Anecdotes and Testimonies of Pope Luciani



Part XII






ć Dedicated to don Vittorio Vianello's memory, died on Dicember 15th, 2003.






This chapter, and the following ones, is a little bit special. Even when it has testimonies taken from other printed resources, there are those ones picked up by myself  personally in Venice where I'm living now. Many persons who I have met: Priests like don Ettore Fornezza, Msgr. Mario Senigaglia, don Vittorio Vianello. Workmates as Monica Bondavalli and others, confirmated by don Albino, Patriarch, or those ones who have taken part of Masses or have received the Holy Communion, have provided me memories of their contacts with him. Also, Sister Carla Bistrot, from St. Paul's bookshop in Mestre. My house owner, Sonia, and the employee of the tobacco shop of my quarter of Sant' Elena, Adriano, have been confirmed by him.




Poor finger!


Monica, my workmate, has told me, when she was a child, she had received the Holy Comumnion by Patriarch Luciani's hands. And she has made it in a very particular way: she has bitten his finger! And he laughed...


from a talk with the author

 January 2003



Unattainable wish


Don Vittorio Vianello, ex parish Priest of Murano, has a dear memory of Patriarch Luciani. He has told me when Luciani had gone to his parish for the pastoral visit, Luciani asked him: "Would you give me your parish?". He wished to become a parish Priest very much...


don Vittorio Vianello

from a talk with the author

 July 2002




"I owe him my vocation"


Sister Carla Bistrot, a Paoline Nun who works at St. Paul bookshop in Mestre, has told me that she owe her religious vocation to don Albino. Sister Carla, from Belluno zone, was a young woman who worked in parish at the times in which don Albino was General Vicar of Belluno. She had expressed to her parish Priest the wish to become a Nun. As she was very busy in parish, the parish Priest did not want to let her go. She seemed to be indispensable and then, when Carla has given him the letter to deliver to the General Superior of the Congregation of St. Paul, he has told her: no! When don Albino knew this fact, he called the parish Priest to come to him with the letter. After having read it, he told him: "You cannot hinder a vocation. It's the Lord's Will she becomes a Nun". And so Sister Carla has become a sweet Nun who whenever hears Pope Luciani's name her eyes enlightens, so much tenderness she feels for him.


Sister Carla Bistrot

from a talk with the author

September 2003




Msgr. Mario Senigaglia, parish Priest of Santo Stefano's church in Venice, Patriarch Luciani's ex secretary. A talk lasted two hours. My first question seems he has read it from my mind because exactly I wanted to know what kind of problems Luciani had had with his clergy here. It has not been necessary to make the question because don Mario has pulled outside the speech from the beginning.



Patriarch Luciani with his secretary,

 don Mario Senigaglia




The bitterness of a Patriarch


Luciani has had to face three big problems: 


1) The FUCI (Italian Catholics University Federation).

2) The divorce referendum.

3) The abortion referendum.


To the FUCI, Luciani recommended not to publish their position (in favor of the introduction of the divorce in Italy). Instead the newspaper "L'UnitÓ" had published the declaration a month before the referendum was made. That day, don Mario, who had to go out at 6.30am, had met don Albino with a paper in his hands. 

Don Mario was going out and told him: "Good morning!". "Good morning???", the Patriarch answered, and he showed him the declaration of the FUCI. However, Luciani told don Mario to go out if he had to do it. When he came back at about 5pm, the declaration had already been published. Someone has shown don Mario the short text where Luciani removed the FUCI assistant. "Now the pandemonium will begin!", don Mario said. The Patriarch, at first, would have taken this decision if the FUCI, after the referendum, continued with the own  position in favour of divorce. Don Mario has known that, during that day, the auxiliary Bishop, the General Vicar and others had gone and met the Patriarch and recommended Luciani to take a measure. And he did that. This drastic decision taken by the Patriarch was never forgiven...


Don Mario had wept for Luciani's election as a Pope more than for his death. For the election because he saw his lack of resistance; he didn't know the Vatican environment. Regarding his death, in the loneliness, he considers it as a reward for many uneasiness in Venice, for his fidelity to the Church.


Msgr. Mario Senigaglia

from a talk with the author

 August 2002




A car for two Popes


On Msgr. Carlo Bolzan's writtings, a Priest died the day of St. Tiziano, appear all the freshness of the memories of the period in which he was secretary of the Patriarch of Venice, Msgr. Albino Luciani. He also was honoured, in a Roman evening, when he offered a trip, on board of his own Fiat 127, not only to the future John Paul I, but also to the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became John Paul II later. On October 1974, don Carlo had followed Luciani to Rome for the Synod of  Bishops. "With my Fiat 127 - he wrote - I accompanied him twice a day from the distant Institute of Dorotee Nuns, where we had accommodation, to the center of the meetings, returning again to take him back to the Institute. One evening, I had to add a third trip: to the center of Rome in order to lead the Cardinal - to the Embassy of Germany near the Holy See - to a reception in honour of the European Bishops present at the Synod. Back to the Embassy later, Card. Luciani got out with Cardinal Wojtyla, telling me: "Don Carlo, Cardinal Wojtyla has neither a secretary nor a car; let us accompany him to his residence". The Archbishop of Krak˛w, with a black cape that came down until his feet, got in the car and took seat at the back and the Patriarch sat at my side as usual. Going to the Polish College, I felt myself worried as I always am, due to a sight defect, when I drive in the evening. If then I had known of having in the car two future Popes, my worry would be increased without measure!". When he reached Saint Fior, near the General House of the Nuns of the Holy Face, where he served as chaplain for 23 years, don Carlo took with him the Fiat 127. And here the Nuns remembered with affection that the car, become of their property, was also useful to meet two Popes.


from "Il Gazzettino",

 January 20th, 2003




Contemplative rest


When he was Patriarch during the trips by car, after the first fifteen minutes occupied by the Rosary, he softly reclined the back and, through the concentration and the prayer, he granted a contemplative but dynamic rest, abandoning himself to that the Fathers of the Church called "ruminatio Dei". Due to a tacit agreement, it was not opportune to start a conversation, and I left him quiet. But watching him, I imagined he entered in Paradise, the place of the recovered innocence and the reconstructed purity. These ones, when we arrived to destination, were shown in fullness when he offered to all the attractive fruit for the sweetness, the delicacy, the jovial manners. 



Kindness... always!


I think he has always been under the sign of kindness, courtesy and compassion. He has had problems with some Priests of the diocese, not only in the difficult 70's, but I am convinced that all the Priests have been able to find welcome on him, if they looked for it. Also severity, sure, but not to be beaten, not humiliation. Severity and together with kindness, never extreme measures. He said: "I know that my speeches will be read a little, but if Priests want to know how the Patriarch thinks, they know where to look for. If they do not want to do it, patience!". He trusted on Priests of Curia, who he met and consulted very often: the General Vicar, Msgr. Bosa, Msgr. Volo, don Giuliano Bertoli, don Gino Bortolan, don Lorenzo Rosada, don Tino Marchi, the outer Vicars...

don Diego Lorenzi

from "Gente Veneta"

August 2003





Simple style


He lived in a simple way the human relationships in Vittorio Veneto: he himself went to open the door when the bell rang; he received the Priests without appointment and has told me to do like that in Venice: "Look that the Patriarch is present day and night for the Priests". There were Priests in difficulty that came, stayed with him for lunch or dinner; they were his hosts for sleeping, too. He has also transferred this style in the pastoral life and in the semplicity of the liturgy at Saint Mark. Initially, indeed, someone was astonished that the Patriarch spoke without a written speech and made simple examples. He has answered to whom made him notice: "What has been useful in Belluno and Vittorio Veneto I also use it in Venice".



Uneasiness on vaporetto


He had aptitude for relationships: he was easy to the anecdote, to start a dialogue. The first times, I remember, I lived with uneasiness the trips on vaporetto. He, in fact, began speaking with anyone. I thought: he is going to break the people spirit, we Venetians prefer to be calm... Instead he asked the children, the mothers. Then, at the end, it was me who said: "He is the Patriarch", and these persons were astonished and were happy. Much more he acted like that during the pastoral visit or when he visited the families, the ill, the old people. 



Tough faces are not welcomed at the table


He was calm and joyful. At the table he wished to speak about soft things. When he has been appointed as Patriarch, he has called me soon to Vittorio Veneto (he had met me when I was Urbani's secretary)  so that I gave him a hand to answer telegrams, as I knew the persons. He has told me: "Please, keep on being my secretary". I have explained him that, after the experience with Urbani, I would like to go to a parish. But he insisted: "I know you; we are calm at the table, we chat and joke, I would not want one who made me a tough face. Then, while I know my Priests,  I choose another one". But this has happened seven years after.



Faithful to the Church


Sometimes, he was hard. He has become rigid at doctrinal level. Not so much for his position, but for fidelity to the Church. He felt the responsibility of  being Bishop, for some years vice-president of the CEI (Italian Bishops Conference) and president of  Triveneto Bishops. Msgr. Bettazzi told me sometimes: "Told the Patriarch that it's him who must take part  because he has a different voice: if we, "little" Bishops, have to take part...". He has felt this responsibility. In this sense, he has become theologically more rigid than during the period of Vittorio Veneto; some time also at human level. It was not lack of charity, but a fidelity lived first of all in first person.



A hard price paid


It has been a moment of passage in the Church the time lived by him. The post-Council had been stormy. At political and social level, we were coming from the '68. With the eighties, a gust of wind of more serenity in relationships has entered the Church that lasts until now. His most beautiful inheritance has been that one of having prepared the field for the climate of today. It was hard the price paid: the suffering of that time has taken to the serenity of today in all the Church. Also our Church had to suffer for the lacerations, the wrong ways, the dispersions; in order to be purified and then to live a time of more serenity. We should be thankful to that Church that has given this Church to us.

Msgr. Mario Senigaglia

from "Gente Veneta"

August 2003




I feel a little bit uneasy


"The news, appeared on the press the last days of August, has made the hearts of many Venetians shake: Pope Luciani... BLESSED? ... and maybe...  perhaps SAINT, too? (...)


Who had the opportunity of knowing Albino Luciani close can confirm that he was a saint on earth! But his 33 days of Papacy have shaken the whole world, but not only for his unexpected death. Also the Roman Church received a jolt that was useful to prepare it in order to receive the Successor then, perhaps predestined.


Pope Luciani could appear, to whom did not know him well, like a good and simple countryside parish Priest. Instead, he was a personage of deep culture and strong theological qualification: but with his word he succeeded to make him be understood by all. His semplicity and his humility strongly live together with a dose of shyness, too, but, when it was necessary, Luciani knew how to remove it by making a decided temper prevail and, when he aimed to a problem, he went up to the bottom, not neglecting to fulfil firmness actions also towards some pushed fringe of the clergy, in case he thought that a mistaken road had been undertaken. In conclusion, he had, as it is said in positive sense, a temper of a mountain man! (Sure that those Priests of the Diocese of Venice who arrived to the point of writing the Vatican asking the resignation of Card. Luciani as Patriarch, must feel a beautiful weight on the stomach...!!!... Remorse...?) (...)


It was 1977 and I worked as administrative assistant manager near the O.P. Rest House of Mestre, now "Ancient School of the Struck Rest House" ("Casa di Riposo Antica Scuola dei Battuti"). This Institute had also annexed the church of the Madonna della Salute that appears on Via Torre Belfredo.

As in Venice, on November 21st every year, also in Mestre the mainland population used - and it uses still today - to go in pilgrimage to this church in order to render homage to the Madonna. But it was usual that the Prelatical Mass, at the presence of the civil authorities, was celebrated the day before in order to not to hinder the analogous feasts in Venice. Generally, also in the church of the Madonna della Salute of Mestre, the Patriarch presided this Mass taking profit, with the occasion, of visiting and greeting the hosts of the contiguous Rest House.


It was just November 20th, 1977 that Patriarch Luciani presided at 5pm a solemn Eucharistic liturgy in the church of the Madonna della Salute in Mestre, at the presence of the Administration Council of the Institution and several local civil authorities. At the end of the Mass, the Patriarch went to the sacristy, accompanied by his secretary and the chancellor of the church in order to take the liturgic vestments out. After the liturgy, it was usual to go to the Rest House to the inauguration of an exhibition-market of works made by the old people who lived there and, in that occasion, the President of the Institution used to make the greetings to the present authorities and show the eventual program of the Council. In those years, the President of the Rest House of Mestre was a left politician (...) and, at those times, it was an exponent of the local Communist Party (P.C.I.). If my memory is good, the Administration Council was composed by two Communists, a Socialist, a Social Democrat and a Christian Democrat: practically a red Council!


On November 20th, 1977, at the end of the Prelatical Mass, the whole Administration Council and the present civil authorities went into the Institute to get the hall where the ceremony had to take part, without taking care of  the absence of the Patriarch who still was in the sacristy. I used to make as "cerimoniere", making road and inviting the authorities to come along the inside gardens. In front of such a mistake, I let Mr. Politicians and the authorities  went by themselves and I waited alone the Patriarch who, at the contrary, thought of  being attended by all. Instead, he saw only me, there, stiff like a stockfish: I approached him, I excused for the "absent" and started walking. Card. Luciani, who knew my father very well, when he saw me, felt raised and his face was illuminated smiling with his usual expression of child, taking me confidentially by my arm and whispering me: "I pray you, be near me, I feel a little bit uneasy".


In the hall of meetings, the usual speeches were made, with the usual "political strokes" and, at a certain point, after several interventions, followed by a little refreshment, Patriarch Luciani asked me, with a soft voice, if he could take profit, at the end of the ceremony, of my courtesy to give him a lift with my car up to Venice, because his secretary had a meeting in the mainland. That occasion was for me like touching the sky and I remember that, during the short way, between several arguments, I asked Card. Luciani why he had never asked the Administration Council of the Rest House to have use of the church of the Madonna della Salute as the center of the new parish of S. Paul's Quarter, near the Istittute, since, an old prefabricated hut was used for that. Patriarch Luciani fixed his look on me, smiled, shook the head and answered me: "... Who knows if those Getltemen would grant it to me... ".


I remember that in 1978 the Administration Council discussed an agenda having as subject the cession of the church of the Madonna della Salute to the Patriarcal Curia of Venice to become center of the new parish of S. Maria della Speranza and I also remember that argument, considering that was treated by a left Administration Council, did not find big difficulties for being approved. The only persons who indirectly made a little opposition were the Nuns of the Rest House who felt defrauded of "their little church". The procedure for the cession was completed when Card. Luciani had already become John Paul I and... I don't remember well... after his death.



Giuseppe Mazzariol

President Archiconfraternita Misericordia

Magazine "Messaggio dell'Arciconfraternita di S. Cristoforo e della Misericordia di Venezia"

Nr 4, 2002



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