one of the co-authors of the book The Pope Without a Crown, explains it in this interview. Life and death of John Paul I (BAC, 2022)
A long and stormy conclave was expected, but, after the one held in 1939 that elected Eugenio Pacelli, it was the shortest of the 20th century. On August 26, 1978, on the fourth vote, Albino Luciani left the conclave as John Paul I. Not even he believed it. Why do you think he was chosen?
Continuity with Paul VI was being sought and the most obvious option was his right-hand man, Benelli, Archbishop of Florence, who had been Montini's strong hand with the Curia and, therefore, was vetoed by it. The Montinian front had the intelligence to place a man faithful to the memory of Paul VI, but not so frowned upon by the Curia. And Luciani wasn't because he never walked the Roman corridors, much less the Vatican. A priest from head to toe, very traditional, a simple man, of humble origins, but at the same time cultured because he read everything that fell into his hands and had an incredible memory. In other words, an ideal profile quite unexpected by the general public, because he was not one of the heavyweights of the College of Cardinals. This well-prepared choice, however, was unsuccessful because Luciani was in very poor health and his environment allowed him to die. He was not killed.
Who let him die?
The very close environment, but without ill will. His personal secretary that she had brought with her from Venice was not in the papal apartments. And the Pope did not call anyone. He probably had a heart attack so violent that he didn't have time to ring the doorbell he kept by the bed. Already during dinner he was not feeling well, but he rejected the offer they made to call his doctor. He himself underestimated his health problem. The environment did not care about the new Pope. And Luciani was alone, only that the first night he spent in the papal apartment he wanted to have a glass of milk and he didn't find anything in the fridge; he was empty. He had to call Camillo Cibin, an old friend from Veneto and commander of the gendarmerie, to bring him a bottle from his house.
Unknown to the general public, but in just 33 days he conquered the world audience with his smile.
And not only among Catholics. Outside of Rome, a secular newspaper like Le Monde, which is the first international newspaper to break the news, headlines its editorial The Time of a Smile, which seems hagiographic but isn't.
Luciani had death very present…
Yes, feel yours. On December 31, 1977, in his last homily of the year, he said: "We thank the Lord for the blessings of the year that has passed and we ask for the blessing for the year to come, which perhaps he will grant us in full." Perhaps, he says… He died on September 28, 1978. The feeling that he would not have a very long life and that the position he assumed was very, very heavy, comes from a testimony given a few years before his death when, as patriarch of Venice, he travels one night by train and arrives in Rome without shaving to promote the request for secularization of a priest whom he greatly appreciated. Destroyed and tired, he says after dispatching the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "This charge will crush me." He was referring to the patriarchate of Venice, a very small diocese. If that was so, the Triple Crown, the papal crown, which he never wore, crushes him.
A traumatic death poorly managed by the Holy See, which gave erroneous information, when not false, and refused to perform an autopsy, which also happens in an Italy convulsed by the recent murder of the leader of the Christian Democracy, Aldo Moro , by the Red Brigades. A perfect breeding ground that feeds conspiracy theories and the hypothesis of the assassination of the new Pope...
Without a doubt, because speculations about death are multiplying. Foolishly, the cardinals who were in Rome refused to carry out the autopsy… They closed in on themselves. It is the problem of the Vatican's self-referentiality, which imagines the world to its measure, and not as it is. The problem of finances had been a real problem for years and was crudely exposed during the meetings that preceded the conclave. I believe that Luciani had the intention of profoundly reforming the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), popularly known as the Vatican Bank, whose management was highly conditioned by two criminals like Roberto Calvi and Michele Sindona, who ended up being assassinated. Thus, all the elements were on the table to feed the theory of the plot.
What more reforms did Luciani intend to make?
The perception that the Pope would profoundly reform organizational aspects of the Holy See was widespread. There were high hopes for the new pope. But we do not know which Pope would have been. I believe that he has left a trace of the possibility of an evangelical reform, but as an ideal of reform. He knew how to communicate very well.
A communicator who in 1973 predicted that the "newspaper would arrive at home projected on a kind of telescreen."
Yes, that is impressive. He has almost an obsession with information. He was not happy with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. He wanted to reform it just as he changed the way a Pontiff expresses himself. He spoke very simply, but he did not improvise. He was very traditional, he studied rhetoric in the seminary, he said that homilies had to be rigorously prepared, he learned them by heart, he had files.
Will he be the last Italian pope?
Very difficult to foresee the future. Let's say that the non-Italian Papacy has been prepared since 1946 with the first of the two great consistories of Pius XII, where out of 32 new cardinals only four are Italian. It is Pius XII who begins the globalization that Bergoglio is now continuing in a very evident way. Does this mean there will be no more Italian potatoes? Impossible to say because the variables in a conclave are many