by Romina Gobbo
Now as then. On June 8, 2003, an ovation in the church in Canale Agordo greeted the news, given by the then bishop of Belluno-Feltre, Vincenzo Savio, that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had given a positive judgment on beginning the canonical process on the sainthood of their fellow-villager Albino Luciani, who had ascended to the papal throne on August 26, 1978 with the name John Paul I, and who therefore from that moment on would be considered “Servant of God.” (The official opening of the process took place the following November 23 in the cathedral in Belluno, with the participation of the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal. José Saraiva Martins, and ended on November 10, 2006).
And on Wednesday, August 26 2015, in the square of Canale d’Agordo, the Pope’s birthplace, during mass for the 37th anniversary of the election of Papa Luciani, long applause again accompanied Bishop Giuseppe Andrich’s announcement that the Positio—the dossier containing the biography and the “reasoned demonstration” of his heroic virtues inferred from the testimonies and documents collected during the diocesan inquiry—had been completed. Now in will be printed and sent to Rome, and the whole five volumes will be available to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The people of God have always been convinced that this man, who was Pope for only 33 days because he died prematurely, deserves to be raised to the honors of holiness. “Even before the beginning of the diocesan process, the diocese of Belluno had received 125,000 signatures from people around the world who wanted him to be “Saint Albino Luciani,” recalls Msgr. Giorgio Lise, at the time director of the Centro di Spiritualità Papa Luciani in Santa Giustina, Belluno, chosen as vice-postulator during the diocesan phase of the process, and now pastor of Agordo. “And then there were the testimonies from his parishioners and the request of the bishops of Brazil. He was only a pope for a month, but because of his humility and simplicity, those few days were enough to bring a breath of hope.”
“I am very struck by the affection of people,” says the parish priest of Canale, Don Mariano Baldovin. “Every day my parishioners ask me: ‘Why isn’t he a saint?’ And every time I explain that this is a process that takes a long time.” In the meantime, Canale is the destination of incessant pilgrimages; every year thousands of the faithful come. “In church, in front of the statue of John Paul I, we have put a visitor’s book, so that the faithful can leave their reflections, thoughts and prayers. During the first fifteen days of July alone, an entire book has been filled. And, since 2001, when we started the initiative, we have already filled 99 of them, with so many requests for grace. This attests to the reputation for holiness of our Albino Luciani,” concludes the priest. Fundamental testimonies for the later stages of the process of canonization.
Now the theological consultors and then the cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will examine the contents of the Positio, which contains a “rare gem,” the testimony of Benedict XVI. Never before in the history of the Church had a pope testified in favor of the cause of another pope, because it would be like saying that the judge is also a witness—since it is up to the reigning pope to put the final seal at each stage of the process of canonization. But Benedict XVI, as “Pope emeritus,” and therefore not involved directly in final judgment on the cause, was able to do it, and his written testimony (extrajudicial, because it arrived when the diocesan process was finished) is an integral part of the Positio. If the opinion of the theologians and cardinals is favorable, the Pope can make the pronouncement and issue the decree on the virtues; in this way John Paul will acquire the title Venerable. Then, however, for the beatification a miracle is required. In this regard, the present vice-postulator, Stefania Falasca, explains: “The cause relative to the miracle cannot begin until the one on the heroic nature of the virtues has been concluded.”
Meanwhile, the community of Canale d’Agordo has no doubts that Pope Francis reprsents the same qualities as their own fellow-villager. “Many say Pope Francis is re-tracing both the personality—the simplicity and sobriety—of Papa Luciani, and his pastoral choice of being close to the people, always giving priority to the poor. And I agree,” concluded Don Mariano. “Papa Luciani lived in a way that stressed the essential. You could see from the way he dressed that he was a ‘pastor with the smell of the sheep,’ in the style Pope Francis loves. Even in their simple way of speaking and preaching they are much alike. When Albino was still a young seminarian, he received the task of writing an article for the parish bulletin of Canale from [the pastor], Don Filippo Carli. But when the piece arrived in the priest’s hands, he sent for Albino and said, “Do you know the old woman who lives at the top of the village? Remember that you always have to write so that even she can understand.” The future Pope Luciani always carried this teaching in his heart. As Pope, he said: “You have to talk to the children. When the children understand, the adults will also understand.”
(Originally published in Famiglia Cristiana, and soon to appear in the English-language version of Humilitas)