Pope Francis has beatified John Paul I, the happy and humble pontiff known as the “Smiling Pope”, whose death after just 33 days as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics has given rise to decades of speculation and of rumours.
At a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, which marked the final formal step before canonization, Francis hailed the brief but joyful papacy of John Paul I.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul managed to communicate the goodness of the Lord,” he said during the mass.
“How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene and smiling face, which never closes the doors, never hardens the hearts, never complains or feels resentment, never gets angry or impatient, doesn’t look austere or suffer from nostalgia for the past.”
Seated under a canopy outside St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis led the proceedings, which were punctuated by thunder, lightning and rain, prompting cardinals, bishops, the choir and thousands of faithful to base to open umbrellas.
Born Albino Luciani on October 17, 1912, in the town of Canale d’Agordo, in northern Italy, John Paul I became Patriarch of Venice, cardinal and then head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Luciani, who took the name John Paul after being elected pope on August 26, 1978, was found dead in bed in his Vatican apartment on September 28 of that year.
Although the Vatican has said John Paul died of a heart attack, it has given conflicting accounts as to the circumstances in which his body was discovered.
Although he initially claimed he was found by a priest who served as his secretary, he later admitted he was found dead by one of the nuns who brought him his morning coffee.
Given the huge financial scandal unfolding in Italy at the time involving figures linked to the Vatican bank, suspicions quickly took root in the secular media that Jean-Paul may have been poisoned because he intended to address wrongdoing.
Books speculating on the circumstances surrounding his death have sold millions of copies.
John Paul’s biographer Christophe Henning said the rumors could be explained by the sudden nature of his death and “calamitous communication” from the Vatican at the time. The lack of an autopsy to determine the cause of death also helped fuel speculation.
But Henning told Agence France-Presse he was in no doubt the pontiff had died of natural causes, adding that he was in “frail health”.
John Paul’s short pontificate was characterized by his simple and direct way of addressing the faithful – a style markedly different from that of his more formal predecessors.
“Let us pray, in his own words, ‘Lord, take me as I am, with my flaws, with my flaws, but make me become what you want me to be,'” Francis said.
The pope added that John Paul lived “without compromise” and also “overcame the temptation” to put himself “in the center or to seek glory”.
Francis advanced Jean-Paul on the path to sainthood last year after crediting him with interceding in the miraculous healing of a child in 2011.
The Vatican said the healing of 11-year-old Candela Giarda took place in Buenos Aires, Francis’ hometown. Giarda suffered from acute brain inflammation, septic shock and other serious medical issues, and doctors said she was on the verge of death. But a local priest took “the initiative to invoke Pope Luciani”, the Vatican added, and she recovered.
Giarda, who is now 21, told a press conference last week that she wanted to attend the ceremony but could not because she had broken her foot in the process. training at the gym.
Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press contributed to this report
Pope Francis beatifies his predecessor John Paul I