Monthly Archives: September 2011

33 Years Ago: Cardinal Hugo Poletti on John Paul I

On September 29, 1978, the day the body of John Paul I was found in his bedroom, the Vicar General of the diocese of Rome made this announcement to the city of Rome (my translation of the Italian):

Dear Priests, Religious and citizens of Rome,

With an anguished spirit I have the sad obligation to tell you of the sudden death of Holy Father John Paul I. Before such a sad, unthinkable and mysterious event there remains only a turning to Faith, supported by Christian hope that always leads to true life and for us to repeat: “Lord you know all! May your holy name be forever blessed.”

In one month, the deceased Pope earned for himself the affection of Christians. His pontificate was received by all the world as a sign of faith.

Now, we must pray for his blessed soul.

All the bells of Rome, today at noon and in the evening, and then for the next two days that follow, will ring in mourning.

But above all all the parish and religious communities will gather in insistent prayer for the dead Holy Father, commending his soul to God and praying also for the Holy Catholic Church in mourning.


33 Years Ago Today – Papa Luciani’s Last Address

Thirty-three years ago today, Pope John Paul I gave his last address for he died late that night. On September 28, 1978 he met a group of bishops from the Philippines on their ad limina visit. In this address he spoke of evangelization, a huge project that his successor would pick up and make one of his center pieces of his papacy.

As I have previously posted, it seems that the New Evangelization started the day Luciani died.

Here are are a few excerpts from the address:

Among the rights of the faithful, one of the greatest is the right to receive God’s word in all its entirety and purity, with all its exigencies and power. A great challenge of our day is the full evangelization of all those who have been baptized… Our message must be a clear proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ…..

For us, evangelization involves an explicit teaching about the name of Jesus, his identity, his teaching, his Kingdom and his promises….the Church [in} her pastoral charity would be incomplete if she did not point out even “higher needs.”… we must help our people to realize just how much they need Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. He is their Savior, the key to their destiny and to the destiny of all humanity…. to proclaim his truth, his love, his justice and salvation in word and example before its neighbors.. to proclaim with the entire Church that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world.

We ask the sick and the handicapped to understand their important part in God’s plan, and to realize just how much evangelization depends on them.

Read the entire address at:

Within hours of uttering these words, Pope John Paul I would die unexpectedly of a massive heart attack after only 33 days on the throne of St. Peter. It seems to me that Luciani’s final sentence above was a prophecy of sorts regarding Wojtyla’s death and the witness it would provide to the world.

Those of us who were privileged to have been able to approach him or to have served him directly in some manner cannot forget the impact his smile, his presence and his words had upon us.  He has been overshadowed by his successor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, but Luciani in a now rather silent way laid the cornerstones to John Paul II’s legacy.

Luciani was, I dare to say, the papal parent of Wojtyla.

I find it unfortunate that what has been written about most broadly about Luciani since his death have been conspiracy theories and the like about the events of this night 33 years ago today. What I am striving to do, along with notable others, is keep alive Luciani’s memory, and his teaching.

He was always the servant of God. He died in the arms of the One he loved. May his memory endure, and may his cause for canonization proceed without haste.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

33 Years Ago Today: Papa Luciani on Love

In his General Audience on September 27, 1978 Pope John Paul I spoke of Pope John XXIII’s “third lamp of sanctification” which is charity.

He began with a prayer his mother taught him:

My God, with all my heart above all things I love You, infinite good and our eternal happiness, and for your sake I love my neighbor as myself and forgive offenses received. Oh Lord, may I love you more and more.

Luciani prayed this prayer, he said, several times each day. He takes this prayer, from his  mother and uses it to give structure to his thoughts about love.

Here are some excerpts from his address:

To love God is therefore a journey with one’s heart to God. A wonderful journey! … The journeys of love for God are far more interesting. You read them in the lives of the Saints. St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast we celebrate today, for example is a giant of charity: he loved God more than a father and a mother, and he himself was a father for prisoners, sick people, orphans and the poor….

The Journey also brings sacrifices, but these must not stop us. Jesus is on the cross; you want to kiss him?… Love for God is also a mysterious journey; that is, I cannot start unless God takes the initiative first… St. Augustine asked himself: but what about human freedom? God, however, who willed and constructed this freedom, knows how to respect it, though bringing hearts to the point he intended… God draws you not only in a way that you yourself want, but even in such a way that you enjoy being drawn (St. Augustine, Tractates of the Gospel of John, 26.4).

With all my heart…That “all” repeated and applied insistently is really the banner of Christian maximalism. And it is right: God is too great, he deserves too much from us for us to be able to throw to him, as poor Lazarus, a few crumbs of our time and our heart. He is infinite good and will be our eternal happiness: money, pleasure, the fortunes of the world, compared to him, are just fragments… It would not be wise to give so much of ourselves to these things and little of ourselves to Jesus…

Above everything else.We must love “both God and man’; the latter, however, never more than God or against God or as much as God. In other words, love of God, though prevalent, is not exclusive…..

And for your sake I love my neighbor.Here we are in the presence of two loves which are “twin brothers” and inseparable…. Only if I love God in earnest can I love them as sons of God….the seven corporal works of mercy… the list is not complete and it would be necessary to update it… it is not longer a question of this or that individual; there are whole peoples….Consequently, “every exhausting armaments race becomes an intolerable scandal” (Paul VI, Populorum Progessio, 53)…

Lord, may I love you more and more.Here, too, there is obedience to a commandment of God, who put thirst for progress in our hearts….That means, to love God not a little, but so much; not to stop at the point at which we have arrived, but with his help, to progress in love.

Read his entire address at:

Of course one does not really know, but I cannot help but think that Luciani, despite saying apparently to others that his pontificate would be short-lived, also had planned a lengthy one. He seems to be setting some foundations which he would have used as the basis for a complete structure of his teachings and thoughts. He weaves into this address the thoughts of Pope John XXII and Pope Paul VI, seems to be opening the doors to future references to global matters such as socioeconomic issues, and looking to St. Augustine for theological rooting. Just my interpretation… if any of you out there are better versed in this, I would love to hear you perspective.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

Catholic Social Teaching: The Crisis in the Relationship Between Humanity and the Environment

The relationship between humanity and the environment is a foundational aspect of human identity. This in turn, is illustrative of humanity’s deeper relationship with God. Scripturally, creation is always an object of praise. Salvation is perceived as a new creation. While wounded by sin, the world is destined to undergo a radical purification that will make it a renewed world and a place of righteousness. Just as we as  humans are made once more whole by the power of Christ, so to the whole of creation participates in the renewal that flows from Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.

This scriptural and theological understanding represents an essential reference point for evaluating  the problems found in the relationship between humanity and the environment.

Care for the environment is a challenge for all of humanity. The environment belongs to the common good, and care for it arises from a common and universal duty. It is not the singular duty of a particular nation, but a common responsibility.  This responsibility for what is in fact our common heritage extends not only to the present, but also to the future. It is a responsibility we have towards those who come after us.

To meet this responsibility, the right to a safe and healthy environment should find expression on a juridical level. Politically and socially, economic development must include careful consideration of the need to  respect the integrity and cycles of nature so as to conserve natural resources that are by definition limited. The maximization of profit cannot be the primary objective. Also, as developed nations,  through the use of technology and science, seek to utilize natural resources, they  must pay particular attention to the relationship of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources for such a relationship expresses their fundamental identity.

The social doctrine of the Church reminds us that the goods of  the earth were created by God to be used by all. These goods must be shared by all in accordance with justice and charity.

For an more extensive discussion of this, refer to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Nos. 461-481

Pope Benedict XVI to the Youth of Germany

The Holy Father has been in his homeland of Germany this past week. He spoke to the German Parliament a few days ago, and he also spoke the the youth, to seminarians, to the Orthodox, and others during his time there.

I would like to offer you a brief excerpt from his comments to the youth. I am translating the Italian report from L’Avvenire (

You are the light of the world because Jesus is your light…. Have the courage to use your talents and your gifts for the Reign of God and to give yourselves – like wax to the candle – so that through you the Lord may illuminate the darkness… dare to be saints on fire in whom eyes and hearts shine with the love of Christ so that light may be carried into this world. I am confident that you and may others in Germany may be a torch of hope that does not remain hidden.

Like wax to a candle… To spend ourselves in that way.

A wonderful image for our meditation today.

Social Doctrine of the Church: The Contribution of the Church to Peace

The  promotion of world peace is a central part of the Church’s mission. It is a part of Christ’s work of redemption. The Church is a “sacrament” or sign and instrument of peace for the world.

The Church teaches that true peace is possible only through forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness can be a unilateral act, whereas reconciliation is multilateral. The need for mutual forgiveness does not eliminate the need for justice and truth for they represent the requisites for reconciliation. There is a right to peace which must be respected by all.

It is through prayer that the Church fights for peace, especially in the Eucharistic celebration. This does not preclude, though, an active presence and work by the faithful in establishing peace, including the establishment of international judicial bodies.  The principle of universal jurisdiction applies, as does the principle of subsidiarity. The right to peace encourages a society in which there are structures of cooperation with a view to the common good. This peace, as Pope Paul VI said, “[i]s fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love.” (1976 World Day of Peace Message: AAS 67 [1975], 671)

For a more comprehensive discussion of this topic, refer to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 516-520.

33 Years Ago Today: Papa Luciani on the Goodness of People and the World

Thirty-three years ago today, Pope John Paul I spoke in his Sunday Angelus address of the presence of good and love in the world. He began, though, with two comments about what were then current events demonstrating the presence of evil: a murder of a Roman  student three days prior and the kidnapping of a seven-year-old boy, Luca Locci. He then went on to describe the martyrdom of several Sisters.

Here is what he said in part:

People sometimes say: “We are in a society that is all rotten, all dishonest.” That is not true. There are still many good people, so many honest people… let each of us try to be good and infect others with a goodness imbued with the meekness and love taught by Christ…. Pius X, in 1906… beatified the sixteen Carmelites of Compiégne, martyrs during the French revolution. During the trial they were condemned “to death for fanaticism”. And one of them asked in her simplicity: “Your Honor, what does fanaticism mean?” And the judge: “It is your foolish membership of religion.” “Oh, Sisters,” she then said, “did you hear, we are condemned for our attachment to faith. What happiness to die for Jesus Christ!”

They were brought out of the prison… and made to climb into the fatal cart. On the way, they  sang hymns; when they reached the guillotine, one after the other knelt before the Prioress and renewed the vow of obedience. Then they struck up “Veni Creator”; the song, however, became weaker and weaker, as the heads of the poor Sisters fell, one by one, under the guillotine. The Prioress, Sister Theresa of St. Augustine, was the last, and her last words were the following: “Love will always be victorious, love can do everything.” That was the right word, not violence, but love, can do everything. Let us ask the Lord for the grace that a new wave of love for our neighbor may sweep over this poor world. 

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

33 Years Ago Today: Papa Luciani on Authority, the Poor, and Liturgy


Thirty-three years ago today, Pope John Paul I made his way to his cathedral (St. John Lateran) to take formal possession of it. On his way there, he stopped at the foot of the Capitoline Hill to greet the civil government of the city of Rome.

In his brief speech to them, he returned to the theme of hope. Here is what he said in part:

The hope which I heard with pleasure echoed in your kind address, is for us believers – as I recalled at the General Audience last Wednesday – an obligatory virtue and an elect gift of God. May it serve to reawaken energies and resolutions in each of us and, as I trust in all fellow citizens of goodwill; may it serve to inspire initiatives and programs, in order that those problems may have suitable solutions and Rome may remain faithful, in actual fact, to those mistakably Christian ideals which are called hunger and thirst for justice, an active contribution for peace, the superior dignity of human respect and love for brothers, and unfailing solidarity with regard to the weakest.

Pope John Paul I again speaks of hope as an obligatory virtue, and he connects it with world renewal. In his view, it would seem, the new evangelization which his successor would take up, required a new hope.

Later that day, Luciani arrived at the Patriarchal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. His homily is stunningly beautiful and difficult to excerpt. It reflects, I believe, the core of what Luciani would have pursued in his pontificate should he had lived longer. In it he speaks of attention to the poor, the issue of authority and the relationship between laity and clergy, and liturgical reform.

Rome will be a true Christian community if God is honored by you not merely with a multitude of the faithful in the churches, not merely with private life that is lived morally, but also with love for the poor. These, the Roman deacon Lawrence said, are the true treasures of the Church……

In the Book of Job there is a description of a war-horse….the symbol of liberty. Authority, on the contrary, is like the prudent rider… to reconcile the horse and the rider, liberty and authority, has become a social problem. It is likewise in the Church…. “the faithful should acquiesce  to the bishop as the Church to Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ to the Father. (Lumen Gentium, 27)…. May the Lord help us all build at Rome a living and active Christian community…..

I should like also that Rome should in fact give a good example of Liturgy celebrated devoutly and without ill-placed “creativity”. Certain abuses in liturgical matters have succeeded, through reaction, in favoring attitudes that have led to a taking up of positions that in themselves cannot be upheld and are in contrast with the Gospels. In appealing with affection and with hope to the sense of responsibility for everyone, before God and the Church, I should like to be able to give an assurance that every liturgical irregularity will be diligently avoided…

I can assure you that I love you, that I desire only to enter into your service and to place the poor powers that I have, however little they are, at the disposal of all.

Luciani also in this homily speaks of St. Pope Gregory the Great, and his hope that he would follow in the footsteps of Gregory in catechesis and attention to the social conditions of the time.

Log on to  and

to read both in English.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

Archbishop Sheen One Step Closer?


The cause for canonization of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen may be one step closer to completion.

On September 16, 2010, James Fulton Engstrom was born, but for the first 61 minutes after birth, he had no heart beat. Just when the doctors were going to declare him stillborn, his heart began to beat. The doctors told the parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom, that James would have lasting medical problems, but after one year, he is doing very well.

The Engstroms assert that this a miraculous healing due to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen.

A tribunal has been establish to investigate all of this. If, after a lengthy process, it is found that this in fact is a miracle, Sheen will be one step closer to canonization.

As you probably know, Archbishop Sheen was a very popular television host, a powerful preacher and orator, whose television serial was extremely popular with both Catholics and non-Catholics during the late 1950s and 1960s. He was ordained a priest for Peoria, Illinois, later ordained bishop and led the diocese of Rochester, New York for several years, and still later was named titular archbishop of Neoportus. His cause for canonization was opened in Peoria in 2002.

Bonnie Engstrom has said, “I believe it was Sheen’s intercession that played a key role in it, but it was Jesus who healed my son. It was for his greater honor and glory.”

Read the report at:


33 Years Ago – Papa Luciani to the American Bishops

Thirty-three years ago, on September 21, 1978, Pope John Paul I spoke to a group of American bishops from Region XII (Northwestern United States) during their ad limina visit to Rome. The bishops were also at the North American College where I was living at the time, and I vaguely recall their presence among us during those weeks.

John Paul I focused on the family in his address. Here are some excerpts:

Let us never grow tired of proclaiming the family as a community of love: conjugal love unites the couple and is procreative of new life; it mirrors divine love….. is actually a sharing in the covenant of love of Christ and his Church…we must encourage parents in their role as educators of their children….families… the power they have for the sanctification of husband and wife and the reciprocal influence between parents and children…It is up to us to keep this realization strong, by supporting and defending the family – each and every family. Our ministry is so vital: to preach the world of God and to celebrate the Sacraments. It is from them  that our people draw their strength and joy. Ours too is the role of encouraging families to fidelity to the law of God and the Church. We need never fear to proclaim all the exigencies of God’s word, for Christ is with us and says today as before: “He who hears you hears me.” In particular, the indissolubility of Christian marriage is important; although it is a difficult part of our message, we must proclaim it faithfully as part of God’s word, part of the mystery of faith. At the same time we are close to our people in their problems and difficulties. They must always know that we love them…. The holiness of the Christian family is indeed the most apt means for producing the serene renewal of the Church which the Council so eagerly desired. Through family prayer, the ecclesia domestica becomes an effective reality and leads to the transformation of the world.

You can read the entire speech in English at:

As he said, it is up to us to support and defend the family, every family. We all know that family and marriage are under a barrage of blows to their very foundation in today’s environment. Papa Luciani reminded us that to renew the world we must support and nuture the family, for to do so is in fact nuturing and supporting the Church.

By the way, this was the only ad limina visit from American bishops that occurred during Luciani’s papacy.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

33 Years Ago Yesterday – Papa Luciani on Hope

In his Wednesday General Audience on September 20, 1978, Pope John Paul I continued his series of talks on the seven “Lamps of Santification” of Pope John XXIII.  He focused on hope.

Here are some excerpts:

Today I will speak to you of [hope], which is obligatory for every Christian…. anyone who lives it travels in an atmosphere of trust and abandonment…. You will say further: how can this happen? It happens because one is attached to three truths: God is almighty, God loves me immensely, God is faithful to his promises. And it is he, the God of mercy, who kindles trust in me; so that I do not feel lonely, or useless, or abandoned, but involved in a destiny of salvation, which will lead to Paradise one day….. starving love, that is, hope…. God detests failings because they are failings. On the other hand, in a certain sense he loves failings since they give to him an opportunity to show his mercy and to us an opportunity to remain humble and to understand and to sympathize with our neighbor’s failings. Not everyone shares this sympathy of mine for hope…. “My God, I hope from your goodness…. eternal life and the necessary graces to deserve it with good works, which I must do and want to do. My God, let me not remain confounded for ever.”

You can read the entire address at:

Don’t you just love the description of hope as “starved love”? A deep longing for the one whom you love, yet being not yet able to completely embrace or experience him.  A hunger with an assurance.

His tying hope to the “three truths” of God’s omipotence, his fidelity and his immense love is one of those fundamental realities of the Catholic faith that we often do not directly state or consider. It is something for those of us who preach and are entrusted with the Word of God need to consider when we offer homilies, i.e., how can we instill hope in our people if we don’t preach on God’s love, his faithfulness, and his unimaginable power to bring about all that he has promised. A God who has trust in us, who does not leave us alone and useless, who does not abandon us.

Hope: a starving love.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!

Congratulations, Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire!

The Holy Father announced on September 19th that he accepted the resignation of Bishop John B. McCormack of the diocese of Manchester and has named Bishop Peter Libasci its new shepherd.

Bishop Libasci was born in 1951 in Jackson Heights, New York. He studied philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens and then did his seminary studies at St. Meinrads. After ordination, he received a Master’s degree in Catechetical Ministry from St. John’s University. A priest of the Rockville Center diocese, he was named auxiliary bishop for that diocese in 2007 at which time he was ordained a bishop. Interestingly, he is bi-ritual, that is, he is both a Latin rite cleric and he also celebrates the liturgy in the Ruthenian rite. He speaks English and Spanish.

Congratulations, diocese of Manchester!

Bold Preaching: Part 2

I received a comment on yesterday’s post about preaching that makes several points, but I would like to focus on the last one made, specifically that all the bold preaching done from a pulpit does no good to someone who isn’t there and not listening.

A point well made.

Effective preaching will require going beyond one’s usual environment and comfort. It includes the witness one gives on the street, in the office, in the homes of the unchurched, and in the places most of us would rather avoid.

Whereas it is a great temptation to preach only about what we think will satisfy the peoples’ immediate hunger or expectations of us, it is a greater temptation for the deacon, priest or bishop to put ourselves only in a comfortable preaching environment, i.e., at the ambo in all our finery. We cannot preach as the Apostles preached if we stay in the confines of church building or the rectory.

This is one of the particular challenges, and charisms, of the diaconate, for the deacon is to bring those who aren’t present or listening to the assembly, to the Church, and we are to bring the Church to them in their particular circumstances. In other words, we are heralds of the Gospel to the outcasts and the lost. Being that herald is branded into the minds of each deacon at ordination when his bishop hands him the Gospel and says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read; teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”


Have We Starved Our People?

We hear more and more about Catholics neglecting to attend Mass each Sunday, and we ask, “Why?” Why is it that for generations, Catholics in this country showed up in high proportions to attend Sunday Mass each week? I am told that my grandmother Helen literally walked the four miles to the church each Sunday to attend.

What brought them?

In that generation, it was that Catholic identity that demanded it of them. They couldn’t see themselves as “good Catholics” unless they were there. Their parents did it, and so would they. Besides, they were there to witness a miracle at the altar… God would be made present. They believed that without question.

Times have changed. Catholic identity has weakened and is ill-defined in many people’s minds. Catholicism has been personalized in the sense that individuals customize their definition and their identities. I heard recently, for example, a man say that the priest assigned to his parish needed to meet their (the man’s and others’) “expectations.” Somehow the faith becomes a set of personal or communal expectations to which the Church need to adapt.

It really doesn’t work that way. We need form ourselves to that which God, speaking through His Church, asks of us.

But I think one thing that the ordained have failed to do uniformly well since is preach the Word with unabashed vigor and conviction. We have been wary of speaking the truth boldly for fear, perhaps, of alienating those who listen. When I say “truth” I am referring to the Gospel proclamation, to the kerygma that Jesus is the Messiah, the Risen One who leads us to the Father and has commissioned us to carry on his work.

Our preaching has not been manly preaching.

People respond to manly preaching, i.e., the kind of preaching we read about in the Acts of the Apostles. An evangelistic preaching intent on winning souls and converts.

I think people are starving for bold proclamation of the Word of God within our parishes. Just look at the crowds that gather in places to hear men reknown for their preaching and catechizing. Our young especially long for this.

Each cleric has his own gifts and talents in this area. But gifted more or less, people pay attention to the deacon, priest or bishop when the Word is spoken from conviction and faith. It is contagious and attractive.

I think perhaps more and more Catholics fail to attend Sunday Mass because they aren’t fed adequately with God’s Word when they come. They arrive hungry and leave hungry.

Got to feed them.

St. Robert Bellarmine

Today is the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ. He is my patron saint, along with St. Thomas More, and St. Dominic.

Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 and was a nephew of Pope Marcellus II. He entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) on September 20, 1560. He studied philosophy at the Roman College aka the Gregorian University in Rome, then studied theology at Padua finishing at Louvain. After ordination, he became a distinguished professor and preacher.

Bellarmine’s loyalty to the Holy See was intense. He was the Spiritual Father at the Gregorian University. He was involved in Church politics of the time. He later became rector of the Gregorian, became the personal theologian of the pope, and made a cardinal.

He was involved in the Galileo controversy, advocating a moderate approach to scientific theories that seemed to contradict Scripture. Bellarmine argued that scientific theories that are insufficiently proved should be advanced only as a hypothesis; but if, as was the case of Galileo’s heliocentric theory, such a theory was solidly demonstrated, then Scripture must be interpreted carefully with the theory in mind. Unfortunately, his argument did not convince the Holy See, and Bellarmine had the sad responsibility to ask Galileo for a retraction.

Bellarmine was noted for his spirit of prayer, his understanding of conscience and freedom from sin, his humility and his poverty. He gave lavishly to the poor.

He was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1930, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931. He is the patron saint of catechists.

33 Years Ago Today – Papa Luciani on Education

Thirty-three years ago today, Pope John Paul I during his Angelus address spoke on education, focusing largely on youth.

Here are some excerpts for you to enjoy (my translation of the Italian original):

Next Tuesday, about 12 million kids will return to school. The Pope doesn’t wish to take from Minister Pedini’s job, with any undeserved intelligence of my own, by offering my most cordial wishes to the teachers and scholars.

Italian instructors have some classic examples of attachment and dedication to schools. Joshua Carducci was a university professor in Bologna. He went to Florence for some festivities. One evening he met with the minister of public education. “But please,” said the minister, “stay here until tomorrow.” “Your excellency, I cannot. Tomorrow I must teach at the university and the youth expect me.” “I will excuse you.” said the minister. “You may excuse me, but I cannot excuse myself.” Professor Carducci truly was committed to the school and its graduates. He was of the class of those who say, “To teach Latin to John, it is not enough to know Latin; one must know John.” Also, “The lessons are worth only as much as the preparation.”…..

The Pope too has been a graduate of these schools: grammar school, high school, the university. But my thoughts have been only of youth and parish. No one ever came to me and said, “You will become Pope.” O my! If they would have told me! If they would have told me, I would have studied more, I would have prepared. Now however, I am old and there is no time.

But you, dear young ones, may you study, for you are truly young, you have the time, you have the youth, the health, the memory, the intelligence; seek to reap from all of these…. Some of you will become ministers, deputies, senators, mayors, assessors or other engineers, leaders, you will occupy places in society. Today, whoever occupies a position must have the necessary competence, he must prepare himself.

The general Wellington, he who defeated Napoleon, wanted to return to England to see the military college where he had studied, where he prepared himself, and he said to the cadets, “Be on guard, for here is where the battle of Waterloo is won.” And so I say to you, dear young ones, you will have battles in your life when you are 30, 40, 50 years old, and if you want to defeat them, now is the time to begin, now is the time to prepare yourselves, now is the time to be assiduous in your studies and at school….”

You can read the entire address, in Italian, at this link:

The humanity of Luciani is so evident here in the midst of his love for children, education and catechesis. One gets again a sense of his awareness of his limitations, his belief he was completely and unexpectedly chosen pope and, in his mind, unprepared for the vocation which truly was his, and the premonition that his was to be a brief role to play, a role that was to be a preparation for something in the future.

Luciani’s comments also reflect, in my mind, his spirituality which included a focus on the present. As he said, his thoughts had always been of youth and parish life. He didn’t aspire to great things, even though great things were given to him.

I was really struck by his comment, “I am old and there is no time.” Actually, he was not all that old, for popes, being in his mid-sixties. Yet, I find that comment to have been prophetic of his death some eleven days later.

Papa Luciani, pray for us!