Cover Story: The September Pope

John Paul I's sudden death stuns and saddens the Christian world

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 10)

The replacement of formal audience speeches with chats disconcerted some. Commented Robert Sole, Vatican correspondent for France's leftist intellectual daily Le Monde: The audiences "attracted the immediate sympathy of the public but had disappointed and sometimes worried church officials. The Pope expressed a philosophy of existence that recalled on occasion the Reader's Digest: common sense, a little simple at that, which broke with the grand theological flights of oratory of Paul VI. Visibly, he did not have the culture and the intellectual training of his predecessor."

But perhaps Le Monde's world is more circumscribed than is a Pope's global parish. Remarked Archbishop Manuel Menendez, head of Caritas in Argentina: "The other day on a street in Rome a little boy was asked if he loved the Pope and he said yes. He was asked why. 'Because I understand everything he says.'" As Albino Luciani, the Pope-to-be never studied on a campus outside his home area of northeastern Italy, nor did he gain the international sophistication of a Vatican bureaucrat or diplomat. In the town of Belluno, where he taught for several years, his old friend Archbishop Maffeo Ducoli said: "People are crying in the streets and in the shops as if someone in their family had died." He was a teacher with a remarkable gift for explaining things through unexpected metaphors, an asker of sharp questions, a man who could defend conservative values without seeming pompous or rigid to the young.

There were a few memorable quotations from the fleeting days of John Paul, and the Vatican found some of them unsettling. At his first audience he quoted Pinocchio and compared the soul in the modern world to an automobile that breaks down because it runs on champagne and marmalade instead of gasoline and oil. Meeting with the Vatican press corps, he tossed off the notion that today St. Paul, who carried the news of Christ around the Mediterranean world, would probably be the head of a wire service. There were his sternly pastoral addresses deploring divorce to a group of U.S. bishops, and to the Roman clergy insisting on the need for "the great discipline of the church." In calling for prayer for the Camp David summit, he stated that God "is our Father; even more, God is our Mother." Attacking Marxist-hued "liberation theology," he said: "It is mistaken to state that political, economic and social liberation coincides with salvation in Jesus Christ, that ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem [where Lenin is, there also is Jerusalem]"

In truth, John Paul's honeymoon period was not yet over. Some liberals were anxious about this surprise Pope with his profound doctrinal traditionalism, but they kept it to themselves. If he had lived to issue his first encyclical, make his first appointments, the ideological factions in Catholicism that were temporarily united behind this leader might have reverted to their past divisiveness. Observes Ontario's Archbishop G. Emmett Carter: "It will be very difficult for the new Pope. John Paul wasn't there long enough to make any significant decisions and thus he made no enemies. The new Pope's decisions will always be held up by those who oppose them as something that 'John Paul would not have done.' "

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10