Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Death of Pope John Paul I

Born Albino Luciani in October 1912, John Paul I was the first Pontiff to have been born in the 20th Century; at 34 days, his papacy was also one of the shortest in history, resulting in the most recent Year of Three Popes. Mainly I remember 1978 as the Year of No Cartoons, since for some reason they always had to hold their dang ol' conclave on Saturday morning!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKnown as 'The Smiling Pope' for his gentle manner, John Paul I chose his name - the first double-barrelled moniker in papal history - to honour the two Popes who came before him, John XXIII and Paul VI, both of whom had been instrumental in furthering his vocation. Oddly, he also referred to himself as John Paul I when custom would have him referred to simply as John Paul.

The circumstances surrounding his death - on this day in 1978 - remain mysterious; though the cause of his death was officially a myocardial infarction, the halls of the Vatican have never been intrigue-free. Conspiracy or not, officials have drawn fire ever since for the way they mis-handled his death.

Practically from the moment he died there were whispers that despite Luciani's own conservatism he was determined to ease restrictions against contraception to alleviate suffering in the Third World and also clean up what he viewed as corruption in the Vatican; therefore, his would have been a modernizing, liberal papacy (relatively speaking), unlike the judgmental hypocrisy of his successor, who smiled beatifically while advocating misogyny, homophobia, and intolerance toward Eastern religions in particular. In the end, about the only reform John Paul I managed to carry out was the abolition of the Papal Coronation.

One interesting anecdote: at the papal conclave in which he was elected, a beam of light fell across the head of a fellow cardinal who was praying nearby; commenting to a companion, Luciani is said to have remarked upon the man: 'That is your next Pope.' Sure enough, he would be succeeded by that man - Karol Wojtyla - who took the name John Paul II following a second conclave in October 1978.
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