On 8 February 1970, in St. Mark’s Basilica, in his first homily as Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani repeated the words he had said eleven years earlier to the faithful of Vittorio Veneto as soon as he had become their bishop: The Lord prefers that certain things not be engraved in bronze or in 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. I am the dust; the great episcopal dignity and the Diocese of Vittorio Veneto are wonderful things that God deigned to write on me; if a little good comes out of this writing, it is clear even now that it will be all due to the grace and mercy of the Lord.
It is in these words, ‘I am the dust’, that can be discovered the great secret of the Christian life that Albino Luciani gave witness to throughout his life.
The holiness of John Paul I — a Christian who became Pope on 26 August 1978 and who now, 44 years later, will be declared blessed — is the simple story of a man who trusted God and entrusted himself to Him in every step of his life. This entrustment took place in the awareness of his own littleness. “Without me you can do nothing,” Jesus told his friends. “Get behind me, Satan!” the Nazarene ordered Peter, after the latter had reproached him for having foretold his passion and death. These are two precious indications, which Albino followed throughout his existence. The grace of recognising oneself as a sinner, in need of everything; the grace of not counting on one’s own strength, on one’s own skill, on one’s own strategies, but on the help and presence of Another, have enabled this priest, bishop and pope to bear witness to the face of a serene and trusting Church: a Church that lives the Gospel in daily life and does not need fireworks to show it exists; a Church capable of bringing closeness, consolation and hope to all, starting with the smallest, the poorest, the excluded and those who are considered unpresentable.
“The advance of spirituality is measured by the practice of humility,” said St Francis de Sales, Luciani’s favourite saint. For him, a man of great culture and preparation capable of speaking in a simple and colloquial manner, making himself understood by all, it was just like that. The recognition of the altars for this son of the Venetian Church, alien to any protagonism, who had never aspired to prominent posts and who, before being elected almost unanimously in the conclave, meditated on leaving as a missionary for Africa once he had reached the canonical age of resignation from Venice, is a sign of hope for everyone. Because, as the vice-postulator of the cause for canonisation Stefania Falasca reiterated, it is not the Pope or his pontificate that is to be beatified, but a Christian who adhered to the Gospel with his whole self, recognising himself as “dust”. A Christian who by praying every day: ‘Lord, take me as I am and make me as you wish me to be’, became the instrument through which the God of mercy wrote beautiful pages and today more relevant than ever, for the Church and for the world.
By Andrea Tornielli