VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will preside on Sunday over the beatification of John Paul I, the so-called “smiling pope,” who led the Catholic Church for just 33 days before dying in controversial circumstances.
Thousands of people are expected to attend mass in St. Peter’s Square, where the former pope will be “blessed” – the final step before becoming a saint.
John Paul I, son of a mason from the Dolomites and a particularly warm and pastoral figure, was elected pope on August 26, 1978 at the age of 65.
He died of a heart attack just 33 days later on September 28, 1978, making him the shortest pope in modern Church history.
His death sparked intense speculation as to the cause, ranging from suicide – he seemed unwilling to accept the office of pope – to assassination, allegedly at the hands of those who opposed his plans to reform the Church, especially the powerful Vatican Bank.
Many have since ignored this, and biographer Christophe Henning said the swirling rumors could be explained by the sudden nature of his death and “catastrophic communications” from the Vatican at the time.
No autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death and the Vatican released conflicting and incorrect information about what happened.
For example, his lifeless body – sitting up in bed, reading glasses over his nose and typed documents in hand – was found by a nun.
However, the Vatican would not recognize the presence of a woman in his room, so his secretary said he had found it.
“There doesn’t seem to be any real doubt to me” that he died of natural causes, especially since “we know he was in poor health,” Henning was quoted by AFP.
FRIENDLY TO EVERYBODY
The Vatican announced in October 2021 that it had recognized a miracle attributed to John Paul I and made his beatification possible.
The miracle was the sudden healing of a seriously ill 11-year-old girl in Buenos Aires in 2011 after a local priest prayed to the late pope.
According to the rules of the Catholic Church, in most cases a second miracle is recognized before someone can be canonized.
Born on October 17, 1912 in Canale d’Agordo in northern Italy, John Paul I became Patriarch of Venice, cardinal and then head of the Catholic Church.
The last Italian pope was considered a man of consensus, humility and simplicity and endowed with a strong sense of pastoral duty.
He championed the Church’s opposition to abortion and contraception while attempting to reform its governance.
Sister Margherita Marin, who helped John Paul I in the papal apartments, recalled a man who was “good for everyone”.
“He knew how to treat his colleagues with great respect,” she told a press conference at the Vatican on Friday.
Among the younger popes were John XXIII (1958-1963), Paul VI (1963-1978) and John Paul II (1978-2005).
Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, still resides at the Vatican after his resignation in 2013.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP