Anecdotes and Testimonies of Pope Luciani

 

 Part XI

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Memories from my uncle

 

Since when I was a child, I only keep small flashes that make me remember my uncle: the brief visits to the Seminary or to the Curia, together with dad and my aunt Nina, in his room plenty of books, this smiling priest in long black cassock who offered me candies, a caress and was interested on what I was doing...

 

His quick visits to the family he did not resign in spite of being very busy, the candies for us, children, or the first icecreams, always accompanied by his smile and his kind words that tried to make us lose our shyness. His spontaneous laughter before our witticisms of children, together with his sweet caresses and his always encouraging words.

 

His presence at home for a longer period, during his disease, the daily Mass celebrated in the chapel of the Sisters of the school, to where my brother Giovanni or me accompanied him to avoid him the cold of the big church.

 

But the moment in which our closer relationship began was when I was 12 years old.

Finished the primary school, I had to continue the studies in a national school, in Fano, Marche ( Region ). Rules established that the internal ones had to be accompanied by a close relative, but mother had had, just a short time before, another one of my little brothers and dad was ill in bed. He offered himself to accompany me, taking charge of the long trip with this little girl, his niece, who only knew him up to a certain point. I still can see him: coming home, taking my luggage and tranquilizing my parents, not as much for my security that was naturally excluded, but by the fact that, despite his many occupations, he offered himself with much pleasure to do that favour.

 

His worry to make me pass the endless time less tediously on the train, it took him to make me notice the most interesting things from the window, to ask for me and my brothers, to offer me to drink and eat those sandwiches that he had made him prepare by the Nuns of Sperti School in Belluno, where he was chaplain. And that sweet figure, of encouraging words, the last one I saw before beginning my schoolgirl life, was always present and, not only in the memory, to comfort my homesickness of girl, first, of teen, later, far from home by need. He invited me to write him and he always replied, with advice, encouragement and appreciations that made me feel all his paternal affection for me. He was interested on my studies and my other activities, comforting me when something wasn't going on the suitable track, sharing my joy when things went well. 

 

He recommended me to do my best, not only to myself but also to give example to my numerous younger brothers: "You are the head of the climbers in the climbing of life; you also have responsibilities towards those who follow you..." More than once, passing with the car together with Bishop Muccin, during his trip to Rome, where he had to attend the Council sessions, he had stopped for a brief affectionate, encouraging or comforting greeting.

 

Having gone to Rome to attend the University, our relationship became closer; one day, he offered me a ticket to attend a public session of the Council. "It is an extraordinary long-range historical event, - he said - , and of growth for the Church, but listening to what it is said, you will be able to learn much, too".

 

Our correspondence became more frequent; the greater autonomy allowed me to frequent him more often: I never returned home from Rome without passing first by his house. Also after the discussion of my doctoral thesis, the first stage was at his house. Sister Vincenza had prepared a cake, a bottle of sparkling wine was ready and he celebrated it by sharing my joy and joking: "Now the world is not more scared because it has one more doctor".

 

Our reciprocal affection had increased more and more, and I had tried to frequent him to the utmost, accepting his invitations, first at Vittorio Veneto Castle and afterwards at the Patriarchal Palace of Venice because I found in him the complement that my father hasn't, a very good person on the other hand, but of a completely different temper.

 

I mainly liked his way of teaching me the things, without making it notice, speaking about this or that in an almost indifferent way. Often, when I left home to ask him an advice, once at his house, I did not see the need of talking him about it any more, because in his speeches, without being noticed by him, he had already given me the answers.

 

A thing that amazed me very much was his serenity to face the problems, that was not due to unsconcience, but trusting on the Lord and his Providence. Perhaps, he confided me: "I have many difficulties with this or with that... it is not easy to be a Bishop... I will have to take a difficult decision...", but soon he added: "if I had looked for this position, I would be regretful of it, but it has not been my choice, and the Providence, that has put me here, will help me to do my best".

 

And he faced all the problems with the highest determination as if everything had to depend on him, but with the serenity of that who thinks everything must depend only on the Lord.

Some day ago, my younger daughter spoke me about a problem regarding a lady we know; I expressed my point of view. Some days later, the lady let me know that my words had been wise and they had helped her very much. Thinking again about what had come spontaneously to my mind, I remembered that, at heart, they were the uncle' s words and I told my daughter so that she remembered him and so that she can have the wish to read about him.

 

Also today, for that reason, after so many years, his teaching comes to my mind again and I try to follow it, despite my limits and my weaknesses. 

 

 

Pia Luciani

for "Amici di Papa Luciani"

 September 2001

 

 


 

Don Albino' s altar boy

When I was a boy, I have been Albino Luciani' s altar boy, Vicar of the Diocese then, to whom I have seen again as a Pontiff at the end of August 1978 when he granted the extraordinary unforgettable audience to the people of  Belluno and Vittorio Veneto.

I was between the very few ones - then I was the chief of the only Bellunese newspaper, "Il Gazzettino", - who were admitted before the Pope' s presence and in the moments granted to me I had the opportunity to make the Pope remember my service during my childhood and "my" parish Priest, Msgr. Emilio Palatini, to whose name Albino Luciani had one of "his " expressions: he smiled and pronounced the parish Priest' s name several times: "don Emilio, don Emilio, Belluno... the Cathedral... ".

 

 

I had also lucky of being the penultimate one to see the Pope' s corpse, before the Vatican surveillance makes eveybody go out in order to proceed to prepare the coffin that was already in Saint Peter...  

 

Renato Bona

for " Friends of Pope Luciani "

  September 2001

 


 

A Priest in simple black cassock

 

"I have also had the joy of meeting him in person in 1977 in Venice where I went, - then I was fourteen years old - to follow my father to the IV  National Convention of the Associazione Nazionale Insigniti Onorificenze Cavalleresche (A.N.I.O.C.) in Ca' Giustinian, Venice, from May 13th until  May 15th, 1977.

I remember that, since dad had asked me to wait for the Patriarch' s arrival and expected to address a brief greeting to the Convention audience, I was expecting to see him dressed solemnly in Cardinal clothes, as I had been accustomed to see Bishops, specially in my land. Instead, I saw a Priest dressed in a simple black cassock coming slowly from the bottom of the street  who, arrived nearly Ca' Giustinian, took the skul cap and the pectoral cross out of his pocket and wore them. So, astounded, I understood that one was the Patriarch who, with a smile, made him recognize, as a year later, with the same very sweet smile was recognized by the entire world".

Lorenzo Tommaselli

from "Humilitas", January 2000

 


 

O Maria Signor! (Oh, Mary Lord!)

Remembering Sister Vincenza. Still, regarding religious prints, she talked about having asked Luciani to sign some card to send to some friends in Vittorio Veneto and Venice:

- "But, blessed..., it is not possible, you know. Because all must go through the Secretary of State", answered the Pope.

And the Nun, replying: "O Maria Signor (Oh, Mary Lord), but is it not you who commands here!"

Sister Irma Dametto

from "Humilitas", January 2000

 


 

"If they don' t make him a Bishop..."

 

From don Giuseppe Pierobon' s memories, ex parish Priest of Castion, diocese of Belluno.

First of all, don Giuseppe remembers Luciani as a teacher of  Philosophy and Dogmatic in the Seminary for 7 years. He also was substitute of History of Arts, for a year, and at the end of the scholastic year, he said, for everybody's joy: "I exonerate you from examinations, because as substitute you have not learnt almost nothing from me... It is enough for me only you remember one thing: you will not know about Arts and when you become parish Priests, don't trust on yourselves. Ask always the experts...!" He couldn't give us a best practical and wise teaching, ends don Giuseppe.  

And he continues: "We, seminarists, had a great confidence in our professors and superiors of the Seminary, but Luciani shone over all, for his simplicity, humility and doctrine... and between us, we often said: if they do not make don Albino a Bishop, it means the Church has already so many elements or it does not know those ones that are worth really, because they are hidden". So the appointment of Luciani as a Bishop was previewed and expected also by the seminarists of the Seminary.  

The relationship between Luciani and don Giuseppe have been multiplied due to his appointment as Archpriest of Castion. It was not easy to succeed Msgr. Giuseppe Da Corte, unforgettable shepperd for beyond 20 years. So, it was natural the worry of the people of the parish and their anxiety to know the successor. Even a representation from the parish went to the Curia to see the Vicar Luciani, who welcomed it with benevolence. But he advised suddenly: "If you come to introduce the problems and requirements of the parish, I am glad... If instead you come in order to influence the appointment and make pressure for someone, this is the surer way to reject it". The representation of Castion left with admiration of having found in the Vicar, a man of clearness and strength .

Cesare Vazza

from "Humilitas", October 2000

 


 

Testimonies from the diocese of Vittorio Veneto

 

 

Panettone and bottle

Ernesto Modolo, from Conegliano, has seen Msgr. Luciani arriving with a panettone and a bottle on the occasion of Christmas festivities. "In those times - he explains - I was a municipal policeman in Conegliano. One morning, at 7.30 am, a car has arrived in which it was him and his secretary. At first, I hadn't recognized him; he has opened the car window, I have kissed his ring, we have exchanged the good wishes. It was the first time a Bishop took the panettone for the municipal policemen".

The world of Arts

Also the painter Gina Roma, from Oderzo, can tell her personal memories that have seen the then Patriarch of Venice, arriving to the inauguration of her paintings in the lagoon city. "I had met Msgr. Luciani - she emphasizes - in Vittorio Veneto in occasion of a convention he had organized to speak about Sacred Arts. Architects, sculptors, painters, were present. I was the only woman taking part of it. He has sat down close to me and we have spoken with much simplicity about the world of Arts". 

The importance of women in the Church

And just the appreciation of lay persons and women presence inside the Church has always  been a priority for the future Pope. "At the times of  his Episcopate - Rina Biz, from Orsago, explains - I was a young girl engaged in the social work. It was then when the diocesan pastoral council was born. The Bishop had asked to express the name of two representatives for every association and, for the ACLI, my name and that one of an engineer were given. At the moment of the decision, Msgr. Luciani has chosen me saying it was necessary that also women began collaborating in the Church".

He has paid for others' faults

"He was an extraordinary person - ends Gianni Cella, from Pieve di Soligo - who instead has lived moments of extreme bitterness. I remember his very sad face when I saw him arrive to the alpine house of the diocese at Forno di Soldo on July 1962.  He was living the pains of Hell because he had been forced to sell that house in order to face a financial crack in which a Priest ended as a victim of fraud. To avoid gossips even in that occasion, he was capable of paying for faults that were not his".

Gerda De Nardi
from "Il Gazzettino", 26/08/98

reported by "Humilitas", July 2001

 


 

Prophecies, prophecies, prophecies...

Senator Lino Innocenti, from Conegliano, has been beside Msgr. Luciani at the eve of his papal election. "Then, I was a Senator - he says - and, during the week of the conclave, I was in Rome. I met him and we also spoke about the fact that the newspapers had announced the new Pope would have been him. He told me the news were unfounded and if that had come true it would be a tragedy for him. I answered : "Don' t worry, they will never make you a Pope". It was Tuesday and on Saturday I could learn by the news he had become a Pontiff".

Tiziano Daltin, from Susegana, was in Rome in that period, too. "I met Luciani in the Vatican gardens before the conclave. I addressed him and said: "Here it is the future Pope". He began laughing and then we made some jokes about this my statement".

Gerda De Nardi
from "Il Gazzettino", 26/08/98

reported by "Humilitas", July 2001

 


 

From don Aldo Barbon' s memories, Priest of the diocese of Belluno.

 

"Treat him well! "

 

Don Aldo has also attended the Lateran University of Rome, while he was parish Priest at Valle di Seren. In the University, a beautiful day, he also met Luciani, Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, who was talking affably to the Magnificent Rector, Msgr. Antonio Piolanti.

Don Aldo was astonished about this familiar relationship they had between them, like friends, but above all, like high culture men.

Between the many Priests of several nationalities who were coming and going, Luciani also saw don Aldo; he called him and introduced him to the Rector: "Look: this one was one of my pupils of the seminary of Belluno. Treat him well...!". And Piolanti, sure, answered him: "You know, it does not depend on me, but it only depends on him".

 

"That little Priest is Bishop of Vittorio Veneto"

 

Sometimes, don Aldo goes to visit his town and his relatives in Scorzč. A young man to whom he knew well, approached him full of enthusiasm to tell him: "I must give you the greetings from one of your professors I have met by chance on a vaporetto in Venice. His name is don Albino... a kind, likeable little Priest. We have talked together for a long while...". And don Aldo, smiling, answers: "Thanks... but, do you know that little Priest is Bishop of Vittorio Veneto?"

Surprised and without believing it, that young man couldn' t speak... He did not want to believe it, at all! But thinking again, now he understood better his way of being and speaking... "He was a real gentleman!", he says, still confused. And he would have gone to meet him in Vittorio Veneto, to apologize for not being so tactful.

 

" It is not worthy for Venice... "

 

From 1973, don Aldo is Defender of the Tie before the Triveneto Ecclesiastical Court and sometimes he has to go to Venice. He meets many persons and has also met an old S. Mark' s Canon who tells a strange episode for him himself: "I have seen, early in the morning, Patriarch Luciani in nigris, as a simple Priest, who was walking quickly through the campielli (small squares) of Venice... He greeted all, smiled to all and sometimes he stopped to speak with someone. But, are we joking...? It is not worthy for Venice to see the Patriarch like this, without a sign, a cross, a red sash".

This old Canon was almost scandalized... He did not know Luciani' s style, yet, his simplicity and nature. Above all, he didn' t know his passion for being between the people, without standing out, humble between the humble ones.

 

Cesare Vazza

from "Humilitas", October 2001

from "Il Gazzettino", 20/12/2001

 


 

From don Roberto Busa' s memories.   Born in 1913, he is a Jesuit who, since he was young, wanted to become missionary and has become one of the pioneers of textual computer science at a world-wide level. He has been Albino Luciani' s mate in the seminary.

 

"Sorry for the girls!"

"I am 100% of Alpine race - he says -. My origins are in Calalzo, from my mother's  part, and Asiago, from my father' s. In third degree of the elementary school, my father, a railway employee, was trasferred to this province: I went to the secondary school of the Lollino Seminary and in IV degree of the secondary school I was in class with Albino Luciani, we were friends, we went out together and for the girls it was a pity we had decided to become Priests". 

from "Corriere delle Alp ", October 13th, 2001

 

 

"We have a good country parish Priest as a Pope"

After having catalogued millions of words, do you agree with the idea that the language is an impoverishment of the thought as Prezzolini said?

"In some aspect, it is true, because in the language there are different characteristics. The thought is a synthesis, the language is sequential, a phoneme after another. Pope Luciani comes to my mind. We have been together in the seminary for five years. Well, he had great ability for reading but he expressed with such a simplicity that everybody understood him. He did not use pompous words. When he was elected, someone has said: "Finally, we have a good country parish Priest as a Pope".

Paragraph from an interview

"Mission Salute on line", 6/2000

 


 

From Iria Tancon' s memories, don Albino' s Brazilian relative.

 

"I have already heard this name"

 

"I was 27 years old  and, after the bachelor - Iria remembers -, a great curiosity for the Sacred Shroud took me to Rome, invited by Monsignor Giulio Ricci' s Sindonology Center. I arrived to Rome on March 16th, 1978, Aldo Moro' s kidnapping day. The first impact with the desert city, only inhabited by policemen. It was the first time that a daughter of Bellunesi emigrants from Luis Alves' region  returned to Italy. When I left, my father delivered me pictures and postcards that he had received for years from Bortola Tancon, his cousin and Albino Luciani' s mother".

 

Then, had you already seen the Dolomites?

 

"Our house was big, with wide walls:  my parents had put postcards with mountains on one of them. There were the houses of the Valley of  Biois, the villages. And then the pictures with unknown relatives' faces. The wall was plenty".

 

- How could you contact Albino Luciani, Patriarch in Venice and then Pope?

 

"I was a guest at the Sindonology Center and gave a hand on what I could. It was necessary to send all the Bishops of Italy a booklet and I was typing the addresses on the envelopes. I write Albino Luciani' s name and, as it was a lightning bolt, I thought "I have already heard this name". It was written behind one of the pictures dad had given me".

 

And what was written there?

 

"It was a picture of Luciani, young seminarist, that Bortola had sent to my father. "Very dear cousin - it was written - pray for your nephews: for Easter, if God wants, Albino will say his first Mass. Pray so that he becomes a holy Priest. "I wrote, pushed by Msgr. Ricci, to the then Patriarch of Venice. He answered immediately. And I met him for lunch at Forte Boccea on May 1978".

 

Any memory from that meeting?

 

"The feeling I had was that one of speaking with someone to whom I always knew. He did not make me feel any fear. He wanted to know about my family. And he has told me about his. Then, he made me contact his brother, Edoardo, "uncle Berto", who welcomed me really as a father at Canale d' Agordo".

 

from "Il Gazzettino", October 28th, 2001

 


 

From don Alfonso' s memories, Priest of Venice.

 

"But, who is the Patriarch: you or me?"

 

In Venice, there is still a friar who picks up bread for the poor in the morning with the knapsack on his shoulder, and with the foot ball in the afternoon to play in the oratory with the boys of Castello. It' s Father Alfonso; known by the children and the adults, the young people and the elder ones; Card. Luciani' s great friend in the period of his stage in Venice.

 

When Patriarch Luciani needed to make a Retreat in silence and loneliness, he went to the friars of the Vigna convent. Father Alfonso had the task of accompaning him from the Patriarchal Palace to the convent and viceversa. On the way, all greeted... "Hello Alfonso, hello Alfonso!" and the Patriarch inserting his usual good-natured smile between the greetings, said: "But, who is the Patriarch, you or me?".

 

 

A Cardinal on the floor... to wipe

 

On August, every year, Father Alfonso goes to Rome to the friars' convent to help in the kitchen and for some holidays.

In the year of Card. Luciani' s election as a Pope, Fr. Alfonso was, as usual, in Rome on August and knowing he was in Rome, the Patriarch often called him for some company and for some errands.

One afternoon, at 3 pm, Fr. Alfonso arrives and the Patriarch wants to offer him a cup of coffee but, when he was about to have the delicious drink, the cup turns upside down and all the coffee poures on the floor. Great astonishment for Fr. Alfonso and the Agustinian Fathers where the Patriarch was a guest. In a flash, the Patriarch hurls himself, takes a dishcloth and wipes the floor, saying: "It is also necessary to pay attention to these simple things because we are guests". It was his style. He always said who wanted to help him: "I am a waiter of myself !".

 

 

"To the dentist by bus "

Some day before entering the Conclave, the Patriarch feels a strong toothache (he was being healed by Dr. Pesenti, in Venice). He calls immediately Fr. Alfonso to accompany him to a dentist. The Agustinian Fathers advise to see a doctor at Sacrofano. The Patriarch and Fr. Alfonso go by bus and, after being informed of their arrival, the doctor is ready to see him, but with a surprise: it is necessary to heal or have the tooth out.

Father Alfonso advises him: "Eminence, take some sedative, you will make it when you return to Venice". The Patriarch listens to the friar' s advise and asks the doctor to cover the tooth a little in order to heal it then in Venice and that was what it happened. Accompanying the Patriarch at the Conclave doors, Fr. Alfonso recommended him to take the medicine for the toothache, because - he whispered - in some few days, we will see again in Venice. Instead, surprising all, he has become a Pope. Great joy and a little sadness for Fr. Alfonso, because he could not be able to be so close to him as he had been until his entrance at the conclave.

don Ettore Fornezza

from "Humilitas", October 2001

 

 


 

Old thing to be abolished

 

A girl from Rovigo had the occasion to meet, Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice, and be able to speak with him freely. Enough encouraged, she asked him: "Eminence, don' t you think that this way of addressing to you, also this title (Eminence) is an old thing to overcome and abolish?". The Patriarch answered quietly: "Keep on calling the persons with the title it is used, with their important name, too; then, it will be the turn of these persons who have it, to manage to use it with dignity and truth".

 

 

don Licio Boldrin

from "Humilitas", January 1997

 

 


Paragraphs of an interview to Msgr. Anthony F. Mestice, auxiliary Bishop of New York.

A beautiful pastoral lesson

(...) "Oh, John Paul I, a great Pope, meek and humble, I have a pleasant memory of him . (...) "I saw him just once, on September 21th, 1978, when a group of American Bishops, in their ad limina visit, had a special audience with him". (...)

"Finished his speech, the Pope asked us, Bishops, if  we had questions. And we, more and more, were admired and amazed before this humility and simplicity of the Pope, who wanted to extend the audience with our participation, our interventions. A silence of astonishment and waiting were dominating the room. Finally, a Bishop stood up and asked: "Holiness, tell us something about your experience as a Bishop in Vittorio Veneto and Venice... What must we do in order to be true shepherds and Bishops in the world of nowadays?". To this point, the Pope asks an interpreter's help, one who speaks Italian. And just him, the auxiliary Bishop of New York, Msgr. Mestice, stands up and translates in Italian for the Pope and in English for the Bishops. "It was for me a great engagement and honour to be next to the Pope". Now, it is interesting the Pope's answer: "As a Bishop, every Sunday, I went to a parish and spoke in all the Masses. I met the people,  visited some family where there was some sick or elder person with the parish Priest ... So, Sundays were always something new for me. A little apostolate. For us, Bishops, is better the personal meeting with people than our great speeches". A strong applause crowned this answer of the Pope who smiled modestly.

Msgr. Mestice says: "It was a beautiful pastoral lesson for us". And he continues: "Before leaving the audience, the Pope has wanted to pose with every single Bishop, while we were pleased of having a picture of the group with him. I have been the last one who was pictured with the Pope, who has made the congratulations for my " poor" Italian, thanking me for having helped him". (...)

 

Cesare Vazza

from "Humilitas", January 2002

 

 


 

A brave action

 

It had happened to him that, stopping the car in front of the red traffic lights, two men went out of the nearby tavern; they had knocked them back a little so much, perhaps having their throat dry due to the too much thirsty, these ones, seeing two Priests in the car, began blaspheming in a violent and inconsiderate way without any intention of wishing to stop. The Bishop got off, approached them; but they, guessing what "that Priest" should have said, replied shouting:

 

- We are in democracy; Priests do not command any more... It is time to stop, goodbye dreams of glory... Work everybody...

In those days, he had written a "Letter" to his diocesans to invite them make all the best to eliminate blasphemy, stating that it is "an external symptom of an inner disease".

 

 

don Francesco Taffarel

from "Humilitas", January 2002

 


 

"Please, smoke!"

 

"In 1967, I was with Msgr. Sartori at the Mendola for a week of study about ecumenicism. It was also him, the then Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, there. One day, he asked me if I could accompany him to visit his niece Pia, who was in Feltre hospital (or in Belluno, I don' t remember well). Our friendship was born during that trip. I kept in the memory some details that illuminate his character of  a good man.

He had told me about his health, the surgical operations and the troubles in the respiratory tracks. "But, didn't you use to smoke, don Ilario?", he asked me suddenly. "Yes, Excellence - I answered - but I thought I could disturb you...". "But, please, smoke!", he said then. So, he was always afraid of disturbing or making someone next to him feel uncomfortable".

 

 

The Bishop' s nephews

 

"After visiting his niece, he wanted to go to Canale d' Agordo, his village, to his brother' s home who was the Vice-mayor, then. We spent the night there and he wanted to offer me his room at all cost. "I will sleep with the little children", he insisted. So, that night, five (or six?) little children slept with their uncle Bishop: a festive situation for them, a joy for him. In the modest room of that mountain house (I remember an old bed, perhaps it belonged to his mother, and the water jug with water) I couldn't fall asleep; over there, until late, uncle Albino told old stories to the children, with his smiling and sweet voice, the whole world would have known some years later".

 

 

don Ilario Sabbadin

(from "La Difesa del Popolo ", 27.09.81)

 


 

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