THIRTY-THREE DAYS ON THE CHAIR OF PETER
On 26 August at 7.19 p.m.. Cardinal Felici announced to the world the glad tidings that the Catholic Church had as its new Pope Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, and that he had chosen as his name, John Paul I. Shortly after this announcement the new Pope, smiling and very moved, appeared for the first time on the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica. He received a rapturous ovation from the crowd assembled in the Square.
On the following day, Sunday the 27th, Pope John Paul I addressed his first radio message to the "City and the World". In it he said: "A dawn of hope spreads over the earth, although it is sometimes touched by sinister merchants of hatred, bloodshed, and war with a darkness which sometimes threatens to obscure the dawn. This humble Vicar of Christ, who begins his mission in fear, yet in complete trust, places himself at the disposal of the entire Church and all the civil society. We make no distinction as to race or ideology but seek to secure for the world the dawn of a more serene and joyful day."
At his first "Angelus" with the faithful he again appeared on the central loggia and he told the people: "I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers."
On Wednesday 30 August, he received in audience the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals, and in the course of his address to them he spoke of the unity of the Church and said: "It is for this unity that we know we have been established both as a sign and as an instrument. It is our goal to dedicate our total energies to the defence of this unity and indeed its increase. We are encouraged in this by our awareness that we can trust in the enlightened and generous action of each of you as well." His second meeting was with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. The new Pope expressed his hope for peace and progress of all peoples. The Church, John Paul I assured them, is in favour of a life based on brotherhood and the construction of a new civilization.
On the following day, the first of September, he received the journalists of the international press who had come to Rome to cover the funeral of Paul VI and the conclave. With these "colleagues" John Paul I initiated a confident and sincere dialogue. He recommended to them to present the Church to public opinion with love for the truth and with respect for human dignity. "You wish to arrive," he said, "through 'communication' at a true and satisfying 'communion'."
On the evening of Sunday, 5 September, Pope John Paul I was chief celebrant at the Mass, concelebrated with the Cardinals, in front of St Peter's Basilica, to mark the inauguration of his ministry as the Supreme Pastor of the Church. There was no crowning, and no sedia gestatoria. Under the sign of humility and love the Pope presented himself to the thousands of the faithful and the Diplomatic Missions, asking "all our children for the help of their prayers, and we abandon ourself with confidence to the help of the Lord, who, since he has called us to the task of his representative on earth, will not leave us without his all powerful grace. We begin our service sustained by your prayers."
On the sixth of September he held his first General Audience in the Nervi Hall. There were more than 17,000 people present from all parts of the world, who had come to see "the smiling Pope". The Pope had done away with all pomp and with all display that had not a strictly spiritual character. He arrived on foot in the audience hall. As soon as he began to speak, the people warmed to him and learned to love him. He spoke in a very simple way. He was holding his first lesson in catechism "as if I were a simple parochial catechist". He called up beside him a mass-server from Malta, and spoke to him about the love that children should have for their parents.
On the following day, 7 September, he had his first meeting with the clergy of Rome. He wished to receive immediately his own closest collaborators in his new diocese. In the moments prior to his arrival the clergy, assembled in the Hall of Blessings, anxiously awaited this first meeting. Their sentiments were partly of pride at being the clergy of the Pope and partly of sorrow because of the reduced contact with their own pastor. The Pope arrived smiling as usual. He spoke to them very simply; he reminded them of the duty of obedience, of the difficulty in carrying out with the spirit of sacrifice the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples; he exhorted them not to allow themselves to be distracted by the hubbub of the world. "I know hardly any of you," he said at the end of his talk; "I ask you to excuse me for having spoken in such a simple manner. I love you very much."
His Sunday meetings with the faithful in St Peter's Square took on a particular fascination. Fifty thousand, sixty thousand, people came every Sunday to hear him. And to pray with him.
On Saturday, 23 September, he took possession of the Cathedral of St John Lateran. John Paul I seemed to establish a bridge between the Rome of the last years of the Seventies, that huge city torn by violence, and the Rome which has the privilege of being the diocese of the Pope. He proceeded in his usual humble and incisive style.
At his final General Audience on 27 September there were 20,000 people present. The continuous increase in the numbers who came to the audience demonstrated how much Pope Paul I was loved by the faithful.
On Thursday 28 September, the day of his death, he received the Philippine Bishops on their "ad limina" visit. Previously, on the 21st of September, he had received a group of American Bishops and spoke to them on the renewal of the family through prayer.
At eleven o'clock on the night of the 28 September Pope John Paul I slept in the peace of the Lord.
Weekly Edition in English
5 October 1978, page 2
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