VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday beatified one of his predecessors, John Paul I, a briefly serving pontiff who was noted for his humility and cheerfulness, and whose brutal death in his bedroom in 1978 shocked the world and fueled suspicion for years about his disappearance.
The ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was the last formal step in the Vatican before eventual sainthood for Albino Luciani, an Italian who died 33 days after being elected pontiff.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul succeeded in communicating the goodness of the Lord,” Francis said in his homily.
“How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene and smiling face, which never closes the doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or feels resentment, is not angry, does not does not look austere or suffer from nostalgia for the past,” the pontiff said. .
Francis then encouraged people to pray to the newly beatified clergyman to “get us the smile of the soul.”
Last year, Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul I – that of the recovery of a seriously ill 11-year-old girl in 2011 in Buenos Aires, the current pope’s hometown. Now a young woman, Candela Giarda told a press conference at the Vatican last week via video message that she had wanted to attend the ceremony but could not because she had recently broken a foot while training in a gym.
For Luciani to be declared a saint, another miracle, following his beatification, must be attributed to his intercession and certified by the Vatican.
Seated under a canopy outside St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis led the ceremony, which was punctuated by thunder, lightning and pouring rain, prompting cardinals, bishops, the choir and thousands of worshipers base on the square with open umbrellas.
But as the ceremony ended, the sun was shining and Francis, waving as he sat in a popemobile, circled the square, waving to the crowd, some of whom shouted, “Long live the pope !”
When he was elected pontiff on August 26, 1978, Luciani, 65, had served as Patriarch of Venice, one of the most prestigious positions in the church. In this role as well as previously as a bishop in northeastern Italy, Luciani issued warnings against corruption, including in banking circles.
During his short-lived pontificate, which concluded with the discovery of his body in his room in the Apostolic Palace, John Paul I immediately established a simple and direct means of communicating with the faithful in the speeches he delivered, a change in style considered revolutionary given the stifling environment of the church hierarchy.
Those who campaigned for him to one day become a saint have pointed to his deep spirituality and tireless focus on the main Christian virtues – faith, hope and charity.
Jean-Paul “lived without compromise,” Francis said, praising him as a humble and gentle pastor.
Luciani overcame “the temptation to put himself in the center and seek his glory”, the pontiff said.
The Vatican said John Paul died of a heart attack, but no autopsy was performed. He gave contradictory versions of the circumstances of the discovery of his body. First, he said that a priest who served as his secretary found him, but later admitted that Jean-Paul had been found dead by one of the nuns who brought him his usual morning coffee.
As a huge financial scandal unfolded at the time in Italy involving figures linked to the Vatican bank, suspicions quickly took root in the secular media that Luciani may have been poisoned because he had the intention to eradicate wrongdoing.
Books speculating on the circumstances surrounding his death have sold millions of copies.
Alessandra Tarantino contributed to this report.