John Paul I died just 33 days after being elected pope – Copyright AFP Vincenzo Pinto
Thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square Sunday as Pope Francis presided over the beatification of John Paul I, the so-called “Smiling Pope”, who led the Catholic Church for just 33 days before dying in disputed circumstances.
John Paul I, the son of a mason from the Dolomites, who was distinguished by special warmth and pastoral work, was elected pope on August 26, 1978 at the age of 65.
He died just 33 days later on September 28, 1978, from a heart attack, making him the shortest pontiff in modern church history.
A crowd of several thousand people, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella, gathered under umbrellas during a thunderstorm to listen to a beatification mass – a step towards canonization and becoming a “saint”.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul succeeded in conveying the goodness of the Lord,” Pope Francis said during Sunday mass.
“How beautiful is the Church with a happy, serene and smiling face, which never closes its doors, never hardens its hearts, never complains or harbors resentment, does not get angry or irritated, does not look gloomy or nostalgic for the past.”
On the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica hung a wall panel depicting the late pope.
The death of John Paul I sparked intense speculation as to the cause, from suicide – he seemed unwilling to take the papacy – to an assassination allegedly carried out by those opposed to his church reform plans, especially the powerful Vatican bank.
This has since been dismissed by many, and biographer Christoph Henning has said that the rumors circulating can be explained by the suddenness of his death and the Vatican’s “catastrophic message” at the time.
An autopsy was not performed to determine the cause of death, and the Vatican issued conflicting and false information about what happened.
For example, his lifeless body – sitting in bed, with reading glasses on his nose and typewritten documents in his hand – was found by a nun.
However, the Vatican did not want to acknowledge the woman’s presence in his bedroom, so it claimed that his secretary had found him.
“It doesn’t seem to me that there really is any doubt” about his death from natural causes, especially given that “we know that he was in poor health,” Henning told AFP.
– “Friendly to all” –
In October 2021, the Vatican announced that it had recognized the miracle attributed to John Paul I that allowed him to become beatified, the process by which a person becomes “blessed” and the last step before becoming a saint.
A miracle was the sudden healing of a seriously ill 11-year-old girl in Buenos Aires in 2011 after the local priest prayed to the late pontiff.
According to the rules of the Catholic Church, in most cases it is necessary to recognize the second miracle before someone can be made a saint.
Born as Albino Luciani on October 17, 1912 in the town of Canale d’Agordo in northern Italy, John Paul I became Patriarch of Venice, cardinal, and then head of the Catholic Church.
The last Italian pope, he was considered a man of consensus, humility and simplicity, with a strong sense of pastoral duty.
“Open to dialogue and listening, he prioritized pastoral visits and direct contact with the faithful,” the Vatican’s pamphlet on beatification says.
He defended the church’s opposition to abortion and contraception, and also sought to reform its administration.
Sister Margarita Marin, who helped John Paul I in the papal chambers, recalled a man who was “friendly to everyone.”
“He knew how to treat his colleagues with great respect,” she said at a press conference at the Vatican on Friday.
Recent popes include John XXIII (1958–1963), Paul VI (1963–1978), and John Paul II (1978–2005) who have been declared saints.
Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, is still alive and living in the Vatican after his resignation in 2013.