At Fatima With Sister Lucia

Since this year is the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, it seems fitting to publish here this little article Cardinal Luciani wrote in 1977 about his talk with Sister Lucia and the urgency of Our Lady’s message.

Lucia in 1917

On Monday, July 11, I concelebrated Mass with several priests from Venice and the Veneto in the church of the Carmelites in Coimbra, a Portuguese city of around one hundred thousand inhabitants. Immediately afterwards, I met alone (only cardinals can enter the cloister) with the whole community of nuns (twenty-two, including both professed and novices). After that I spoke at length with Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only survivor of the three seers of Fatima. Sister Lucia is seventy years old, but she carries her years well, as she herself assured me smiling. She did not, like Pius IX, add: “I carry my years only too well, for I have not dropped one of them.” Sister Lucia’s jovial character, her quick way of speaking and the passionate interest she shows in her speech about everything regarding the Church today, with all its very serious problems, are proof of her youthful spirit.

I more or less understand Portuguese, because I studied it very briefly before spending a couple of weeks in Brazil. But even if I had been completely ignorant of that language, I would have understood the little nun, who insisted to me how essential it was today to have Christians, and above all seminarians and novice brothers and sisters, who have decided to give themselves to God without reserve. She spoke to me with great energy and conviction about freiras, padres et cristaos con a firme cabeça, nuns, priests and Christians with firmly held convictions. Radical like the saints: either todo or nada, either all or nothing, if we seriously want to belong to God. Sister Lucia did not talk to me about the apparitions. I only asked her something about the famous “dance of the sun.” She had not seen it. For ten minutes on October 13, 1917, seventy thousand people saw the sun changing to different colors, revolving around itself three times, and finally descending rapidly toward the earth. But Lucia, along with her two companions, had at that moment seen, next to an immobile sun, the Holy Family, and then, in successive scenes, the Virgin, first as Our Lady of Sorrows and then as Our Lady of Carmel.

Cardinal Luciani celebrating Mass in Fatima in July 1977

At this point some people will ask: is a Cardinal interested in private revelations? Doesn’t he know that the gospel contains everything? That revelations, even approved ones, are not articles of faith? I know it very well. But this is also an article of faith contained in the Gospel: that “signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16,17). If today it has become so fashionable to “scrutinize the signs of the times,” that we are witnessing an inflation and plague of “signs,” I believe it is permissible to refer (with human faith) to the sign of October 13, 1917, attested to even by those who were anti-clerical and unbelievers. And, beyond the sign, it is important to pay attention to the things underlined by that sign. What are they?

First: Repent of your sins, and avoid offending the Lord again.

Second: Pray. Prayer is a means of communication between men and God, but the means of communication between human beings (TV, radio, movies, press), today prevail unknowingly and seem to want to put out the whole prayer: ceci tuera cela (this will kill that), it has been said: it seems to be happening. It is not I, but Karl Rahner who wrote: “There is now underway, even within the Church an exclusive commitment of people to temporal realities, which is no longer a legitimate choice but an apostasy and total collapse of the faith.

Third: Say the Rosary. Naaman the Syrian, a great general, disdained the simple bath in the Jordan suggested by Elisha. Some people act like Naaman: “I am a great theologian, a mature Christian who breathes the Bible with full lungs and exudes the liturgy from all my pores, and you propose the Rosary to me?” Yet even the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary are the Bible, and even the Our Father and Hail Mary and Glory Be are the Bible joined with prayer that is good for the soul. Studying the Bible out of pure love of research could inflate the soul with pride and make it arid: it is not uncommon for biblical researchers to lose their faith.

Fourth: Hell exists, and it is possible to fall into it. At Fatima, Our Lady taught this prayer: “Jesus, forgive our sins, preserve us from the fire of hell, bring all souls to heaven.” There are important things in this world, but none more important than meriting heaven by a good life. It is not Fatima that says it, but the Gospel: “What advantage does a man have if he gains the whole world and then loses his own soul?” (Mt 16:26).

First published in Gente Veneta, July 23, 1977, p. 5.

Museum Dedicated to Pope John Paul I Opens in Canale D’Agordo as his Sainthood Cause Advances

(Canale D’Agordo, August 26, 2016).

His fourth-grade school notebook, the little bag he used in the seminary with his initials, his personal chalice, the vestments he wore as a bishop, the suitcase he took with him when he left Venice for the conclave – these are among the most moving exhibits of the new museum dedicated to Pope John Paul I.


On Friday, August 26, 2016, the 38th anniversary of his election as Pope, the Museo Albino Luciani-Giovanni Paolo I was formally inaugurated in his hometown, the village of Canale D’Agordo in the Dolomite mountains in northern Italy. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, presided over the ceremony after the solemn Mass concelebrated in the village square by Cardinal Parolin, Renato Marangoni, the Bishop of Belluno and Giuseppe Andrich, the Bishop Emeritus of Belluno. "The exhibition is characterized by the special involvement of the visitor,” says the museum’s curator Loris Serafini, “who, as he hears or reads a sort of autobiography taken from the writings of the Pope, is conducted in the experience by the words of Albino Luciani himself."


The Pope's voice accompanies some significant moments, and lights, sounds, pictures, film clips, documents, clothes, objects, and text contribute to creating an atmosphere that evokes the time periods of the life of Albino Luciani, from the early 20th century to 1978. "Emotion will no doubt be aroused by the spontaneous story of the conclave narrated by the voice of the new Pope John Paul I after his election, or watching the home movies of the Sixties and Seventies that capture him as bishop of Vittorio Veneto, patriarch of Venice or Pope,” says Serafini. “The simplicity and linearity of this museum are intended to leave in the memory of those who visit an echo of the humility, humanity and faith that characterized the personality and life of Albino Luciani.”


The exhibits that up to now have been housed in the rectory in Canale D’Agordo have been moved into the city’s old town hall next to the parish church. They also include an evocation of local history that gives background to the Pope’s life.

At the same time, some of the major players conducting Luciani’s cause for canonization are giving assurance that the process is advancing. Stefania Falasca, the vice-postulator of the cause, notes that the Positio or dossier which certifies among other things, the Christian virtues professed by Luciani, printed in 5 volumes and 3,600 pages, is about to be examined by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The material they contain, she says, reveals his personality and life’s work, which deserve to be rediscovered and returned to their dignity.

The Positio will be examined by two committees, one made up of theologians and the other of bishops and cardinals. If the outcome is positive, Pope Francis will conclude this part of the process with the proclamation that Luciani practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree and will name him Venerable. Then the Congregation will examine the evidence for a miracle worked through the intercession of the late Pope. Recently news has come of a miraculous healing in Latin America, about which an absolute reserve is being maintained, but which may turn out to be the one submitted to the Congregation.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who heads the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, grew up in the diocese of Vittorio Veneto and attended the seminary while Luciani was bishop there. He recently took over the job of postulator of the cause for his beatification. “I believe in the sanctity of the Christian life of John Paul I, a sanctity that is lived in humility and daily self-giving to the Church and one’s neighbor in need, inspired by the theological virtues, practiced with interior fervor, and where the cross and sacrifice, and sometimes humiliation contribute to making the disciple of Jesus closer to his Lord,” said Stella. He invited people to pray that the miracle might be recognized on examination by the Vatican authorities. Some newspapers speculated that the process might be finished by 2018, which will mark the 40th anniversary of John Paul I’s election and his death. But Cardinal Parolin is cautious. "I am not the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,” he said, “so I cannot say anything. The hope is that we will go forward with a certain speed and that we should pray for the miracle."

Reporting from Il Corriere delle Alpi, of July 7, August 24, and August 26, 2016.

Papa Luciani in Pope Francis’ New Book

Dear friends of Pope John Paul I:

I have some good news this month. We have continued to receive donations, and have received enough to have the transcriptions of the two conference talks done, with some left over.

I’ll write more about our future plans later, but right now I’d like to urge you to read Pope Francis’s book-length interview with Andrea Tornielli, The Name of God is Mercy, which just came out last month, near the beginning of the Year of Mercy. It’s a wonderful book.


There are many wonderful surprises in the interview (and I haven’t even finished it yet!). But the most wonderful one for me was that Francis quoted from the writings of Papa Luciani – four times! That is, he quoted from four different writings of his, one on St. Leopold Mandic’s mercy as a confessor, and the other three on humility (a prime attitude necessary for accepting forgiveness). Two are from his time as Pope. It’s clear from this that he knows John Paul I’s writings very well. Here are the passages:

When you think of merciful priests whom you have met or who have inspired you, who comes to mind?

[After speaking of some other priests he had known, Francis said:

I once read a homily by then cardinal Albino Luciani [later Pope John Paul I] about Father Leopold Mandić, who had just been beatified by Pope Paul VI. He described something that was very similar to what I just told you. He said: “You know, we are all sinners,” Luciani said on that occasion. “Father Leopold knew that very well. We must take this sad reality of ours into account: no one can avoid sin, small or great, for very long. ‘But,’ as Saint Francis de Sales said, ‘if you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing, it’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say: ‘Up, let’s take to the road again…. Now we will get back on the road, and we will pay more attention next time.’ This is the system, and Father Leopold applied this system in full. A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him, said: ‘Father, you are too generous. I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too generous.’ And Father Leopold said: ‘But who has been generous, my son? It was the Lord who was generous; I wasn’t the one who died for our sins, it was the Lord who died for our sins. How could he have been more generous with the thief, with others, than this!’”

(My complete translation of this homily by Luciani is here.)

Another question and answer:

You have often defined yourself as a sinner. When you met with the prisoners in Palmasola, Bolivia, during your 2015 journey to Latin America, you said, “Standing before you is a man who has been forgiven for his many sins….” It’s truly striking to hear a Pope say these things about himself.
Really? I don’t think it’s so unusual, even in the lives of my predecessors. For example, in the documents related to the process of the beatification of Paul VI, I read that one of his secretaries confided that the Pope, echoing the words I have already quoted from “Thoughts on Death,” said, “For me it has always been a great mystery of God to be in wretchedness and to be in the presence of the mercy of God. I am nothing, I am wretched. God the Father loves me, he wants to save me, he wants to remove me from the wretchedness in which I find myself, but I am incapable of doing it myself. And so he sends his Son, a Son who brings the mercy of God translated into an act of love toward me…. But you need a special grace for this, the grace of a conversion. Once I recognize this, God works in me through his Son.” It is a beautiful synthesis of the Christian message. And then there is the homily with which Albino Luciani began his bishopric at Vittorio Veneto, when he said he had been chosen because the Lord preferred that certain things not be engraved in bronze or marble but in the dust, so that if the writing had remained it would have been clear that the merit was all and only God’s. He, now bishop and future Pope John Paul I, called himself “dust.” I have to say that when I speak of this, I always think of what Simon Peter told Jesus on the Sunday of his resurrection, when he met him on his own, a meeting hinted at in the Gospel of Luke (24: 34). What might Peter have said to the Messiah upon his resurrection from the tomb? Might he have said that he felt like a sinner? He must have thought of his betrayal, of what had happened a few days earlier when he pretended for three times not to recognize Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. He must have thought of his bitter and public tears. If Peter did all of that, if the Gospels describe his sin and denials to us, and if despite all this, Jesus said, “Tend my sheep” (John 21: 16), I don’t think we should be surprised if his successors describe themselves as sinners. It is nothing new. The Pope is a man who needs the mercy of God.

Again, in answer to a question about the “scholars of the law,” and their “closed attitudes,” the Pope said:

At times I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus. I think back to the words of God’s servant John Paul I, who during a Wednesday audience said, “The Lord loves humility so much that sometimes he permits serious sins. Why? In order that those who committed these sins may, after repenting, remain humble. One does not feel inclined to think oneself half a saint, half an angel, when one knows that one has committed serious faults.”
A few days later, on another occasion, the very same Pope reminded us that Saint Francis de Sales spoke of “our dear imperfections,” saying, “God hates faults because they are faults. On the other hand, however, in a certain sense he loves faults, since they give him an opportunity to show his mercy and us an opportunity to remain humble and to understand and to sympathize with our neighbors’ faults.”
Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy Random House Publishing Group, 2016 (Kindle Editions locations, 237-43, 412-424, 622-29).

Pope Francis gave this interview in July 2015, well before we sent him our petition asking him to make John Paul I’s teachings on mercy known during the Year of Mercy. I think he has already fulfilled our request without knowing it! If he does read our petition – and I don’t have any sign yet that he has -- I feel sure he will continue to talk about Papa Luciani during the Year of Mercy.


Documentary on John Paul I Airs July 4 in Italy

Thirty-three days of pontificate that helped change the Church. Who was Albino Luciani? What were the challenges he had begun to address? What signs and what legacy did he leave? Answers are attempted in the documentary “Giovanni Paolo I” by Antonia Pillosio on “Italians,” the program with Paolo Mieli, airing Saturday, July 4 at 23.30 [11:30 p.m.] on RAI 1. The story was put together from materials in the collection of Rai, on the basis of a biographical outline suggested by Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli. It includes pictures, photographs and film clips from the archive of the Diocese of Vittorio Veneto, the Centro … Continue reading →


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