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from issue no. 08 - 2007

LORENZAGO. Benedict XVI’s meeting with the brother of John Paul I

«A great friend of mine»

So said Pope Ratzinger in memory of his predecessor during his last Angelus in the Belluno area. Edoardo Luciani tells us...

by Stefania Falasca

Benedict XVI greeting Edoardo Luciani, known as Berto

Benedict XVI greeting Edoardo Luciani, known as Berto

«A great friend of mine». So said Benedict XVI in memory of Albino Luciani in Lorenzago on 22 July during the last Angelus of his summer holidays in the Belluno area. The Pope did not go to Canale d’Agordo, Luciani’s birthplace, but the presence of John Paul’s ninety year-old brother made up for Benedict XVI’s wish to see the place where his predecessor was born. And the Pope thanked him in affectionate words more than once: «I am very glad that Signor Edoardo Luciani is present, brother of the servant of God John Paul I: I address a particular greeting to him, with all my heart and with great joy». At the end of the Angelus, Edoardo, accompanied by his daughter Pia, went up to greet the Pope. A brief but intense encounter. When the bishop of Belluno, Monsignor Giuseppe Andrich, introduced him to His Holiness, the Pope embraced him, reminding him of the occasion on which they had met. «“We already know each other”, the Pope said to me immediately, and we recalled the circumstances in which the meeting took place», Edoardo – Berto, as everybody here calls him – tells us afterwards. And sheltering in a bit of shade, there in the public square of Lorenzago, while a small group of Chinese with Cardinal Joseph Zen comes forward in a line to shake his hand, still in the grip of emotion he tells us: «It was more than twenty years ago in Saint Peter’s Square. It was the 16th of October 1983, the day on which Father Leopoldo Mandic was canonized. I’d gone to Rome just to attend that canonization. In the family we were attached with particular devotion to Father Leopoldo, above all because of my brother. After Albino’s death they gave us back some of his personal belongings including a wallet. As well as a photograph of our mother and a letter from dad, my sister Nina and I also found in the wallet a little picture of Father Leopoldo. Nina passed on to me a detail Albino had told her. When he was still in the minor seminary in Feltre, Father Leopoldo once heard his confession and taking his face between his hands said to him: “Keep calm and follow your path”. My brother always kept the memory of that meeting alive, so much so that he always carried with him the little picture of Father Leopoldo. That is why I later decided, with my wife, to go to Rome for his canonization and it was there I met Cardinal Ratzinger, then already at the Holy Office. I remember we were sitting below the steps up to Saint Peter’s and he was some rows in front. He saw us and came down. He stayed chatting with us for about twenty minutes. He asked about the family, and we talked about the family and Albino. He said he was very fond of my brother. And that was the only time I saw him before now. There, we recalled that and he said he’d been very close to Albino and often remembers him». That was the content of the brief conversation with Benedict XVI. And as we returned in the afternoon to Canale d’Agordo, where Berto still lives in the Luciani’s old house, other memories of his brother tied to that last summer in which he’d seen him come home, came back to mind. And he still remembers when at the end of June 1978 he saw him for the last time in Canale. «He said to me: “Listen, Berto, don’t take anything on this summer. There’s something I want to do I’ve never managed to find time for”. “And what would that be?” I asked. “I’d like you to join me on a tour of all the French shrines: Lourdes, La Salette and then I’d like to go to Ars, Lisieux and Annecy, the tomb of Francis de Sales... Try to persuade Giovanni to come as well,” he added, “so he’ll drive the car”. They were all places linked with figures particularly dear to my brother: the Curé d’Ars, Teresa of Lisieux, Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, were his favorite saints. But the trip was never taken».
Meanwhile a quiet and incessant crowd of pilgrims continues to arrive in Canale d’Agordo from every part of the world to pay homage to the “Pope of the smile” in the dear places of his childhood. Since 2001 all of thirty-two visitors’ books have been filled with requests for prayers and graces. From May to October last year 35,000 faithful visited the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista where Pope Luciani was christened. The diocesan phase of the cause for the beatification and canonization of Albino Luciani, entrusted by the previous bishop of Belluno-Feltre, Monsignor Vincenzo Savio, to the postulation general of the Salesians, closed in Belluno on 10 November 2006. On 14 May this year, Mario Paciello, bishop of Altamura (Bari), signed the decree of constitution of the court for the diocesan inquiry into a presumed miracle of healing attributed to the intercession of John Paul I. Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of his death.

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