Albino Luciani, Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, was elected as Pope John Paul I on this day, August 26th, in 1978.
Born in 1912, John Paul I was 65 years old at the time of his election, and in poor health. Though a popular choice amongst the Cardinals at the time of his election, he had begged them not to choose him. Nonetheless, when they ignored him, he felt he had no choice but to agree.
He is the first Pope in history to take a double name, choosing “John Paul” in honour of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI. He is also, to date, the last Italian to have been elected to the Papacy.
His Papacy is famous, mainly, for being so short. Elected on August 26th, he was found dead just 33 days later, on September 29th. He had complained of chest pains the night before, and died, of a heart attack, in his sleep – though his sudden death, so soon after his election, inspired many conspiracy theories.
It is easy to forget, therefore, that upon his election, he was an immensely popular choice as Pope. He was the first Pope not to wear the Papal Tiara – a choice which has been echoed by each of his successors, and impressed many with his skill as a public speaker, and with his warmth and friendliness.
In his 2004 book “The Smiling Pope”, Raymond Seaback writes of John Paul that he was also a competent administrator:
“We must not be deceived by his smile. He listened, he asked for information, he studied. But once he made a decision, he did not go back on it, unless new facts came to light…. With absolute respect to persons, the Pope had no intentions of deviating from what had been the rule of his life and the direction of his pastoral action: fatherly, yes, but absolutely firm in the guidance of the souls entrusted by God to his care.”
After his sudden death, the second conclave of the year took place, forever assigning 1978 as “the year of the three Popes”. It elected Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, as Pope John Paul II.
John Paul I was declared a “servant of god” by his successor in 2003, and named as “Venerable” by Pope Francis in 2017.
Pope John Paul I, elected, on this day, August 26th, 1978