Pope John Paul II Honors His Predecessor
Pope John Paul II traveled from his summer residence in Castel Gondolfo to Rome for his Aug. 27 general audience in order to accommodate more than 6,000 pilgrims from 14 countries and four continents who were present for the event. During his catechesis, the Holy Father paid special tribute to the spiritual legacy of his immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul I, 25 years after his death.
Even though his pontificate lasted only a month, Pope John Paul II emphasized the impact Pope John Paul I had on the Church. “Humility and optimism were the trademarks of his life,” he said. “Thanks to these gifts, he left during his short-lived presence among us a message of hope that found a warm welcome in every heart.”
The Holy Father recalled some of Pope John Paul I's favorite expressions: “Christianity and joy go together hand in hand,” he liked to say. “Be optimistic in spite of everything” was another favorite saying. “Our thoughts and our actions must be pivoted on trust in God,” he said repeatedly.
“His smiling face and his open and trusting look conquered the hearts of the people of Rome and the faithful around the entire world,” John Paul recalled. “His words and his personality penetrated the heart of every person.”
In the late afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 26, 1978, my venerated predecessor, John Paul I, was elected Pope. Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of that event.
Today I would like to reflect on that moment, which I had the joy of personally experiencing with deep emotion. I remember how his words deeply touched the hearts of the people who filled St. Peter's Square. From the moment he first appeared in the central balcony of the Vatican basilica, a spontaneous current of affection surged among those present. His smiling face and his open and trusting look conquered the hearts of the people of Rome and the faithful of the entire world.
He came from the illustrious ecclesial community of Venice, which had already given the Church two great pontiffs in the 20th century: St. Pius X, the centennial of whose election as Pope we celebrated this year; and Blessed John XXIII, the 40th anniversary of whose death we observed in June.
Trust in the Lord
“With confidence we abandon ourselves to the Lord's help,” the new Pope said in his first radio message.
He was, first of all, a master of faith — a faith that was perfectly clear and that did not yield to fads that were worldly and fleeting. He tried to adapt his teachings to the people's sensitivities while always preserving clarity in doctrine and consistency in how they were applied to life.
What, then, was the secret of his charm if not uninterrupted contact with the Lord? “You know it. I try to have a continuous conversation with you,” he noted in one of his writings in the form of a letter to Jesus. “The important thing is that Christ be imitated and loved.” Here is the truth that, when it is lived out in life, makes “Christianity and joy go together hand in hand.”
A Humble Heart
The day following his election, during the Angelus on Sunday, Aug. 27, after having remembered his predecessors, the new Pope said: “I don't have either the sapientia cordis [wisdom of heart] of Pope John or the preparation and learning of Pope Paul, but I have been put in their place. I must try to serve the Church.”
He felt a deep attachment with the two Popes who preceded him. He humbled himself before them, exhibiting a humility that for him was always his first rule in life. Humility and optimism were the trademarks of his life. Thanks to these gifts, he left during his short-lived presence among us a message of hope that found a warm welcome in every heart. “Be optimistic in spite of everything,” he loved to say. “Our thoughts and our actions must be pivoted on trust in God.” With a lively realism of faith, he also observed: “There are two principal persons in our lives: God and each one of us.”
His words and his personality penetrated the heart of every person, and it is for this reason that news of his sudden death on the night of Sept. 28, 1978, was so unsettling. The smile of the shepherd, who was so close to his people and who knew how to enter into dialogue with the culture and with the world with peace and balance, had vanished.
Words Still Relevant
The few speeches and writings that he left as Pope will enrich his rather large collection of writings that surprisingly are still relevant 25 years after his death. He had once said, “Progress that is achieved by men who remember that they are brothers and sons of God the Father can be a wonderful thing. Progress that is achieved by men who do not recognize God as the only Father becomes a constant danger.” How much truth there is in his words, which are useful even for men of our times!
May mankind know how to accept such wise advice and extinguish the hotbeds of hatred and violence that are present in so many places on Earth in order to build in harmony a world that is more just and united!
Through the intercession of Mary, of whom John Paul I always professed to be a loving and devoted son, let us ask the Lord to welcome his faithful servant into his Kingdom of peace and joy. Let us pray, too, that his teachings, which touch upon the concreteness of daily situations, be a light for believers and for every person of good will.