Former pontiff John Paul I, once dubbed the “smiling pope,” has been beatified at a ceremony at the Vatican in front of thousands of Catholic faithful.
John Paul I, born Albino Luciani, is widely remembered more for his sudden, strange death than for his life.
He was pope for just 33 days before dying of a heart attack on September 28, 1978.
On Sunday, Pope Francis declared him to be “blessed,” the necessary prelude to full sainthood.
“With a smile, Pope John Paul managed to communicate the goodness of the Lord,” Francis said in his homily.
“How beautiful is a Church with a happy, serene and smiling face, that never closes doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or harbors resentment, does not grow angry or impatient, does not look dour or suffer nostalgia for the past,” he said.
For a Catholic to be beatified, the pope must approve a miracle attributed to prayerful intercession.
In John Paul I’s case, that miracle was the medically unexplained recovery in 2011 of an 11-year-old girl hospitalized in Buenos Aires with brain inflammation and septic shock. Her parents had prayed to the former pope for help.
If John Paul I is declared to have influenced another miracle, he will be eligible for canonization as a saint.
Murder conspiracy theories linger
The abrupt demise of Pope John Paul I, whose body was found in his bedroom at the Apostolic Palace, spawned instant suspicions.
Biographer Christophe Henning said the swirling rumors can be explained by his sudden death and the “calamitous communication” by the Vatican at the time.
At first, the Vatican did not want to acknowledge the presence of a woman in his bedroom, and said he was found lifeless by a priest. However, they later corrected the account to say that a nun had found the body.
No autopsy was conducted to determine the cause of death.
In the 1984 book “In God’s Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I,” British author David Yallop argued the pope was poisoned by plotters connected to a secret Masonic lodge with links to the Vatican and its bank. But The New York Times, however, ridiculed Yallop’s investigative techniques.
In 1987, another Briton, John Cornwell, wrote a book called “A Thief in the Night,” meticulously dismantling conspiracy theories.
“There is no truth to it at all,” said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, when asked about the conspiracy theories on Italian television on Friday.
“It is a shame that this story, this noir novel, goes on. It was a natural death. There is no mystery about it,” Parolin said.
Italian journalist and author Stefania Falasca, who spent 10 years documenting John Paul’s life and viewed his medical history, also wrote several books about him.
She has called the conspiracy theories “publicity-driven garbage.”
John Paul I had led a life of ‘heroic virtue’
Pope John Paul I, the last Italian pope, was seen as a man of consensus, of humility and simplicity, with a strong sense of pastoral duty.
“Open to dialogue and listening, he gave priority to pastoral visits and direct contact with the faithful,” the Vatican said in a beatification brochure.
John Paul I defended the Church’s opposition to abortion and contraception, while also seeking to reform its governance.
In 2017, Pope Francis approved an earlier step in the church’s sainthood process, a declaration that John Paul I had led a life of “heroic virtue.”