Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"The Smile of God"

Thirty-three years ago tonight, the world learned of the death of the Pope....


Thirty-three days after his election to Peter's chair, John Paul I -- whose gentle spirit of openness and informality began to lighten up a decade of ecclesial gloom -- was found dead in bed of a sudden heart-attack at 66.

The first Roman pontiff ever to take a double name, and the first in centuries to refuse a coronation with the triregno (triple-tiara) that formally invested generations of his predecessors, Albino Luciani's serene exuberance provided a marked contrast to the dejection of the great, misunderstood Paul VI in the final years of his reign. What's more, while Paul had always been the consummate man of the Curia, his successor's aversion to scripts quickly raised its share of hackles among the Vatican brass, but just as rapidly proved a hit with the masses along the lines of the last patriarch of Venice to rise to the papacy -- namely, the now-Blessed John XXIII.

To mark the day, a couple clips of the "Smiling Pope" from the archive -- first, rare footage of John Paul speaking in English from his last public word: the final General Audience, a day before his death....

...second, an unexpected encounter with a middle-schooler who charged the barricades of the Nervi hall:

...and lastly, from an Italian documentary on him (with subtitles), a chronicle of JPI's last days:

Of course, the death of Papa Luciani paved the way for the monumental, 27-year pontificate that followed, one whose echoes continue to resonate seven years after it drew to a close... and, to be sure, not just within the church.

Accordingly, with the first feast of Blessed John Paul II coming on October 22nd -- the anniversary of the Polish Pope's inauguration as the church's universal pastor -- a week earlier, the Holy See announced yesterday Benedict XVI will celebrate a Mass dedicated to Karol Wojtyla's great project, the New Evangelization, in St Peter's.

Fittingly, the date of the 16 October liturgy coincides with that of JPII's election. The Mass likewise marks a year until next Synod of Bishops meets on the topic of the New Evangelization.