Cardinal Pietro Parolin: “The story of John Paul I is first and foremost that of a pastor close to the people”

What are the elements that lead the Church to declare John-Paul Ier blessed?

The Church has always recognized only one criterion for proclaiming people blessed or saints: this essentially consists of union with God, realized by grace. The whole procedure that leads them to the honor of the altars only serves to ensure the existence of this reality. This is true for all nominees; whether they are garbage collectors, workers, dockers or popes makes no difference. Elements for John Paul Ier are therefore those used for all those who are proclaimed blessed by the Church: to have always sought union with God and to have lived daily all the Christian virtues. I think of the faith, hope and charity that John Paul Ier preached during the four audiences of his magisterium as pope, but also humility, recalled in his episcopal motto and which is the essence of Christianity. He is therefore not a figure of representation, but an authentic and credible witness to Christianity in which the people of God identify and build themselves up. This is why Albino Luciani, although pope, is a strong model for all and that all can imitate.

How would you sum up the spirituality of Pope John Paul Ierbefore and during his Pontificate?

Barely consecrated bishop, in 1959, he pronounced these words which are like the common thread of all his ministry and his spirituality: “I will always try to have this motto for my episcopate: faith, hope and charity. If we put these three things into practice, we are doing well. Try to do the same, too. We are all poor sinners”. These are the salient features of his spirituality and holiness.

How did Albino Luciani put them into practice?

The story of Albino Luciani is first of all that of a priest, a pastor, close to the people, centered on the essentials of the faith, with an acute social sensitivity and an extraordinary capacity to know how to unite, a vast culture and a way of speaking that made it possible to reach the whole world. Albino Luciani priest, bishop, and finally pontiff, gave the world the example of a pastor, nourished by human wisdom with strong evangelical virtues, living without any separation between his personal life and his pastoral life, between his spiritual life and his exercise of government. No ambition, no careerism was ever perceived in his life. Joseph Ratzinger, still a cardinal at the time, wrote of him: “He was not a man who was looking for a career but who saw the charges he had received as a service”. As he told relatives received at the Vatican the day after his election to the See of Peter: “Be quiet as I am quiet, because I did nothing to get here”. His testimony of Christian life is therefore written in the absolute correspondence between what he taught and what he lived, in daily fidelity to his vocation. His whole life was also marked by his evangelical simplicity which attracted people, like a charism, a gift. Throughout his career, from the young priest to the Chair of Peter, he was constantly committed to seeking the substance of the Gospel, as a single and uninterrupted truth.

Besides his smile and his humility, what message did John-Paul Ier for the Church?

At the bottom of his personal diary of the pontificate – edited by the Vatican John Paul I Foundationer – we find this quote from Saint Avit of Vienna, bishop of the VIth century : “Servants, not masters, of the Truth”. Albino Luciani had assimilated this vision, dear to the Fathers of the Firster millennial, of a Church that does not shine with its own light, but with a reflected light; of a Church which is not the property of the men of the Church, but Christi Lumini. He lived the experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as a return to the sources of the Gospel.

Forty years ago the magisterium of John Paul Ier had aroused a vast resonance and great affection thanks to these key words: closeness and availability for fraternal dialogue with his contemporaries, perseverance in favor of justice and peace, evangelical simplicity, insistence on works of mercy and on the tenderness of God, the search for the collegiality and unity of Christians or even service in ecclesial poverty. It is these same traits that make it still current for the Church of the 21stth century. John Paul Ier was and remains an inalienable reference in the history of the Church, a witness which, with the Council, returned to the sources to be faithful to the nature of its mission in the world.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin: “The story of John Paul I is first and foremost that of a pastor close to the people”