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Pope Francis on Sunday beatified one of his predecessors, John Paul I, a briefly serving pontiff who stood out for his humility and cheerfulness, and whose sudden death in his bedroom in 1978 shocked the world and fed for years suspicious of his disappearance.
The ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was the last formal step in the Vatican before a possible sanctity for Albino Luciani, an Italian who died 33 days after being elected pontiff.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul was able to communicate the goodness of the Lord,” Francis said in his homily.
“How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene and smiling face, which never closes its doors, never hardens hearts, does not complain or harbor resentments, is not angry, does not seem austere or suffer from nostalgia for the past”, said the pontiff.
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Francis then encouraged people to pray to the newly blessed clergyman to “obtain the smile of the soul for us”.
Last year, Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul I: that of the healing of a seriously ill 11-year-old girl in 2011 in Buenos Aires, the hometown of the current pope. Now a young woman, Candela Giarda told a Vatican press conference last week via video message that she wanted to attend the ceremony but she couldn’t because she recently broke her foot working out in the gym.
For Luciani to be declared a saint, another miracle, after his beatification, must be attributed to his intercession and certified by the Vatican.
Sitting under a canopy outside St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis led the ceremony, which was punctuated by thunder, lightning and pouring rain, pushing cardinals, bishops, the choir and thousands of faithful into the square with open umbrellas.
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But at the end of the ceremony, the sun was shining and Francis, saluting while sitting on a popemobile, walked around the square, greeting the crowd, some of whom shouted: “Long live the pope!”
When he was elected pope on August 26, 1978, Luciani, 65, had been patriarch of Venice, one of the church’s most prestigious positions. In that role, in addition to his former bishop in northeastern Italy, Luciani has issued warnings against corruption, including in banking circles.
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In his brief pontificate, which ended with the discovery of the body in his bedroom in the Apostolic Palace, John Paul I immediately established in his speeches a simple and direct way of communicating with the faithful, a change of style considered revolutionary considering the mugginess of the ecclesiastical hierarchy environment.
Those who fought to one day become a saint emphasized his deep spirituality and his tireless emphasis on the key Christian virtues: faith, hope and charity.
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John Paul “lived without compromise,” said Francis, praising him as a meek and humble pastor.
Luciani has overcome “the temptation to put himself at the center and to seek his own glory”, said the pontiff.
The Vatican said John Paul died of a heart attack, but an autopsy was not performed. He has provided conflicting versions of the circumstances of how his body was discovered. First it was said that a priest who served as his secretary found him, but later recognized that John Paul had been found dead by one of the nuns who brought him his usual morning coffee.
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With a huge financial scandal unfolding in Italy at the time involving figures who had ties to the Vatican bank, secular media quickly became suspicious that perhaps Luciani had been poisoned because he intended to eradicate evil.
Books speculating on the circumstances of his death have sold millions of copies.