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Pope John Paul

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ersonal background and papal election

Albino Luciani was born on October 17, 1912 in Forno de Canale (now called Canale d'Agordo) in the Belluno province, region of Veneto northern Italy. He was the son of Giovanni Luciani and his wife Bortola Tancon. He had a sister named Nina and a brother named Edoardo.

John Paul I pictured in a coin.

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John Paul I pictured in a coin.

He was educated at minor and major seminaries of the diocese of Belluno and ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church on July 7, 1935. Luciani later received a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He served as his diocese's seminary vice rector from 1937 to 1947, also teaching students in the areas of dogmatic and moral theology, Canon Law and sacred art.

In 1948, he was named pro-vicar general, and in 1958, vicar general of that diocese, before being made bishop of Vittorio Veneto in 1958 by Pope John XXIII. As a bishop, he participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). On December 15, 1969, he was appointed patriarch of Venice by Pope Paul VI and took possession of the archdiocese on February 3, 1970. Pope Paul raised him to the cardinalate in the consistory of March 5, 1973.

John Paul I described himself as quiet, unassuming, and modest, with a warm sense of humor. In his notable Angelus of August 27, delivered on the first day of his papacy, he impressed the world with his natural friendliness. What also struck Catholics was his humility, a prime example being his embarrassment when Pope Paul VI took off his stole and put it on Luciani while he was a cardinal. He recalls the occasion in his first Angelus as:

"Pope Paul VI made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!"

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The August 1978 Conclave

Arms of John Paul I

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Arms of John Paul I

Luciani was elected on the third ballot of the 1978 Papal Conclave. He chose the regnal name of John Paul, the first double name in the history of the papacy, explaining in his famous Angelus that he took it as a thankful honour to his two predecessors: John XXIII, who had named him a bishop, and Paul VI had named him Patriarch of Venice and a cardinal.

Observers have suggested that his selection was linked to the rumored divisions between rival camps within the College of Cardinals:

* Conservatives and Curialists supporting Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, who favored a more conservative interpretation of Vatican II's reforms.

* Those who favored a more liberal interpretation of Vatican II's reforms, and some Italian cardinals supporting Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, who was opposed because of his "autocratic" tendencies.

* The dwindling band of supporters of Sergio Cardinal Pignedoli, who was allegedly so confident that he was papabile that he went on a crash diet to fit the right size of white cassock when elected.

Outside the Italians, now themselves a lessening influence within the increasingly internationalist College of Cardinals, were figures like Karol Cardinal Wojtyła. Luciani later claimed to his private secretary, Father John Magee, that he had sat facing the next pope. (Some reports claim he called the man "the foreigner".) In 1980, having become Papal Master of Ceremonies, Magee out of curiosity checked the seating plans in the Sistine Chapel for the August 1978 conclave, which were kept in a file in his office. It showed that the man opposite Luciani was indeed Wojtyła. He immediately told Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, of his predecessor's prediction.

Over the days following the conclave, cardinals effectively declared that with general great joy they had elected "God's candidate". Argentine Eduardo Cardinal Pironio stated that, "We were witnesses of a moral miracle." And later, Mother Teresa commented: "He has been the greatest gift of God, a sunray of God's love shining in the darkness of the world."

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Long conclave predicted

Many, including the cardinals, expected a long conclave, deadlocked between the camps. Luciani was an easy compromise. He was a pastor more in the spirit of Vatican II than an austere intellectual, a man with few autocratic pretensions and so less unwelcome to some than Giovanni Cardinal Benelli. And for Italian cardinals, determined not to "lose" the papacy to a non-Italian for the first time in centuries and faced with other controversial Italian candidates, Luciani was an Italian with no baggage. He had no enemies created through a high profile career in the Curia, made no controversial or radical statements or sermons and was just a smiling gentleman, a pastor.

Even before the conclave began, journalists covering it for Vatican Radio noted increasing mention of his name, often from cardinals who barely knew him but wanted to find out more; not least, "What is the state of the man's health?" Had they known just how precarious his health was (his feet were so swollen he could not wear the shoes bought for him by his family for the conclave) they might have looked elsewhere for Paul VI's successor. But they did not. Hence, to his own horror and disbelief, he was elected to the papacy. The surprise of his election is captured in his official portrait, his hair is clumsily brushed back, because unlike papabili cardinals who expect their election, he had not had his hair cut for the conclave. When he was asked if he accepts his election, he quoted "May God forgive you for what you have done."

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Vincent Browne's claim

Pope John Paul I received the simpler Papal Inauguration instead of the traditional Papal Coronation, held in September 1978. He is seen here with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI

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Pope John Paul I received the simpler Papal Inauguration instead of the traditional Papal Coronation, held in September 1978. He is seen here with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI

The

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