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John Paul I: The Smiling Pope’s Gospel of Joy
Fr Peter Conley reminds us of the catechetical qualities of the Pope who had the shortest Pontificate in history. I feel sure John Paul I would have incorporated the title of pop singer Taja Seville’s hit, ‘Love is Contagious’, in one of his Addresses. After all, he did suggest that we should ‘inject others with a goodness imbued with meekness and love taught by Christ’.1 His successor, John Paul II, spoke of him unleashing a ‘torrent of love’2 during his brief reign. The ‘Smiling Pope’ or ‘God’s Candidate’ to use Cardinal Basil Hume’s phrase, implored his audience to ‘throw me a safety belt with your prayers’3 and in imitation of his humble master admitted that Christ’s Yoke of Papal Office was laid on ‘fragile shoulders’.4 He literally, had an astronomic impact. Consider the Vatican preface to the collection of his homilies and addresses: ‘John Paul I passed in the Church and in the world like a whirling comet which casts a jet of inextinguishable light, like a flash of hope that leaves hearts ablaze, like a marvellous rainbow charged with promise for a poor, weary, divided and restless humanity.’5 His teaching was communicated with a brilliantly gifted catechist’s amalgam of compressed style, humour, honesty and humility. Seasoned with topical references, often from popular culture, John Paul I spoke passionately using simple yet profoundly-crafted observations on life, the universe and everything. This was a man who likened life’s journey to God to Jules Verne’s adventure stories and had the creative imagination to write letters to Pinocchio, Charles Darwin and even St Romedio’s bear! In his book Illustrissimi (the illustrious ones), he numbered Tom Sawyer’s creator Mark Twain and Sir Walter Scott of Ivanhoe fame amongst his favourite authors.