Friday, 12 October 2012




100th Anniversary of Pope John  Paul I's Birth

Interview: Don Diego Lorenzi

Don Lorenzi, how have you discovered your vocation?

Since I was a young boy, I felt the desire to become a priest. I joined a junior seminary quite early.

Do you remember some anecdotes back from your seminary years and from your early priesthood life?

I was very lucky to be sent to England to do my theological studies, this was between 1963 till 1967. I have spent the early years of my priesthood in the formation field. Afterwards, in 1975 I have got a degree from the University of Padua. 

Don Albino Luciani: A very young diocesan priest

What do you remember of your first encounter with the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Albino Luciani?

This first encounter happened in June 1976 during a diocesan gathering. At that time the Patriarch was looking to appoint a new private secretary from a religious order and not from his diocesan priests. At a point in time, during this gathering he approached and asked me if I was willing to take the role as his private secretary. He had met previously my parish priest before approaching me. I had no reason to delay a positive answer.

Don Diego Lorenzi assisting His Holiness Pope John Paul I in Rome

How do you describe your working relationship with him? How was the Patriarch’s daily agenda in Venice? And in Rome as Pope?

The month after, in August 1976 I started to serve in his private secretariat. I did not share any responsibility in the running of the diocese. He was an expert in all the fields; he had already priests in charge in many key places. He did not get me involved in any particular task. My daily duties were: concelebrating with him in the morning, sharing of meals, taking care of all the appointments of those seeking to meet him, I was the Master of Ceremonies, and even his driver when he wanted to do something outside. A good but very discreet companion, let me say.

In Rome, in the Vatican we spent only one month, it was the time let me say to open our bags, look around and get down with all the tasks and papers prepared by the experts at the Secretariat of State.

Don Albino Luciani and his mates of the seminary

How was the Patriarch’s relationship with his clergy? And with his venetian flock? Whilst serving him have you noticed this great virtue in his actions? Can you elaborate?

Back in his early days as Vice-Rector of the Seminary in Belluno he used to quote Saint Augustine to his students: “Which is the most important Virtue? Humility. And the second most great virtue? Remains Humility. And the third? Always remains Humility!” Whilst serving him have you noticed this great virtue in his actions? Can you elaborate?

Luciani's Episcopal motto was Humilitas, or "Humility." This motto was taken from a quotation from St Augustine. The word "Humility" comes from the Latin word "humus" which is related to the soil, the earth, dust,  a thing underneath our feet. The motto "Humilitas" was also used by the the bishop of Geneva (Switzerland) St Francis of Sales whose many books had been read by Don Albino in his early days of his priesthood.

Then let us not  forget the humility of Jesus's mother, Mary in the Magnificat: "God has looked down on the lonliness (humility) of his servant". This was the "scarlet thread" running through his life. Luciani did not just wake up one morning "feeling" humble. He worked daily at being Christ-like, controlling his temper, not taking offense, being kind, being kind, forgetting his pride.

Christ told us very few things. But one came with the washing of the feet. "If I as your master do this for you, so must you do it for others." Lastly, since he was HUMBLE he had to accept to be made Vicar General in Belluno, then Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, Patriarch of Venice and Bishop of Rome

This did not mean, however that Luciani was weak. When the Catholic truth was at stake, he stood firm. During Italy's bruising 1974 referendum on divorce, Luciani publicly rebuked a group of liberal Venetian priests who had coe out in favour of lagaization. Some of these priests broke contact with him because of this. He was full of understanding for them, but he felt the Catholic truth is the Catholic truth. It cannot be bargained away for something else!

One last thing: The first conversation he had with the public in his first General Audience, was about humility. Back, on that Wednesday morning 6th September 1976 he quoted Patriarch Abraham who said: " I am only dust(Humus-Humility) and ashes before you, O Lord..."

Cardinal Albino Luciani

L’illustrissimi! Letters written to Jesus, Figaro the Barber, Pinocchio, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens......What were the aims of Cardinal Luciani behind these letters?

Through these writings  one can note the capacity of Albino Luciani’pen. He wrote this prose with journalistic agility. Originally this book was written in form of different letters addressed for those known as the ‘Giants of the Past’ and were published on the ‘Messagero di San Antonio between 1971 and 1975. These letters were addressed to historical and mitical personalities from different periods of the history of humanity. Many critics claim that it was not easy for any writer to write these type of stories but Luciani succeeded in doing so with honours. I think that the patriarch wanted to deepen various theme of the Church’s social doctrine in an unusual way.

Cardinal Albino Luciani

Whilst Cardinal Luciani was on a pilgrimage in Coimbra, back in July 1977 the Marquise de Cadaval brokered a meeting for him with Sister Lucia. What do you remember  of this encounter between the Patriarch and Sister Lucia? How was the Patriarch after this meeting?

We stopped in Coimbra on our way back to Venice. We celebrated Mass in the local monastery of the Carmelite nuns. As we finished the celebration of mass, he went inside and had a quite long conversation with Sister Lucia. Nobody was present for the meeting between these two personalities. Then during the meal he said:”Sister Lucia is a very nice person and was very talkative during the meeting”.

Cardinal Albino Luciani walking to the conclave.

Can you share with me some recollections, anecdotes, from the death of Paul VI till his election to the Throne of Peter?

We left for Rome on August 10th, being hosted very near St Peter’s Square in the house of the Augustinians. The Patriarch spent much of the time there till the 25th  August when he had to enter the cloister of the conclave. The evening before the conclave, after we had supper,  the Augustinian Fr Prospero Grech O.S.A came to him with a cake  wishing to Luciani  his election. The Patriarch smiled to all those sitting at the table and said:” I do not think that I will be elected; anyway even if this should happen there is the possibility of refusing it”.

Elected to the Throne of Peter

Was you shocked when Patriarch Luciani was elected to the Petrine Service? What was your logic?

In fact, when Cardinal Pericle Felici announced from the central 'loggia' of St Peter's Basilica on that afternoon of August 26 that Patriarch Albino Luciani was elected pope, I was one of the few people in Rome not taken by surprise.
Let me say  quite clearly:  After I had spent with him more than  two years in the biggest variety of daily duties. This was my impression. No doubt the holiness or sanctity of this man had to be put forward to all mankind, not only to the Roman Catholics. At about 11a.m., the day before I had predicted to the Patriarch, "By this time tomorrow, you will have a nice pile of votes." Luciani replied to him: It's difficult to measure the holiness of a man." He told him that if the electors will chose him, he will refuse election.

Where was you at the time of the ‘fumata Bianca?’ How did you reach for the first time Pope John Paul I?

I was in St Peter's Square with a huge crowd of people. He had been elected on the fourth ballot. 

White smoke: The Pope is elected!

Where was you at the time of the ‘fumata Bianca?’ How did you reach for the first time Pope John Paul I?

This decision had to turn my life upside down. On that evening of August 26, for the first time, I had to make my way into the Vatican in this new capacity. Till that moment I was a stranger to that world and I did not quite know what to do.

I entered the gates by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was stopped when I reached the zone that had been sealed off for the conclave. There, I bumped into Marquis Giulio Sacchetti, an Italian layman and noble who at that time was the governor of Vatican City, and thus the man who held the keys to the conclave. Sacchetti let me pass. I reached the Apostolic Palace and took the elevator up.

As soon as I stepped off, I bumped into Archbishop Ernesto Civardi, the secretary of the conclave. Civardi joked: "You realize you are excommunicated." I shot back: "If I am, the pope will restore me to the Communion of Saints"

Again: no surprise for me. Then I was ushered in a big hall where the pope was meeting alone with the Secretary of State, French Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot. Luciani stood up and said: "Your predictions have been proven accurate. Go now and we will see each other tomorrow."

Pope John Paul I greeting Cardinal Karol Wojtyla

In the days after his election was there any meeting between Pope John Paul I and the Archbishop of Krakow Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla?

The newly elected Pope met all the cardinals few days after his election inside the Vatican. Some of them he met them on the evening before his installation mass.

Was it true that during his pontificate from time to time  he had like a presentiment shared with you and Msgr John Magee that his pontificate will be a short  one and that he will be substituted by the ‘foreigner?’

This is what Monsignor Magee has been telling for the past thirty four years. No comment from my point of view.

Pope Paul VI signing the eencyclical Popolorum Progressio

“It is the inalienable right of no man to accumulate wealth beyond the necessary while other men starve to death because they have nothing.” He preached this line of thinking for more than forty years and declared it as Pope during a public audience two days before his return to the House of the Father. What do you think about it?

Poor and rich people: Pope John Paul I took this quotation from Paul VI’s encyclical letter’Popolorum Progressio’. Since he came from a very poor family and his father had to emigrate for many years in Switzerland as a simple worker to assist his family, Papa Luciani felt very deeply the urgency to fight and overcome poverty. Back in the early fifties, he had paid a visit to his priests who were working as missionaries in Burundi, in Central Africa.

Lesley and John Brown with their daughter Louise, the world's 1st IVF baby.

 “How many children are born is not what is important. What is important is that every child that is born has an equal opportunity at a good and healthy life.” Whilst most cardinals, in support of Pius XII’s ban on genetic experimentation of any kind issued condemnations of Louise Brown – the world’s first artificially inseminated child. Some went so far as to label her,”a child of the devil.” Contrary to this Cardinal Luciani congratulated her parents. Cardinal Luciani: ‘I have sent my most heartfelt congratulations to the parents.......” Three weeks later he was elected Pope. Do you remember about this fact? Can you elaborate about this?

I will reply to this question by attaching to this interview an extract of an interview he gave on telephone and which was published on 1st August 1978...In this interview Cardinal Luciani was not speaking as an archbishop but as a journalist: "From every side the press is sending its congratulations to the English couple and best wishes to their baby girl. In imitation of God, who desires and loves human life, I too offer my best wishes to the baby girl. As for her parents, I do not have any right to condemn them; subjectively, if they have acted with the right intention and in good faith, they may even have great merit before God for what they have decided on and asked the doctors to carry out". 


(Pagine 351/352)

Il Cardinale Patriarca


Intervista per telefono  <Prospettive nel mondo> 1.8.1978

D.- Qual’e’ la Sua opinione circa la bambina inglese nata in laboratorio?

R.- Non m’e’ facile rispondere alla Sua domanda cosi, a spron battuto, dal telefono della stanza d’ospedale, in cui mi trovo, senza libri da poter consultare. E non e’ l’unica difficolta’. Ho, infatti, letto sinora soltanto qualche resoconto di giornale sulla “figlia inglese della provetta”; per proninciarmi oltre i giornali, avrei bisogno di conoscere i dati scientifici stesi dai due medici protagonist. Non solo: in questo momento io non sto parlando come vescovo, ma in veste di giornalista consultato da un collega; in material tanta delicate e quasi nuova, mi metto anch’io in attesa di quanto l’autentico magistero della Chiesa, sentiti gli esperti, vorra’ dichiarare. La mia risposta alla Sua domanda e’ pertanto personale, a mio rischio e pericolo, direi interlocutoria.

     La esprimo nei seguenti Quattro punti.

1  Condivido solo in parte l’entusiasmo di chi plaude al progresso della scienza e della tecnica dopo la nascita della bambina inglese. Il progresso e’ un gran bella cosa, ma non ogni progresso giova all’ uomo. Le armi A B C (atomiche, batteriologiche e chimiche) sono state un progresso, ma insieme, un disastro per l’umanita’. La possibilita’ di avere figli in vitro , se non provoca disastri, pone almeno dei grossi rischi. Esempio: La fecondita’ natural porta, a volte’, come frutto, figli malformati; non ne portera’ di piu la fecondita’ artificiale? Se si, lo scienziato di fronte ai nuovi problem non fara’ la figura dell’apprendista stregone”, che scatena forze poderose senza poi poterle arginare e dominare? Altro esempio: poste la fama di denaro e la spregiudicatezza morale d’oggi, non ci sara’ pericolo che sorga l’industria nuova della ‘fabbrica dei figli’, magari per chi non puo’ o non vuole contrarre matrimonio valido? Se questo avvenisse, famiglia e societa’ non sarebbero in gran regresso piu’
che in progresso?

2  La stampa, daa piu’ parti, invia felicitazioni ai due coniugi inglesi ed auguri alla loro bambina. A imitazione di Dio, che vuole e ama la vita degli uomini, faccio anch’io i piu’ cordiali auguri alla bambina. Quanto ai suoi “genitori”, non ho alcun diritto di condannarli: soggettivamente, se hanno operato con retta intenzione e in buona fede, essi possono perfino avere gran merito davanti a Dio per quanto hanno deciso e chiesto ai medici di eseguire.

3  Scendendo pero’ al fatto in se’ e prescindendo dalla buona fede, il problema morale, che si pone e’: la fecondazione extrauterina, in vitro o in provetta, e’ lecita? Pio XII parlando di fecondazione artificial nel matrimonio, faceva – se ben ricordo – la seguente distinzione. L’intervento del tecnico e del medico serve solo a facilitare l’atto matrimoniale?  Oppure aiuta ad ottenere il figlio, continuando – in qualche modo – un atto matrimoniale gia’ compiuto?  Nessuna difficolta’ morale’; l’intervento puo’ essere posto. L’artificio, invece nonche’ aiutare o prolungare l’atto matrimoniale, addiritura lo esclude e sostituisce? Non e’ lecito pore l’artificio, perche’ Dio ha legato la trasmissione della vita umana alla sessualita’ coniugale. Cosi’, pressapoco, Pio XII; io non trovo argomenti validi per scostarmi da questa norma, dichiarando lecito il separare la trasmissione della vita dall’atto coniugale.

4   “Ma – ho letto su qualche giornale – e’ ridicolo porre problemi morali a chi si avvale della magnifiche conquista della scienza. E, poi, ci sono i diritti della libera coscienza individuale”. Bene, ma la morale non si occupa delle conquiste della scienza; si occupa delle azioni umane, mediante le quali le persone possono usare sia in bene che in male delle conquiste scientifiche. Quanto alla coscienza individuale, siamo d’accordo: essa va seguita sempre, sia che comandi sia che proibisca; l’individuo deve, pero’, sforzarsi di avere una coscienza ben formata. La coscienza, infatti, non ha il compito di creare la legge. Ha altri due due compiti: di informarsi prima cosa cosa dica la legge di Dio: di giudicare poi se c’e’ sintonia tra questa legge e una nostra determinate azione. In altre parole: la coscienza deve comandare all’uomo,non deve ubbidire all’uomo.

“God is more our Mother than she is our Father.” What did His Holiness wanted to teach mankind with this great statement?

During his brief pontificate, Pope John Paul I on 10th September 1978, he made this innovative statement: “God is Father, and even more, He is Mother.” The assertion was received with surprise in innumerable Catholic circles and with undisguised joy among the more radical progressivists.

Pope John Paul I was speaking in the context  clearly that the greater tenderness in maternal love of God did not represent the superiority of one sex over the other, but only a change in emphasis due to the nature of maternal love.

Where did  a long pontificate of Pope John Paul I could have put the Catholic Church?

A longer pontificate? Why? Let me say this: God had asked him to remember to all mankind that we have to be humble, which means that we have to surrend ourselves to him; then we have to practice faith that means that 'We trust in God', hope in him and love Him and all mankind. All the rest could be judged as 'empty words'.

During his month as pope, his lone decision on travel was a negative one. He decided not to travel not to attend the meeting of Latin American bishops scheduled for Puebla, Mexico in 1979. His thinking was:  " What can I say to those bishops over there in Latin America?"

John Paul I would have had fewer massive celebrations in St Peter's Square and elsewhere, and would have been less omnipresent in the media.

He was wary of applause and when people stopped clapping he always wanted to know how it would changed their lives.

He would have emphasized collegiality and collaboration.

He used to say: "Blessed is that bishop who has priests more brilliant than himself." He was a believer of consensus. This does not mean, however, that he would have been confrontational with the Roman Curia. He knew that without the Curia you could not have a full view of how the Catholic Church has been governed. One needs to rely on this human organization.

A less noisy pontificate and, perhaps for that reason less historic.

Do you remember how John Paul I passed his last hours on earth?

He had the usual afternoon: reading, going through documents, receiving a cardinal. At 7.45pm we sat at the table for supper and it was during the meal that he said to us:”I am feeling some chest pain......but it is disappearing”.

At 8.45pm he had a telephone conversation with the Cardinal of Milan, Archbishop Colombo. They talked about the imminent nomination of the Patriarch of Venice who had to replace him. After that we went with him inside the nearby bedroom wishing him a good night. Then we parted away

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