By Courtney Mares
Pope Francis beatified John Paul I, who reigned as pope for only 33 days, amid a thunderstorm in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.
In his homily for the rainy beatification Mass on Sept. 4, Pope Francis said that John Paul I “embodied the poverty of a disciple” through his “victory over the temptation to put oneself at the center, to seek one’s own glory.”
Often called “the smiling pope,” John Paul I died unexpectedly on Sept. 28, 1978, a month after the conclave that elected him.
In one of the shortest pontificates in papal history, John Paul I gained a reputation for his humility and his dedication to teaching the faith in an understandable manner.
Cardinals stood in the rain under yellow and white umbrellas as Pope Francis read out the declaration that Pope John Paul I can now be venerated locally on his feast day on Aug. 26.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul I managed to communicate the goodness of the Lord,” Francis said.
“How beautiful is a Church with a happy, serene and smiling face, that never closes doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or harbors resentment, does not grow angry or impatient, does not look dour or suffer nostalgia for the past. Let us pray to him, our father and our brother, and ask him to obtain for us ‘the smile of the soul.’”
During the beatification, a large banner on St. Peter’s Basilica unveiled a portrait of Blessed Pope John Paul I as the pope’s postulator processed through the square with a relic—a handwritten note by the blessed pope on the theological virtues.
John Paul I presided over only four general audiences as pope, offering catecheses on poverty, faith, hope, and charity. Pope Francis quoted these catecheses throughout his homily.
“As Pope John Paul I said, if you want to kiss Jesus crucified, ‘you cannot help bending over the cross and letting yourself be pricked by a few thorns of the crown on the Lord’s head’ (General Audience, 27 September 1978). A love that perseveres to the end, thorns and all: no leaving things half done, no cutting corners, no fleeing difficulties,” Pope Francis said.
John Paul I was the first pope to be born in the 20th century and the most recent pope to be born in Italy. Born Albino Luciani on Oct. 17, 1912, the future John Paul I grew up in relative poverty in Italy’s northern Veneto region.
At the age of 22, he was ordained a priest for the Italian diocese of Belluno e Feltre in 1935. He served as the rector of the diocese’s seminary for 10 years and taught courses on moral theology, canon law, and sacred art.
He participated in all of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as the bishop of Vittorio Veneto and he worked to implement the guidelines council in the following decade as the Patriarch of Venice.
As a cardinal, Luciani published a collection of “open letters” to historic figures, saints, famous writers, and fictional characters. The book, Illustrissimi, included letters to Jesus, King David, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Christopher Marlowe, as well as Pinocchio and Figaro, the barber of Seville.
He made history in 1978 when he became the first pope to take a double name, after his two immediate predecessors, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. His episcopal motto was simply: “Humilitas.”
Shortly before his death at the age of 65, John Paul I prayed: “Lord take me as I am, with my defects, with my shortcomings, but make me become what you want me to be.”
As the rain clouds cleared by the end of the beatification ceremony, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus in Latin. He said that he was offering the prayer for peace in “martyred Ukraine.”
From his wheelchair, Pope Francis offered personal greetings at the end of the Mass to some of the cardinals, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu. He also greeted the crowd in the popemobile.
“In the words of Pope John Paul I, ‘we are the objects of undying love on the part of God’ (Angelus, 10 September 1978). An undying love: it never sinks beneath the horizon of our lives; it constantly shines upon us and illuminates even our darkest nights,” Pope Francis said.
“When we gaze upon the Crucified Lord, we are called to the heights of that love, to be purified of our distorted ideas of God and our self-absorption, and to love God and others, in Church and society, including those who do not see things as we do, to love even our enemies.”