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John Paul I
Papacy began 26 August 1978
Papacy ended 28 September 1978
Predecessor Paul VI
Successor John Paul II
Personal details
Birth name Albino Luciani
Born 17 October 1912(1912-10-17)
Canale d'Agordo, Italy
Died 28 September 1978 (aged 65)
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Other Popes named John Paul

Pope John Paul I (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. I, Italian: Giovanni Paolo I), born Albino Luciani, (17 October 1912 – 28 September 1978), served as Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church and as Sovereign of Vatican City from 26 August 1978 until his death 33 days later. His reign is among the shortest in papal history, resulting in the most recent Year of Three Popes. John Paul I was the first Pope born in the 20th century.

In Italy he is remembered with the appellatives of "Il Papa del sorriso" ("The smiling Pope") and "Il sorriso di Dio" ("God's smile").



Early years

Birthplace at Via XX Agosto

Albino Luciani was born on 17 October 1912 in Forno di Canale (now Canale d'Agordo) in Belluno, a province of the Veneto region in northern Italy. He was the son of Giovanni Luciani (1872? - 1952), a bricklayer, and Bortola Tancon (1879? - 1948). Albino was followed by two brothers, Federico (1915–1916) and Edoardo (1917–2008), and a sister, Antonia (b. 1920).

Luciani entered the minor seminary of Feltre in 1923, where his teachers found him "too lively", and later went on to the major seminary of Belluno. During his stay at Belluno, he attempted to join the Jesuits but was denied by the seminary's rector, Bishop Giosuè Cattarossi. Ordained a priest on 7 July 1935, Luciani then served as a curate in his native Forno de Canale before becoming a professor and the vice-rector of the Belluno seminary in 1937. Among the different subjects, he taught dogmatic and moral theology, canon law, and sacred art.

In 1941, Luciani began to seek a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, which required at least one year's attendance in Rome. However, the seminary's superiors wanted him to continue teaching during his doctoral studies; the situation was resolved by a special dispensation of Pope Pius XII himself, on 27 March 1941. His thesis (The origin of the human soul according to Antonio Rosmini) largely attacked Rosmini's theology, and earned him his doctorate magna cum laude.

Stone commemorating Luciani as Patriarch of Venice

In 1947, he was named vicar general to Bishop Girolamo Bortignon, OFM Cap, of Belluno. Two years later, in 1949, he was placed in charge of diocesan catechetics.

On 15 December 1958, Luciani was appointed Bishop of Vittorio Veneto by Pope John XXIII. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 27 December from Pope John himself, with Bishops Bortignon and Gioacchino Muccin serving as co-consecrators. As a bishop, he participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965).

On 15 December 1969, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice by Pope Paul VI and took possession of the archdiocese on 3 February 1970. Pope Paul created Luciani Cardinal-Priest of S. Marco in the consistory of 5 March 1973. Catholics were struck by his humility, a prime example being his embarrassment when Paul VI once removed his papal stole and put it on Patriarch Luciani. He recalls the occasion in his first Angelus thus:[1]

Pope Paul VI made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!



Luciani was elected on the fourth ballot of the August 1978 papal conclave. He chose the regnal name of John Paul, the first double name in the history of the papacy, explaining in his famous Angelus that he took it as a thankful honour to his two immediate predecessors: John XXIII, who had named him a bishop, and Paul VI, who had named him Patriarch of Venice and a cardinal.[2] He was also the first (and so far only) pope to use "the first" in his regnal name.[citation needed] In Italy he is remembered with the appellatives of "Il Papa del Sorriso" (The Smiling Pope) and "Il Sorriso di Dio" (God's Smile).[citation needed]

John Paul I pictured in a coin.

Observers have suggested that his selection was linked to the rumored divisions between rival camps within the College of Cardinals:[2]

Outside the Italians, who were experiencing dimished influence within the increasingly internationalist College of Cardinals, were figures like Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.[2] Over the days following the conclave, cardinals effectively declared that with general great joy they had elected "God's candidate".[2] Argentine Eduardo Francisco Cardinal Pironio stated that, "We were witnesses of a moral miracle."[2] And later, Mother Teresa commented: "He has been the greatest gift of God, a sunray of God's love shining in the darkness of the world."[2]

Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad, who was present at his installation, collapsed and died during the ceremony, and the new Pope prayed over him in his final moments.[3]

Church policies

Papal styles of
Pope John Paul I

John paul 1 coa.svg

Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Servant of God

Humanising the papacy

After his election, John Paul quickly made several decisions that would "humanise" the office of pope, admitting publicly he had turned scarlet when Paul VI had named him the Patriarch of Venice. He was the first modern pope to speak in the singular form, using 'I' instead of the royal we, though the official records of his speeches were often rewritten in more formal style by traditionalist aides, who reinstated the royal we in press releases and in L'Osservatore Romano. He was the first to refuse the sedia gestatoria, until Vatican pressure convinced him of its need, in order to allow the faithful to see him.

He was the first pope to choose an "investiture" to commence his papacy rather than the traditional papal coronation.

One of his remarks, reported in the press, was that the Lord was not only the father, but also the mother.[4]

Encyclical on devolution

John Paul I intended to prepare an encyclical in order to confirm the lines of the Second Vatican Council ("an extraordinary long-range historical event and of growth for the Church," he said) and to enforce the Church's discipline in the life of priests and the faithful. In discipline, he was a reformist, instead, and was the author of initiatives such as the devolution of one per cent of each church's entries for the poor churches in the Third World. The visit of Jorge Rafael Videla, president of the Argentine junta, to the Vatican caused considerable controversy, especially when the Pope reminded Videla about human rights violations taking place in Argentina during the so-called Dirty War.

Opening of the Second Session of Vatican II

Moral theology

The moral theology of John Paul I has been described by some as being very liberal, to the extent that it may have stood a chance of reversing the Church's opposition to birth control if he had lived longer.[5] For this reason, it has been cited as a significant part of Pope John Paul I conspiracy theories.


He was regarded as a skilled communicator and writer, and has left behind some writings. His book Illustrissimi, written while he was a Cardinal, is a series of letters to a wide collection of historical and fictional persons. Among those still available are his letters to Jesus Christ,[6] the Biblical King David,[7] Figaro the Barber,[8] Marie Theresa of Austria[9] and Pinocchio.[10] Others 'written to' included Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Christopher Marlowe.

John Paul impressed people with his personal warmth. There are reports that within the Vatican he was seen as an intellectual lightweight not up to the responsibilities of the papacy, although David Yallop ("In God's Name") says that this is the result of a whispering campaign by people in the Vatican who were opposed to Luciani's policies. In the words of John Cornwell, "they treated him with condescension"; one senior cleric discussing Luciani said "they have elected Peter Sellers."[11] Critics contrasted his sermons mentioning Pinocchio to the learned intellectual discourses of Pius XII or Paul VI. Visitors spoke of his isolation and loneliness, and the fact that he was the first pope in decades not to have had either a diplomatic role (like Pius XI and John XXIII) or Curial role (like Pius XII and Paul VI) in the Church.

His personal impact, however, was twofold: his image as a warm, gentle, kind man captivated the world. This image was immediately formed when he was presented to the crowd in St. Peter's Square following his election. The warmth of his presence made him a much-loved figure before he even spoke a word. The media in particular fell under his spell. He was a skilled orator. Whereas Pope Paul VI spoke as if delivering a doctoral thesis, John Paul I produced warmth, laughter, a 'feel good factor,' and plenty of media-friendly sound bites.

John Paul was the first pope to admit that the prospect of the papacy had daunted him to the point that other cardinals had to encourage him to accept it. He strongly suggested to his aides and staff that he believed he was unfit to be pope.[citation needed] Though Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo explicitly required that John Paul be crowned, he controversially refused to have the millennium-old traditional Papal Coronation and wear the Papal Tiara.[12] He instead chose to have a simplified Papal Inauguration Mass. John Paul I used as his motto Humilitas. In his notable Angelus of 27 August delivered on the first day of his papacy, he impressed the world with his natural friendliness.[1]


Tomb of John Paul I in the Vatican Grottoes

John Paul I was found dead sitting up in his bed shortly before dawn on 29 September 1978,[13] just 33 days into his papacy. The Vatican reported that the near-66-year-old Pope most likely died the previous night of a heart attack and altered some of the details of the discovery of the death to avoid possible unseemliness[14][15] in that he was discovered by Sister Vincenza, a nun.[16]

An autopsy was not performed. This, along with inconsistent statements made following the Pope's death led to a number of conspiracy theories concerning his death. These statements concern who found the Pope's body, at what time he was found, and what papers the Pope had in his hand.


Papal Arms of John Paul I

Other than the abandonment of the Papal Coronation, John Paul I was not in office long enough to influence any major practical changes within the Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church.

The manner of his death raised many questions about the conduct of senior Vatican figures. Even among those who dismiss conspiracy theories, there are some that admit that the Vatican mishandled the circumstances of his death. For others, the suspicion remains that the manner of death has yet to be explained adequately.

Initiation of canonisation process

The process of canonisation formally began in 1990 with the petition by 226 Brazilian bishops, including four cardinals.

On 26 August 2002, Bishop Vincenzo Savio announced the start of the preliminary phase to collect documents and testimonies necessary to start the process of canonisation. On 8 June 2003 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave its assent to the work. On 23 November, the process formally opened in the Cathedral Basilica of Belluno alongside Cardinal José Saraiva Martins.

The Diocesan inquiry subsequently concluded on 11 November 2006 at Belluno with a solemn Mass. In July 2008, the Vatican pronounced in favour of beatification in due course for John Paul I, drawing upon the testimony of Giuseppe Denora di Altamura who claimed to have been cured of cancer.

John Paul II on his predecessor

A statute of John Paul I.

Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyła was elected to succeed John Paul I as Supreme Pontiff on Monday, 16 October 1978. The next day he celebrated Mass together with the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. After the Mass, he delivered his first Urbi et Orbi (a traditional blessing) message, broadcast worldwide via radio. In it he pledged fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and paid tribute to his predecessor:[17]

What can we say of John Paul I? It seems to us that only yesterday he emerged from this assembly of ours to put on the papal robes—not a light weight. But what warmth of charity, nay, what 'an abundant outpouring of love'—which came forth from him in the few days of his ministry and which in his last Sunday address before the Angelus he desired should come upon the world. This is also confirmed by his wise instructions to the faithful who were present at his public audiences on faith, hope and love.


  • In 2006, the Italian Public Broadcasting Service, RAI, produced a television miniseries about the life of John Paul I, called Papa Luciani: Il sorriso di Dio (literally, "Pope Luciani: God's smile"). It stars Italian comedian Neri Marcorè in the titular role.
  • The Fall's song "Hey! Luciani" is about Pope John Paul I.
  • Patti Smith's recitative song "Wave" is about Luciani, and her Wave album is dedicated to him.
  • The 1990 film The Godfather Part III included the assassination theory of Pope John Paul I, although the character's lay name differs from the actual Pope's.
  • Dan Brown's 2000 novel Angels & Demons also repeats the assassination claim, putting the blame specifically on Propaganda Due.
  • Portuguese author Luis Miguel Rocha's 2008 fiction book The Last Pope avers that John Paul I was assassinated.
  • Robert Littell's 2002 book The Company also portrays John Paul I's death as a KGB-directed assassination.


  1. ^ a b "FIRST ANGELUS ADDRESS, Pope John Paul I". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Conclave: August 25th - 26th 1978
  3. ^ "Boris Georgyevich Rotov Nikodim". Crystal Reference Encyclopedia. 
  4. ^ Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Sep 30, 1978
  5. ^ Kay Withers, "Pope John Paul I and Birth Control," America, March 24, 1979, pp. 233-34.
  6. ^ Letters to Jesus Christ
  7. ^ Letter: the Biblical King David
  8. ^ Figaro the Barber
  9. ^ Marie Theresa of Austria
  10. ^ Pinocchio
  11. ^ McCabe, Joseph, A History of the Popes Excerpts from: A History of the Popes
  12. ^ Romano Pontifici Eligendo (1975) Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on the election on the pontiff, Section 92.
  13. ^ NBC Radio News announces Pope John Paul I Death (In RealAudio)
  14. ^ "Evidence of foul play in Pope death claimed". Chicago Tribune. October 7, 1978. Retrieved 26 December 2009. 
  16. ^ "Foul Play". Baltimore Afro-American. October 10, 1978.,1967300&dq=sister+vincenza+john+paul+i&hl=en. Retrieved 26 December 2009. 
  17. ^ "FIRST RADIOMESSAGE "URBI ET ORBI", Pope John Paul II". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giovanni Urbani
Patriarch of Venice
1970 – 1978
Succeeded by
Marco Cé
Preceded by
Paul VI
Succeeded by
John Paul II


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Pope John Paul I (Latin Ioannes Paulus PP. I), born Albino Luciani (October 17, 1912September 28, 1978), reigned as pope and as sovereign of Vatican City from August 26 to September 28, 1978. His 33-day papacy was one of the shortest reigns in papal history. He is best remembered for his friendliness and humility, and is nicknamed "the smiling Pope".



  • I come without five lire. I want to leave without five lire.
    • David Yallop, "In God's Name" (Corgi, 1987), p. 44.
    • On being appointed as Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, December 1958. Luciani declined gifts offered to him by the priests of the diocese.
  • In 1815, the official French newspaper Le Moniteur, showed its readers how to follow Napoleon's progress: 'The brigand flees from the island of Elba'; 'The usurper arrives at Grenoble'; ' Napoleon enters Lyons'; 'The Emperor reaches Paris this evening'.
  • Yesterday, a funny thing happened to me on my way to the Conclave.
    • David Yallop, "In God's Name" (Corgi, 1987), p. 132.
    • Address to the crowd in St Peter's Square on 27 August 1978, the day after his election.
  • We wish to continue in following up the legacy of the Second Vatican Council whose wise regulations have still to be led to their fulfilment, being careful that a push, generous perhaps, but unduly timed, does not detract from the content and meaning of the council, and on the other hand being careful and reined and timid efforts do not slow up the magnificent drive of renewal and of life.
    • Peter Nichols, "Pope John Paul will continue policy of reform", The Times, August 28, 1978, p. 1.
    • Address to the crowd in St Peter's Square on 27 August 1978, the day after his election.


  • I am at best on the C list for Pope.
    • Remarks to journalists in August 1978, shortly before departing for the Conclave at which he was elected Pope.
  • I will see you tomorrow, if God wills it.
    • Last words. About one hour after saying this, he suffered a fatal heart attack.


  • For my part, he was God's candidate.
    • Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster. Quoted in Peter Nichols, "Pope John Paul will continue policy of reform", The Times, August 28, 1978, p. 1.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

John Paul I
Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. I
motto: Humilitas
Birth name Albino Luciani
Born October 17, 1912
Forno di Canale (today Canale d'Agordo), Italy
Died September 28, 1978
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Papacy from August 26, 1978September 28, 1978
Came after Pope Paul VI
Came before Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul I (October 17, 1912 - September 28, 1978) was the 263rd Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He was born in Canale d'Agordo, Italy. His name before he was Pope was Albino Luciani. He was elected Pope in 1978, but he died 33 days after he was elected. His time as Pope is one of the shortest in history.

When he was elected as Pope, he chose the name John Paul I to honor the two Popes who served before he did. John Paul I was the first pope to have two names as a Pope.


Many people expected the election of a new Pope to take a long time. This is because there were several large groups in the College of Cardinals who wanted to elect different people to be the Pope. Luciani was elected because he was someone that all the groups agreed would make a good Pope. Luciani did not expect to be elected Pope. In one famous picture of him taken when he was elected, his hair is messy. He did not have his hair cut before the election because he did not think he had a chance of becoming the Pope.

When Popes were elected, they took part in a ceremony called the Papal Coronation in which they received a tiara, like Kings and Queens do when they start ruling a country. John Paul I did not want to do this. He had an Inauguration instead. All of the Popes that came after John Paul I have had an Inauguration too.

Time as pope

He was known to be very friendly. He was called "The Smiling Pope" because he smiled a lot when seen in public. He was very popular with the Catholics of the world. He spoke in a way that was easy for many people to understand.


John Paul I died on September 28, 1978, 33 days after his election, branding him the title "the Pope who ruled for 33 days". His death surprised the world. No one expected the Pope to die so soon after being elected. Ongoing rumors he was murdered were never proven, most likely his heart gave up. He was however to let go of some Cardinals who had masonic connections as Rome does not allow clergy to associate.

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