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Post Albino Luciani (John Paul I)
Created by John Eipper on 06/15/18 4:54 PM

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Albino Luciani (John Paul I) (Enrique Torner, USA, 06/15/18 4:54 pm)

I have started my first research project for my upcoming sabbatical--which is actually a continuation of one I already mentioned on WAIS a while ago--on Dan Brown's Angels and Demons (2000) and Juan Gómez-Jurado's Espía de Dios (2006).

Brown's novel is based on John Paul I, his life, and his mysterious death after only 33 days of being Pope. Gómez-Jurado's novel has as background the papacy of John Paul II. Both novels are what I call "cultural thrillers," have the Vatican as their main background, deal with supposed Vatican conspiracies that lead to violent, gruesome, but well-planned crimes by a serial killer that always leaves an intriguing clue to tease the detectives and the reader into trying to figure out who will be the next victim (most of whom are cardinals), where will it happen, and how it will take place. Of course, both involve frantic races by the hero/heroine protagonists to prevent the next crime before it happens. Both novels have as background the conclaves that took place after the death of Popes John Paul I (Angels and Demons) and John Paul II (Espía de Dios). All these commonalities (and there are more) led me to want to write a comparative study of both novels.

My first research focus is to learn about Albino Luciani, who was born on October 17, 1912, in Canale d'Agordo, Belluno, Veneto, in northern Italy, and died on September 28, 1978. As I have been reading In God's Name, An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I, by David A. Yallop (1984), I have found out fascinating facts about Luciani before he became a pope and about the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council that I thought you would enjoy knowing about.

Let's start with a few reasons why Albino Luciani made history. To begin with, he was the first pope born in the 20th century. Secondly, he was the first pope in history to adopt a double name, which he did to give equal honor and praise to his immediate predecessors: John XXIII and Paul VI. Thirdly, his 33-day papacy was one of the shortest pontificates in Vatican history, the shortest since pope Urban VII, who reigned for 13 days in 1590, the shortest one ever. Fourthly, all the rumors and conspiracies around his death added a touch of mystery around his life. Finally, his role in Vatican II was so foundational that he was called an "Apostle of the Council," as well as a "Son of the Council."

When Albino was born to Giovanni and Bortola, his parents were already taking care of two daughters from the father's first marriage. His father had widowed and remarried, and he was unemployed at the time of his birth. Bortola was an overanxious mother who was always afraid that something terrible would happen to him and die, and she had been considering becoming a convent nun. This fear would become a traumatic memory later in Albino's life.

The Luciani home was a very modest one, partly converted from an old barn, and had as the only source of heating an old wood-burning stove. While Bortola was a devout Catholic, Giovanni was a committed Socialist regarded by Catholics "as a priest-eating, crucifix-burning devil." Albino's parents would later have another son, Edoardo, and another girl, Antonia. Bortola wrote letters for the illiterate and worked as a maid to help the family survive. "The family diet consisted of polenta (cornmeal), barley, macaroni, and any handy vegetables. On special occasions there might be a dessert of carfoni, pastry full of ground poppy seeds" (9).  Albino's vocation for the priesthood came early in his life, and, surprisingly, his father, after Albino wrote him a pressing letter begging him to support his decision, gave him permission to pursue his career. So Albino joined the seminary at the early age of 11!

The year Luciani entered the seminary (1923), an internal war had been raging in the Catholic Church since pope Pius IX had published "The Syllabus of Errors" in 1864, but this was exacerbated by Pius X, when he promulgated his encyclica "Pascendi Dominici Gregis. On the Doctrine of the Modernists" (1907). During Pius X's reign, the Index of Forbidden Books grew even longer. Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855), priest and founder of the Institute of Charity, who had been encouraged by pope Pius VII to undertake the reform of philosophy in 1823, authored a couple of books which won the admiration of many scholars (Maxims of Christian Perfection and Origin of Ideas). By 1835, his Institute of Charity had spread to England, where its prestige grew so much that the Rosminians became "credited with introducing the use of the Roman collar and cassock and the practice of wearing the religious habit in public." ("Bl. Antonio Rosmini [1797-1855]") However, his subsequent books (The Five Wounds of the Church [1832], and Treatise on Moral Conscience [1839]) led to a great controversy and to the examination of all his works in 1854 by the Congregation of the Index, who condemned them all and added them to their already long list of forbidden books.

At his Feltre seminary, Luciani found it was a crime to read a newspaper or many periodicals, so he devoted himself to read every book he could find. In addition, "he remembered virtually everything he read" (Yallop 12). Among the books he read were several by Rosmini, but not The Five Wounds of the Church, which was still in the Index of forbidden books. Aware of the uproar it had caused, Luciani acquired his own copy, and its reading impacted him for life.

In 1935, Luciani was ordained a priest, and, in 1937, he was appointed vice-rector at his old seminary in Belluno. Desiring to learn more, he joined Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate with a thesis entitled "The Origin of the Human Soul according to Antonio Rosmini," which earned him mixed reactions, from "brilliant" to "worthless." In his thesis, he refuted Rosmini on each point.

From this point on, Luciani quickly climbed the ladder of success due to his great teaching skills, humility, and warm personality. Pope John XXIII ordained him bishop in St. Peter's Basilica after Christmas 1958. As such, 400 priests became answerable to him. Many of them "offered him gifts, food, money. He declined these. When they were all gathered he attempted to explain the reason: 'I come without five lire. I want to leave without five lire'" (Yallop 17). It is at this point when Luciani captivated my attention, with all kinds of fascinating, humble deeds. After this initial gift offer he refused, he was given the option of living in a luxurious apartment in the city, or in the castle of San Martino, where the conditions were austere. He chose the castle. From there, he started his responsibilities as a bishop, which would include his decisive participation in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), to be discussed in another post, because this is already getting too long.

I want to finish this post mentioning other examples of his humility. As you probably know, Luciani, after his important contributions as a bishop, became Archbishop and patriarch of Venice, even though he had initially refused. On February 8, 1970, when Luciani entered Venice, "tradition decreed that the entry of a new patriarch be a splendid excuse for a gaily bedecked procession of gondolas, brass bands, parades, and countless speeches" (Yallop 32). Since Luciani hated pomp and ceremony, he canceled the ritual welcome, and limited himself to a speech. In addition, tradition also dictates that patriarchs of Venice have his own boat for transportation, but Luciani declined it, considering it an extravagance. Instead, he would catch a water bus. "If it was an urgent appointment, Luciani would telephone the local fire brigade, the carabinieri, or the finance police. . . and beg the loan of one of their boats" (Yallop 32). During a national gasoline crisis, Luciani used a bicycle when visiting the mainland. Whenever he visited a hospital, a mass of important people would follow him around, despite his complaints, so he would try to effect false exits to avoid the crowd, but without success. On one occasion, Luciani found out that there was a priest who owned rental properties that had served an eviction notice to an unemployed schoolteacher, because he couldn't afford the high rent. Luciani tried to persuade the priest not to kick him out, but to no avail, so he sent the teacher a check so he and his family could live in a pension until they found a permanent residence (Yallop 33). Luciani helped many poor people financially with his own money, even though he had access to an account created for charity purposes: sick people of all sorts, retired people in need, mentally retarded and handicapped persons, beggars, etc. Not only that: he also sold a bejeweled cross and a gold chain that had belonged to Pius XII and John XXIII, and other precious objects, and advised priests to sell theirs as well. No wonder, when he became pope, his residence was always lined up with poor people of all kinds, including ex convicts, prostitutes, and the like. And he never sent anybody away!

Next episode, on Luciani's role in Vatican II!

Sources Cited:

Yallop, David A., In God's Name. An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1984.


JE comments:  Looking forward to Chapter II, Enrique.  Will you be addressing the theories of John Paul's possible murder?

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