It was on this night, 35 years ago, that Pope John Paul I — the former Albino Cardinal Luciani, patriarch of Venice — died suddenly, after only 33 days in office. He projected a great kindness, with his brilliant smile that had the Italians calling him “il Papa del Sorriso” — a smile that made him especially welcome after 15 years of the melancholy Paul VI, who had always seemed to be suffering greatly under the burdens of his office.
John Paul I didn’t have time to make his mark in the Vatican — and into this vacuum have stepped any number of people who contend that, had he lived longer, he would have promoted their agendas as pope. Most often, over the years, it’s been liberals — who have speculated that he would have promoted such ideas as women’s ordination. More recently, I have been seeing Traditionalists on the Internet saying that he wanted to scrap the New Mass of Paul VI and restore the old Tridentine Rite: On a few (somewhat questionable) websites, I have even seen the story that, upon his election, John Paul I called Father Gommar de Pauw (one of the most important figures in the founding of Catholic Traditionalism) to the Vatican to help him restore the old Mass, but that these efforts were frustrated by the pope’s sudden death.
Who knows? In any case, it is a sign of his lovable character that people with such different views would want to claim him as their own. For anyone wishing to know this humble man of God better, there’s a new e-book, just published, with translations of some of his sermons.
P.S. I have a bleg: If there are any people out there who were friends of Father Gommar, and can shed light on the story about him and Pope John Paul I, please e-mail me. I’m inclined to believe that the story is a hoax, and I deeply regret I can no longer just call Father Gommar out on Long Island and ask him directly!