Friday, August 29, 2008

Recollections of the Papal Conclave of August 1978

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger --
It’s true that some of us German-speaking cardinals sometimes met. . . . It was a small group. We absolutely didn’t want to decide anything, but only talk a little. I let myself be guided by Providence, listening to the names and seeing agreement was finally reached on the Patriarch of Venice.

I knew him personally. During the summer vacation of 1977, in August, I was staying in the diocesan seminary of Bressanone and Albino Luciani came to visit me. The Alto-Adige is a part of the ecclesiastical region of the Triveneto and he, who was a man of a exquisite courtesy, felt as Patriarch of Venice almost an obligation to go and look up his young confrere. I felt unworthy of such a visit. On that occasion I was struck by his great simplicity, and also by his wide culture. He told me he knew the area well, that he’d come there with his mother as a child on pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Pietralba, a monastery of Italian Servites lying at an altitude of a thousand meters, much visited by the faithful of the Veneto. Luciani had many fine memories of those places and not least for that he was pleased to be back in Bressanone. . . .

I was very happy about [his election]. To have as pastor of the universal Church a man of that goodness and with that luminous faith was the guarantee that things were going well. He himself was surprised and felt the weight of the great responsibility. You could see he was suffering the blow a bit. He hadn’t expected to be elected. He wasn’t a man who was after a career but thought of the posts he’s had as a service and also a suffering. . . .

Personally I’m altogether convinced he was a saint. Because of his great goodness, simplicity, humility. And for his great courage. Because he also had the courage to say things with great clarity, even going against current opinions. And also for his great culture of faith. He was not just a simple parish priest who had become patriarch by chance. He was a man of great theological culture and of great pastoral sense and experience. His writings on catechesis are precious. And his book Illustrissimi, which I read immediately after his election, is very fine. Yes, I’m convicted that he is a saint.

Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manilla --
During the conclave following [Pope Paul VI's] death, I was still the youngest among the cardinals and so I was the doorkeeper. I was the one who attended to the needs of some of the elderly and infirm cardinals. I remember helping out Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice one night. He was very simple, humble and meek. I liked his smile a lot. I took the palm of his hand pretending to know what the future holds for him. I joked that he will be the next pope. He was not happy about it and told me to go back to my room. The next day he was elected pope and history knew him as John Paul I, the smiling Pope.

Cardinal Jaime Sin --
I had different opportunities to assist Cardinal Luciani during the conclave that elected him as a Pope. He had a bad cough in the days of the conclave and I remember helping him especially during those nights when he seemed without peace and was unable to sleep. He was imprinted on me as a holy man, a bit delicate but very happy. I liked him because of his simplicity. He was so surprising. He was emerging rightly by virtue of his simplicity.

Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida, Brazil --
Paul VI held Albino Luciani in great esteem: he had named him Patriarch of Venice, a most important See, and Luciani wrote pieces for Paul VI on the Concordat and on the right to life. . . . I believe that not only was the Patriarch of Venice the successor Paul VI hoped for but that of all of them he was the one who would have best followed and did follow the basic tendencies of his Magisterium. . . .

The fundamental point was that we wanted a pope who was first of all a good pastor. The idea was for an Italian, not a man of the Curia. The name of Albino Luciani came out during the Conclave.

After the first ballots it didn’t look as if it would be a brief conclave. Then, all of a sudden, agreement regarding the Patriarch of Venice came thick and fast. For me that outcome was the providential work of the Holy Spirit. But it is precisely that unanimity that shows that he was not a Pope meant to head a specific political project. With the election of Luciani the opposition between conservative and progressives broke up, precisely for those qualities mentioned earlier and for the distinctive characteristics of Luciani, who was focused on the essentials. . . .

His humble humanity was not a front. It was the artless humility that comes from the awareness of being poor sinners and from the experience of forgiveness.

Cardinal Silvio Oddi --
After the first votes, the name came out immediately. Luciani, why not?, so many people said. A good, intelligent and pious person. And the consensus was spread rapidly. We think on him as a new Pius X, also he is Patriarch of Venice, a good and holy Pope. And contemporary decided about the defence of the doctrine. That was necessary after the post-Council disorders.

Cardinal Raúl Francisco Primatesta, Archbishop Emeritus of Cordoba, Argentina --
Before the conclave I didn’t take part in informal meetings of cardinals. To tell the truth I don’t even remember whether there were any similar meetings; at any event I wasn’t informed. I was a bishop from far-away America. I just tried to pray a little. Holding in mind the things that could help judgment before God. . . .

It was a rapid conclave. But if you ask me how many times we voted, I don’t remember. However, I believe that the person of Luciani proposed itself. Once one enters the mentality of the conclave, it was immediately clear to many that the papacy should go to him. It was a spontaneous coming together. There was no need of particular assessments or compromises on his name. His recognized value was all in his personality. I think it was really the hand of God that put this person before us for so brief a time. Maybe in that way God wanted to show us the way, [the way] of simplicity and closeness to the people. . . .

The figure of Luciani was that of a saintly bishop, not of a naïve man. A man strong in the faith. Simple, close to simple people, but with confidence in faith and action. . . . Pope Luciani well knew what he had to do. But God only allowed us a glimpse of him, as if to give us a blast of light.

Pope John Paul I (as related by Msgr. John Magee) --
God wanted to give a true Father as the guide of the Church, for a short period of time, which . . . he knew well that his Pontificate would have been short but intense; a Father who has known how to collect around himself the sympathy of all men of good will; a Father who had intentions of taking the names of his immediate predecessors in order to emphasize his fidelity to the instruction of Council Vatican II and to the great traditions of the Church; a Father who wanted to add to the names that he had assumed "the First" adjective, because he said: "I am John Paul the First because the Second comes soon."
In fact, two evenings before his death, during supper, Pope Luciani, speaking about the Conclave that had elected to the Peter’s See, in his humility, said that there were many other Cardinals better than him who could be elected and added: "there was just in front of me who Pope Paul VI had already indicated. But he will come because I am leaving." I tried to change speech and so I did not ask who was who was seated in front of him.

Only four years after, when I have received the nomination as Master of the Papal Ceremonies by Pope Luciani’s sucessor, the current Pope, I was at the first meeting with all the Papal Ceremonial assistants. During the conversation with them I asked, between those who were within the Conclave, who was seated in front of Cardinal Luciani in the first Conclave and they have confirmed me it was Cardinal Wojtyla.

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