Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pope John Paul I

Can it really have been 35 years ago?

So it was. It was 35 years ago yesterday that Albino Luciani was elected as Pope John Paul I.

The following day, August 27, 1978, he gave his Urbi et Orbi message.
Placing our hand in that of Christ, leaning on him, we have now been lifted up to steer that ship which is the Church; it is safe and secure, though in the midst of storms, because the comforting, dominant presence of the Son of God is with it. . . .

The Church, in this common effort to be responsible and so respond to the pressing problems of the day, is called to give to the world that "strengthening of the spirit" which is so needed and which alone can assure salvation. The world awaits this today: it knows well that the sublime perfection to which it has attained by research and technology has already reached a peak, beyond which yawns the abyss, blinding the eyes with darkness. It is the temptation of substituting for God one's own decisions, decisions that would prescind from moral laws. The danger for modern man is that he would reduce the earth to a desert, the person to an automaton, brotherly love to planned collectivization, often introducing death where God wishes life.

The Church, admiring yet lovingly protesting against such "achievements", intends, rather, to safeguard the world, which thirsts for a life of love, from dangers that would attack it. The Gospel calls all of its children to place their full strength, indeed their life, at the service of mankind in the name of the charity of Christ.
Cardinal Luciani did not expect to become Pope, and his papacy did not last long, only 33 days. But that does not mean that he did not make an impact. In fact, Pope John Paul I made great contributions to the Church.

It was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the new dawn of the Church, following the stormy night of the 20th century, which we were able to withstand because of the shelter of the Council and bravery of Paul VI. It was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the process of demonstrating that the Church is not old and musty, but ever fresh and alive.

And, John Paul the First made the invaluable contribution of preparing the way for Karol Wojtyla to become Pope John Paul the Second. It was the very briefness his pontificate that led the cardinal-electors to look beyond Italy for a shepherd of the Church. So we should not for one moment think that such a short papacy meant that the cardinal-electors erred in choosing him to be pope. John Paul I accomplished his mission, he fulfilled his role, and prepared the Church and the world for the one who would come after him, leading the Church from the new dawn to the bright day.

One of the Cardinal-Electors, a Joseph Ratzinger from Germany, said of Pope John Paul I,
I was very happy about [his election]. To have as pastor of the universal Church a man of that goodness and with that luminous faith was the guarantee that things were going well. . . . Personally I’m altogether convinced he was a saint. Because of his great goodness, simplicity, humility. And for his great courage. Because he also had the courage to say things with great clarity, even going against current opinions. And also for his great culture of faith. He was not just a simple parish priest who had become patriarch by chance. He was a man of great theological culture and of great pastoral sense and experience. His writings on catechesis are precious. And his book Illustrissimi, which I read immediately after his election, is very fine. Yes, I’m convicted that he is a saint.

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