Feast of Venerable John Paul I (August 26)   Leave a comment

Above:  Venerable John Paul I

Image in the Public Domain

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ALBINO LUCIANI (OCTOBER 17, 1912-SEPTEMBER 28, 1978)

Bishop of Rome

Venerable John Paul I comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Roman Catholic Church.  This Ecumenical Calendar is my project, one of my hobbies.  Therefore, I reserve the right to establish feast days as I see fit.  I see fit to set this feast on August 26, for Albino Luciani became Pope John Paul I on August 26, 1978.

Luciani was the third son and the fourth child of Bortola Tancon (c. 1879-1947) and bricklayer Giovanni Luciani (c. 1872-1952).  Our saint, born in Forno di Canale (now Canale d’Agordo), Belluno, Italy, perceived his priestly vocation as a boy.  After graduating from seminary and getting turned away from the Society of Jesus, Luciani received the sacrament of Holy Orders on July 7, 1935.

Father Luciani spent the next 35 years serving in various capacities.  He was a curate in his hometown until 1935.  Next, our saint served as a professor of several subjects (from theology to sacred art) and vice-rector of the Belluno seminary, his alma mater.  Luciani worked on his Doctorate of Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, from 1941 to 1947.  Then, in 1947, our saint began to serve on the diocesan level in the Diocese of Belluno.  He was the chancellor (1947-1954) then the Vicar General (1954-1959).  Opportunities for promotion to bishop came and went.  Luciani’s fragile health was one reason for his delayed promotion.  In the meantime, our saint developed ideas he carried forward in his ministry in the subsequent years.  For example, Luciani argued for proper catechesis, in language and methods all people can understand.

Pope St. John XXIII appointed Father Luciani the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto.  This appointment took effect on January 11, 1959.  Bishop Luciani vowed on that day to be both a teacher and a servant.  As the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, our saint participated in the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).

Pope St. Paul VI appointed Bishop Luciani the Patriarch of Venice, effective February 1969.  As the Patriarch of Venice and, as of March 5, 1973, Cardinal Luciani, our saint affirmed Roman Catholic social teaching.  He acknowledged that the developed world owed the Third World a financial and moral debt.  Therefore, in 1971, he suggested that dioceses in the developed world give one percent of their income to dioceses in the developing world as “reparation for social sin.”  Cardinal Luciani also opposed the liberalization of divorce laws, as well as the participation of priests in the Italian Communist Party.  Furthermore, our saint led by example when he sold a gold cross and its gold pectoral chain to raise funds to help disabled children.  The cross and chain, formerly property of Pope Pius XII, had been a gift from Pope St. John XXIII.  Cardinal Luciani, generally on the side of the poor, was not on their side as much as he should have been, though.  For example, he opposed the worker priest movement and labor strikes.

Pope St. Paul VI died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1978.  He was the first of three Popes that year.  Cardinal Luciani expressed his desire that the conclave not elect him.  He even said that he would refuse election.  Yet the conclave elected him on that August 26, and he accepted election.

The new Pope was too conservative for some and too liberal for others.   A conspiracy theory grew up around his election.  Yet the consensus position became that Venerable John Paul I was “God’s candidate.”  The new Supreme Pontiff, also known as the “Smiling Pope” and “the Smile of God,” had a down-to-earth style.  He spoke of himself as “I,” eschewing the royal “we.”  He refused the Papal crown and referred to his installation as an inauguration, not a coronation.

Pope John Paul I was an orthodox Roman Catholic.  (This should not surprise anyone.)  His change was one of style; he was more pastoral than his illustrious immediate successor had been.  Divine mercy, manifested by people in society, was the new Pope’s main theme.  He encouraged the faithful to behave mercifully and to transform society for the better.

Upon election on August 26, 1978, Pope John Paul I had said his papacy would be brief.  He was objectively correct.  He died on September 28, 1978.  His papacy had lasted a mere 33 days.  The application of Ockham’s Razor has established that he died of natural causes.  Conspiracy theories have continued to flourish, though.

According to reports, Pope John Paul I died with a smile on his face.

Pope Francis declared Pope John Paul I a Venerable in 2017.

Pope Francis seems to have modeled himself after Pope John Paul I.  The current Supreme Pontiff is an orthodox Roman Catholic, despite what some very conservative Roman Catholics claim.  Like Pope John Paul I, Pope Francis’s major difference relative to his immediate predecessor is stylistic–smiling.  I mean no disrespect to Pope St. Paul VI and Pope Benedict XVI, by the way.

A good friend–a devout Presbyterian in Athens, Georgia–died in early 2013.  His epitaph has remained engraved on my memory:

God’s love smiled through him.

God’s love smiled through Pope John Paul I.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF ELLEN GATES STARR, U.S. EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people,

we thank you for your servant Venerable John Paul I,

who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock;

and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life,

we may by your grace grow into the full stature

of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 38

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