Pope John Paul I on the path to sainthood
Only recognition of the miracle is missing. Then Pope Luciani will be able to ascend to the Honours of the Altars. The history of the Cause of John Paul I embraces an arc of nearly 15 years. It opened late, in 2003, 25 years after his death. And he was the only one of the 20th century Popes proceeding toward Canonization to have waited so long for his Cause to be opened. However, requests for his introduction began to arrive in John Paul I’s native diocese from all over the world immediately after his death on 28 September 1978. The then Bishop Maffeo Ducoli of Belluno-Feltre reported receiving “a crescendo of thousands of requests for the introduction of the Cause, all preserved at the Archive of the Curia of Belluno”. With nothing official, signatures were gathered for the 34-day Pope by a grass-roots initiative which involved various countries, including Brazil, Switzerland, France, Canada and the United States.
On 9 June 1990, Archbishop Serafim Fernandes de Araújo of Belo Horizonte presented the request for the introduction of the Cause directly to Pope John Paul II with a petition signed by the entire Episcopal Conference of Brazil. The 226 bishop signatories highlighted the motivations that led them to the collective petition, considering the example of the habitus virtuoso of the Bishop of Rome, Albino Luciani, who showed himself to be the “typical synthesis of a man of God, which is the fullness of humanity and at the same time the fullness of Christ”, and as such he “was an apostle of the Council, whose teachings he explained with crystal clarity and whose directives he translated rightly into practice. Thus, “our most intimate conviction”, the Brazilian Bishops stated in conclusion, “is that we are interpreting the favourable judgment of many other brothers in the episcopate, and translating a most profound aspiration of the faithful of the Church of Brazil, as well as of Catholics throughout the world”. However, only during the ministry of the Salesian Bishop Vincenzo Savio of Belluno-Feltre from 18 February 2001 to 31 March 2004 could the diocesan Inquest be begun into the heroism of John Paul I’s life, his virtues and reputation for holiness.
Noting the constant and growing reputation for holiness of the Pope from Belluno, on 26 April 2003 Bishop Vincenzo Savio of Belluno-Feltre formally requested from Cardinal Camillo Ruini, then Vicar of Rome, consent to open the Cause not at the Vicariate of Rome, the natural seat of competence, but in the late Pope’s native diocese of Belluno-Feltre, supported by these motivations: “By reason of the very brief residence — the Servant of God’s Pontificate having lasted little more than a month in the Diocese of Rome — most of his life was spent and, consequently, his Magisterium was expressed, first in this diocese, then in the neighbouring dioceses of Vittorio Veneto, and lastly in the Patriarchate of Venice”. Bishop Savio, communicating to the diocese the initiative assumed, broadly explained the motivations that had induced him to undertake this step, spurred by the over 300,000 petitioning signatures that had been received, and to formulate the request that the Cause be processed at the native diocese whereas: “Albino Luciani spent his childhood, his seminary formation, his presbyteral service and was vicar general of the Diocese of Belluno until the age of 46, and his commitments first as bishop and then as patriarch did not separate him from his native Venetian land, except for the 33 days of his pontificate”. These motives also supported the opportunity “to deepen the context of familial and local faith in which Albino Luciani grew up”. Thus, on 17 June 2003, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints granted the nihil obstat.
On 23 November 2003, exactly 23 years after Pope Luciani’s death, the solemn opening of the Cause was held in the Cathedral Basilica of Belluno. Wholly uncharacteristically, the inaugural session of the diocesan Inquest was attended by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, who emphasized that this circumstance offered the opportunity to come to know and expand on the figure and work of Albino Luciani, “so that one day we can invoke, as a Saint, this great man from the local Church of Belluno to the universal Church as Bishop of Rome”.
The Bishop being a Salesian, appointed Fr Pasquale Liberatore, Postulator General of the Salesian family, as postulator of the Cause. Upon his death in October 2013, Salesian Fr Enrico dal Covolo was appointed, having succeeded Fr Pasquale Liberatore as Postulator General of the Salesian family in the meantime. The ecclesiastic tribunal of the diocesan Inquest began working on 22 November 2003 and concluded its work three years later on 10 November 2006.
The diocesan process was divided into 203 sessions, during which, in the episcopal Sees of Belluno, Vittorio Veneto, Venice and Rome, 167 witnesses were examined — all but one de visu and nine ex officio — in addition to the depositions of three experts from the historical Commission. Two theologians from Belluno, teachers at the diocesan seminary, were tasked with examining his published writings. The documents of the diocesan process were transmitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome in November 2006.
On 9 November 2017, upon examining the received documents in order to concede their validity, the ordinary Congress of the Congregation observed that the documentation received presented various gaps in particular reference to that held at the historical Archive of the Patriarchate of Venice and at the Archive of the Episcopal Conference of Triveneto. In order to acquire this documentation the Congregation for the Causes of Saints required a supplemental investigation. Thus, on 25 March 2008 Bishop Giuseppe Andrich of Belluno-Feltre instituted the supplementary tribunal for the diocesan Inquest, giving me the task of directing the investigation. On 13 June 2008, only after the consignment of these archival papers, the formal validity of the principal and supplemental documents of the diocesan Inquest were recognized by decree. Thus began the Roman phase of the process, which calls for the necessary research for the purposes of the complete acquisition of the Servant of God’s papers, the historical-scientific study, the inspection of all documentary and testimonial sources with the relative critical evaluation and therefore the drafting and composition of the Positio, the dossier which includes the corpus of documentary and testimonial proof that must demonstrate the heroism of life, the virtues and reputation for holiness of the candidate for the Honours of the Altars.
On 27 June 2008 Fr Cristoforo Bove was appointed as the relator of the Cause and entrusted me with the composition and drafting of the Positio which, beginning in 2012, involved the cooperation of Canale d’Agordo native Fr Davide Fiocco, a theologian and professor of patrology. After Fr Bove’s death, the Cause was assigned to Fr Vincenzo Criscuolo, relator general of the said Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who continued the work undertaken, requesting the appropriate in-depth examinations and further necessary acquisitions regarding both the documentary and testimonial portions.
Moreover, the belated opening of the Cause had compromised the acquisition of precious eyewitnesses, just as it had led to a certain dispersion of documentary materials, which necessitated careful research. Between 2008 and 2015 extraprocedural depositions and another 21 witnesses were thus added to the documents, with particular reference to the period of the pontificate and death of John Paul I, on which the testimony of Pope Benedict XVI took on a completely exceptional importance due to its up to then unicum storico, as the first time a Pope had offered de visu testimony about another Pope. In addition to the drafting of the ritual documents, in light of the new documentary acquisition — on the basis of an omnino plena archival investigation, which included more than 70 archives in 30 different locations, first and foremost the institutional archives held in the places where Luciani was based from Belluno to the Vatican — a noteworthy effort was also expended in the location and critical translation of all the publications signed by or attributed to the Servant of God, also thanks to the valuable contribution of John Paul I’s nieces, Lina Petri and Pia Luciani. This painstaking research in which, from the beginning of the Roman phase, I was involved as the vice postulator of the Cause, had never before been undertaken for Pope John Paul I. On 16 October 2015 the Bishop of Belluno-Feltre appointed as the new postulator of the Cause Cardinal Beniamino Stella, a native of the Vittorian diocese, who the then Bishop Albino Luciani had introduced to the ecclesiastical Pontifical Academy. On 17 October 2016, with the consignment of the Positio — comprised of 5 volumes and over 3,600 pages — to the Congregation, the eight years of scientific and editing work concluded and thus began the examination for final judgment by the deciding bodies of the Congregation who, according to practice, are called to express their vote in two examination sessions: that of the Congress of consulting theologians and the ordinary session of Cardinals and Bishops. The Congress of theologians expressed its unanimous positive vote on 1 June 2017 and the ordinary Session of Cardinals and Bishops gave the same response on 3 November 2017. The Cause then concluded with the decree of venerability sanctioned by Pope Francis on 9 November 2017, in which the virtues of John Paul I were proclaimed.
To proceed to the Beatification, as noted, the recognition of a miracle is necessary. There is currently underway a Super miro process for the case of a presumptive extraordinary healing through the intercession of John Paul I in 2011 in the Diocese of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The diocesan phase of the Super miro process was completed in November 2017 and the judicial process has reached the final examination sessions at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.