During the celebration of the funeral rite for Pope John Paul I,
which took place in St Peter's Square at four p.m. on Wednesday, 4
October, the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri
delivered the following homily.
Venerable Brothers in Jesus Christ,
No one would have thought that less than two months after we
celebrated the funeral rites in St Peter's Square of Pope Paul VI, who
died suddenly, we would once again be gathered here to say our final
farewell to his successor, our Holy Father John Paul I. He died so
suddenly after only 33 days of his pontificate.
We ask ourselves, why so quickly? The Apostle tells us why in the
well-known and beloved, explanation: "How deep his wisdom and
knowledge and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his
methods!... Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?" (Rom 11:33).
Thus is presented to us, in all its immense and almost oppressive
greatness, the unfathomable mystery of life and of death. We have
scarcely had the time to see the new Pope. Yet one month was enough for
him to have conquered hearts — and, for us, it was a month to love
him intensely. It is not length which characterizes a life in a
pontificate, but rather the spirit that fills it. He passed as a meteor
which unexpectedly lights up the heavens and then disappears, leaving us
amazed and astonished. Already the Book of Wisdom (4:13) spoke of this
when telling of "the just man": "Coming to perfection in
such short time he achieved long life." "Consumatus in brevi,
explevit tempora multa". The funeral prayer which we are soon to
recite brings this comforting touch of reality: "Grant O Lord that
he may praise you without end in heaven, he who on earth served you with
a constant profession of faith."
In Pope John Paul we greeted and venerated the Vicar of Christ,
Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pastor of the universal Church; but in the
brief contact had with him, we were quickly struck and fascinated by his
instinctive goodness, by his innate modesty, by his sincere simplicity
in deed and word. The very papal allocutions themselves — the few that he was able to give — reflect this quality. It began with
the first discourse that he gave in the Sistine Chapel on the day after
his election (for him, how unexpected and how painful!). Through his
speeches we are able to get a glimpse of the great lines that would
have been the programme of his pontificate: the authenticity and
integrity of faith, the perfection of Christian life, the love of great
discipline in the many activities that lead to the growth of the kingdom
of God as well as the spiritual and temporal prosperity of all mankind.
How could one forget the homily read on the occasion when the Holy
Father took possession of the Cathedral of Rome, St John Lateran? With
absolute respect for the liturgical readings, he knew how to illustrate
clearly and apply the fundamental concepts contained in them. He applied
them to the plans and expectations of the Church in Rome, to the tasks
of the spiritual development of the faithful and to the primary duties
of his pontifical mission.
What emerges even more in his loving gift of self was his manner of
teaching. He knew well how to translate with ease and joy the lofty
theological doctrine into the more accessible language of a catechist.
He taught with clarity the way of Christian formation, so necessary (as
pastoral experience confirms everyday) in order to keep the sense of the
divine in the holy people of God as it daily advances towards the goal
of eternal happiness.
The perfect teacher
He was the perfect teacher: the time that he spent at Belluno, at
Vittorio Veneto, at Venice witnessed to this. His few weeks of ministry
as the Supreme Pastor were enough to reveal him as such to the world as
it listened both near and afar, to the sound of his fatherly lessons.
All understood that he was speaking in order to reach their soul. This
was true even when, with wonderful humility and the wisest psychological
intuition, he spoke directly to children "in order that they might
help the Pope", (as he so graciously put it). Everybody understood
that he was speaking to the little ones in order that the adults would
hear and understand. That delicacy, so evident to all, drew from his
listeners both attention and action.
Was it the need for spirituality, now more deeply felt because of the
general neglect of spiritual values that pushed the multitudes towards
the Pope? How else can we explain the very crowded audiences of
Wednesdays? Visitors came from everywhere! How else can we explain the
crowds which literally filled St Peter's Square at midday each Sunday, a
time dedicated to greeting the family and joining together in the
recitation of the "Angelus"?
Who has not been moved — and deeply moved — by seeing in these recent days the
endless, spectacular lines of the faithful, of Rome and of all the
world? They moved step by step, along the entire colonnade of Bernini,
whether under a scorching sun or pouring rain. Finally, after two or
more hours of patient and heroic waiting, they would reach the Sala
Clementina and the Vatican Basilica to see yet once again the Pope of
goodness and of the smile.
Yes, because before a world submerged in hatred and in violence, Pope
John Paul has been himself, personally, a message of goodness. He called
for peace, he prayed for peace; he had a thirst for justice for all — for the oppressed, the suffering, the
poor, the needy in every social category. He exalted labour; he preached
charity. And always with a smile on his lips, that smile which never
left him, even at the last instant of life. In fact we saw him like
that, in the first hours of last Friday. There on his death bed, his
head lightly inclined towards the right, his lips were half-open, in his
ever present smile. Thus he entered into the peace of the Lord.
Venerable Brothers: Civil leaders, clergy, religious, everyone! Just
a while ago we heard that page of the Gospel (John 21:15) which speaks
of the threefold question of Jesus and the triple response of the first
Apostle: "Peter, do you love me?" "You know that I love
you, Lord." So the pontificate of John Paul was a dialogue of love
between father and children — without pause, without hesitation. On
the preceding Wednesdays, reminding us of John XXIII, Pope John Paul I
spoke of faith and hope. Last Wednesday, he spoke of love. These are the
three theological virtues which unite us directly to God. He said that
man must always progress, always progress, in everything that is good,
up to perfection. This is the law of progress which rules life. First of
all one must grow in the love of God and in the love of neighbour. This
is his will and testament. It is the will and testament of the Divine
Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.