Points By Drew Pritt

John Paul I – Saint of WHAT IF???
October 30, 2007, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Culture, General Views, Religion

Holy Father, Pope John Paul I

Sorry for my absence, as I have been focused on schoolwork, personal life, and other pursuits. However, in this time, I have taken considerable time to ponder and consider the legacy of Albino Luciani, better known as His Holiness, Pope John Paul I. From August 26th to September 28th, just a mere 33 days in 1978, this man reigned as the Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ’s Church here on earth. Heir to the legacy of Saint Peter and so many other great men, he was at the very core a true pastor, and I believe a true Saint. But a Saint of what?

For some history is of their own making but for others history is thrust upon them. For a rare few, destiny dictates the need for a certain person, but they believe they do not rise to the challenge when in essence they do. As humans, we seek recognition that our work and our purpose on earth has somehow been fulfilled. Yet, we also want a legacy quite often. The Ancient Greeks believed immortality was achieved through those who carried their name on. In Sir William Shakespere’s play, Hamlet, he implores the character Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, to carry on his legacy and to tell his story. Recently, a new book has come out about the letters of Mother Teresa and the periods of mournful agony and loneliness she felt while serving God. Yet in humility and obiedience she served him none the less.

Since I was at the library, I picked up John Cornwell’s novel, A Thief In The Night, which was an analytical and serious investigation into the sudden death of this Pope. This is a man who never sought greatness and yet by his mere being exuded and taught more about true Christianity in 33 Days then many before him. Yet he is sadly overlooked. His sudden death and the subsequent “Who shot JR” culture of the period, as well as a major investigation/audit of the Vatican Bank made John Paul I’s death seem sinister and plotted. In actuality, it was a combination of simple things that brought his own demise, at a most inopportune time.

Here is a man who refused to wear the triple tiara crown, refused to use the royal we when speaking, and mixed both C.S. Lewis and Pinocchio into his sermons in that brief period. On three separate occasions, this Pontiff, Vicar of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and heir of Saint Peter humbled himself during a sacred mass to serve in the role of an altar server. Some portray this as weakness and almost Hollywoodesque with a Peter Sellers-like character in the role of Pope. Yet John Paul I’s decision to humanize the Papacy made it easier for John Paul II to reach out to others and show a human and simpler side to the Papacy.

Had he lived, John Paul I would have been more revolutionary than John Paul II. Theologically he was progressive and ahead of his time. The Pope soon after his election had made statements indicating that he believed the church’s position on contraception was immoral and outdated. In conversation with several people, the Pope had indicated that a rethink of the encyclical Humanae Vitae was needed, allowing the use of the contraceptive pill among the faithful. The late Pope supported these comments by reference to malnutrition in the Third World, with the words “God does not always provide.” Luciani had been elected to the Papacy largely through the support of Cardinals from the Third World, with whom he had shared a desire for a “Third World” Pope when he arrived at the Conclave that ultimately elected him John Paul I. 

John Paul I most likely died as the result of a pulmonary embolism. It is a fact that fact that Luciani had experienced a retinal embolism in 1976. He drank 4-5 cups of coffee regularly. At the time of his election, he has stopped taking a blood coangulant during the conclave, and his feet swelled up. So much so he could not wear the slippers provided to him. There are other factors that this book brings out.

In the end, I believe Albino Luciani, should be dubbed the SAINT of WHAT IF. What if there had been a progressive Pope in the 1980’s who focused on changing society through its views of sexuality and social norms rather than through the more political Cold War Pope. It was not to be and it was God’s will otherwise.

Either way, I see in this “SMILING POPE” the face of a good man who at another point in history would have become immortal by showing that Christianity is not about forcing ideology or views of God on someone. Rather its about focusing on the here and now and meeting people where they are and caring for them there. 


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