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from issue no. 09 - 2003

Twenty-five years on from the conclave that chose Pope Luciani

The short-lived Pope

The introduction our editor Giulio Andreotti has written for the book 30Days (Italian edition) is preparing to mark the twenty-five years since the death of Pope Luciani

by Giulio Andreotti

Shot of the taking of possession of the Lateran Basilica by John Paul I, 23 September 1978

Shot of the taking of possession of the Lateran Basilica by John Paul I, 23 September 1978

He was very pale and copious perspiration was running down his face, lit up though by a charming smile. He almost seemed to want to apologize for having put to trouble so many public figures and the enormous crowd packing the basilica. He had a word for each of us. To me he expressed his happiness at the coming marriage of my daughter, telling me he had signed a particular blessing for her. That in those first intense days of his new “job” he had spent time on small things as well was moving. However, I left Saint John Lateran fairly upset; and informing Serena in advance about the blessing, I told her worriedly that the Pope was not well. But I couldn’t indeed imagine that his taking possession of Rome would be merely symbolic.
I was attending mass in the Gesù church a few later days when a distressed collaborator got hold of me: «The Pope’s dead». I didn’t immediately grasp what was being said and I thought it a mistaken interpretation of some encoded communication from the President’s office. Unfortunately the inconceivable had happened.
Why, Lord? If they had left him in Venice, with his simple habits and without the burden of so many tasks, perhaps his constitution may have stood up to the heart attack.
We aren’t indeed allowed to interpret what God wants or allows. But his lightning disappearance may be spiritually explained by the removal of a polemically surprising reason if the conclave had chosen a foreign pope straight away. After so many centuries this mistrust of Italy certainly lent itself to censorship, political inference, national competitiveness. Don Albino had taken from Paul VI the witness to then bequeath it to a cardinal who in his personal experience had suffered the persecutions that left and rightwing dictators had inflicted on the Church.
I certainly have my Lateran memory of him. But even more one of the bishop who came to Palazzo Chigi to express the worries of Veneto Catholics about the Lowering of the Flag of their historic presence in the world of credit. He had come in black like a humble priest, so much so that in the late morning the receptionists had crossed him off the appointments list, thinking he’d given up.
There is a phrase in Scripture that seems applicable: « Fleetingly consumed explevit tempora multa».

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