Anecdotes and Testimonies of Pope Luciani


 Part II








- From "Humilitas"  1986 - 1987



Helped by an unknown Priest


" It was a cold and rainy morning in winter, with an icy wind that tore the trees from the roots. The Bishop was next to arrive to the parish " of the lowland " for 5,30AM Mass. Along the road, a woman wrapped-up her son better , with just a coat, that she held tightened and both of  them went against the wind.   - " Stop the car ", said Luciani; " that lady is a mother who, together with her son, come to Mass and are late; it’s raining and cold ". - " Madam,  if you want to go up  I can accompany you until the church ". " Oh! Reverend, it is just a grace of God... I am  late and I am part of the parish choir; I should be in church now ready to sing " the Benedictus " to the Bishop, who today comes for a pastoral visit. This is my son; he is an altar-boy and he must carry " the bastòn " (walking-stick) of the Bishop ". After some kilometer, the lady said: " Reverend, thanks! We have almost arrived; I can walk now ". - "Madam, answers Luciani, don’t worry, I come from those places... ". - " Oh! it is true, continues the lady. Our parish priest had told us that this morning there would also come two foreign  Priests for confessions... " At the church door, the woman alights from the car, together with her child, while the Bishop, smiling, head towards the parish priests' house. At  5.30AM  the parish priest, the altar-boys, the singers, appeared at the church door, with joy and satisfaction (the church was full of people, in spite of the bad weather) and welcomed the Bishop amidst the sound of the organ and the song of " the Benedictus ". The Bishop entered, giving his blessing, and noticed the lady who looked very embarrased and told her: "You see, madam, that we have arrived all just in time and have made a beautiful figure... " 

don Francisco Taffarel


The secretary’s sleep

 " It was necessary to wake up early for the Visit for being present at " the first Mass ", that in those years  was at about 5 or 5,30; after some year; it  was changed to six o’clock. But, then, the Bishop arose at 4-4,30. It was often the case that the same Bishop knocked at the door of the secretary’s room and said: " Excuse me, but it’s time to leave ". And in the kitchen sometimes Bishop Luciani had prepared coffee for both himself and his Secretary. On one occasion,  in a big parish, where the Secretary had to celebrate the first Mass, the Secretary fell asleep during the Bishops' Homily! Luckily, the attention of the people was held  by the brilliant Homily of the Bishop, who, at the end, realizing what had happened, touched the arm of the sleepy one saying: " If you want to continue, I have already finished the Homily ". The return to the Bishop’s palace was always in the late evening ".  

don Francisco Taffarel


The Patriarch in the kitchen and the salty soup

Memories from the nun who, together with another two, had served Mons. Luciani for 12 years since V.Veneto, Venice and Rome. " With us, nuns, he was very good. He wanted us to take our due rest and, when someone was sick,  he always went to greet her, encourage her and give her his blessing. But he was always very discreet . I never remember seeing him upset. Once, as Patriarch, he sent all of us on a pilgrimage. When we returned, in the evening, he made us find some hot milk and everything necessary for  supper, all prepared by him. " All of us," he told us, "have " a tokèt " (a little bit) of ability and, when necessary, we must use it". Usually, he spoke in Veneto dialect, also in Rome. There were two familiar words for him: " sister " and " thanks ". " Remember, he told us, that you belong to " the family ".

 " We always had to make ready his  clothing, the shoes (that he never wanted with the buckle), etc, we had always to think about that. All  things were right for him; he was not affected at all, but cleaned up yes, a lot. Once, in summer, I put some drops of water of eau de cologne on his cassock; he realized and asked me, in a beautiful way, not to do that any more. Also for  food he was of easy tastes; nevertheless he had very delicate  health. He found everything good. I don’t remember, in twelve years, that he has sent back  food and, not even made some complaint. Only once he said: " The soup, this evening, is a little bit salty ". If, but, there were hosts, anyone, he desired that the cooking was  the best and  introduced  the better courses".    


It is true that I do not know how to be a Patriarch

" He also had much time for Priests; he welcomed them, listened to them, and helped them. There was one who told him : " You, Excellence (or Eminence), speak well  but try to put on my cloth ". " It is true, you have reason... "he excused them and he always defended them. But he also knew how to have an iron hand; but it happened very rarely. Once someone wrote a letter in which he accused Luciani of : 1) not visiting the parishes frequently; 2)  of giving too much importance to people; 3) not to know how to be a Patriarch... From Rome a letter arrived without a delay and asked explanations and justifications. He answered therefore: 1) I think I have always gone regularly to the parishes and also  have returned gladly when I was invited; 2) I have the habit of treating everyone as a brother; 3) You are right that I do not know how to be a Patriarch... "  


Dressed in red and... going by bicycle !


" Once, he arrived in a  parish near Mestre for a Pastoral Visit. We were in a period of " austerity " because of a lack of gasoline, therefore cars did not circulate. To the Patriarch, however,  was given  special permission; he did not want to use it. From Venice to Mestre he went by train; here he rode on a bicycle and, in scarlet garment and embroidered spool, arrived in the parish where he was awaited and was welcomed in the middle of  universal rejoicing. Another time, on his parked car, all dusty and not luxurious at all, an unknown hand wrote: " This is poverty ". He went to the city dressed as a simple priest; red skullcap in one pocket and the chain with the chest cross in the other, and he moved among the people like this ". 



" I would want to take a picture with you "


" There was a boy, mentally- handicapped, who often came to Saint Marks' in order to assist  the ceremonies. One morning, he met the Patriarch at the sacristy door and he told him : " Eminence, I would like to have my picture taken  with you... ". " With pleasure, my little son ". " But, - the other added - I would like you yo put the red dress on and the embroidered white coat ". " Yes, dear ". And he entered in the sacristy in order put on the wished vestments. Then he had ten different pictures taken with the good boy.  After a few days, he sent a nun to take the photos to the mother  - who received them crying with emotion ". 



" His Holiness, you are Peter! "

  In Rome, it was usual to me to enter the room to undertake the cleaning towards 8.00 because I knew that there was nobody there. One morning, I went  there as usual; too late I noticed that, in the lower end of the room, there was the Holy Father in disconsolate attitude and, beside him, his secretary. I apologized with them and I went out in a hurry; however I had heard the secretary say to him : " His Holiness, you are Peter! You have the authority; don’t let yourself be scared... ". This sentence was said in a long way ! "  

Suor Vincenza Taffarel


Go and back along the highway without sleeping

" The Bishop was on a pastoral visit. Towards 5.00 PM, a telephone call from Turin announces the grave illness of a  sister, a religious woman in the Torino Cottolengo. Luciani continues visiting the sick in the families, quietly; he knows how to smile and also how to make others smile. (...) In the Bishops' palace of Vittorio Veneto he had some coffee and milk and at 11 p.m. left by car to go to Turin. Towards Novara, the secretary had a sleepy and fatigue moment. The Bishop realized this; he told him to approach to a " service area "; he entered the bar and brought him a strong coffee. They reached the " Cottolengo " towards 6.00 a.m. and found the sister already dead. He sent the secretary to rest, and he celebrated the Mass for her soul. Towards 8.00a.m., after a short breakfast, he paused whilst in prayer near the sister’s remains, and he kissed and greeted her in Christ. Back on the road, his lunch was some sandwiches eaten under a viaduct and at 3.00p.m. he arrived to the diocese of V. Veneto in order to begin, punctually, as agreed, the pastoral visit in the other parish ".



" Come here that I will teach you to carry the skullcap ! "


" Luciani " tries to live " the maxim " Humilitas ", written on the motto of the episcopal coat of arms. He introduced himself in a humble appearance, with a “crooked” skullcap, so  crooked, that a Bishop friend told him : " Come here and I will teach you how to keep  the skullcap straight over the head! "



A very agile Bishop

" He arrived in a parish quietly; he agily jumped the " straw bales " on the road for a gymkhana. He mixed with people and, unrecognised, asked: " Who are you waiting for ?" - " We are waiting for our Bishop; usually he is so punctual, but today he seems to be late ". " Don’t be afraid : he will arrive, of course; indeed it seems to me I have already seen him arriving ... "  

don Francisco Taffarel


A Pope with a sweet, beautiful and majestic face

Memories from one of his former-students.

" I have met don Albino from 1938 to 1946 in the seminary of Belluno. Since then, he became Vicar, Bishop, Patriarch and I have lost  sight of him a little. When saw him again, dressed as  Pope, on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Church, the evening of the election, and then in the audiences and the public celebrations of the successive days, I  noticed in him numerous and deep changes. He seemed changed, first of all, his way of walking ! Since he was young, when it did not want to be noticed or, still more, when he heard some less delicate word, he expressed his protest turning decidedly the shoulders and going away quickly with long steps, that being rather small, gave him the appearance of a mountain man. When he became Pope, the same way of walking,  made him appear different : his style youthful and confident.

Then it seemed to me his face was changed. His face seemed to me to be always open, luminous, in some sense, bewitched, like who sees something different and higher than what others can see. On becoming Pope, it seemed to me suddenly majestic, especially under the mitre, sweet, very sweet and sometimes beautiful, too. Also his appearance seemed new to me. His manner had always been a little bit embarrased. He seemed not to know where to hold his hands and the arms. On becoming  Pope, the evening in which he appeared before in public for the first time, he had touched the world without a word, with little full gestures of  warm, alive and expressive greeting. Some days ago, I  met a school companion. Speaking about don Albino, he asked me : " Have you ever realized he had a beautiful smile ". I answered not. " Neither have I ", he added. Nevertheless today he is called ‘ the smiling Pope’. 

When he was seated on the chair at school (which rarely happened!),  he sat in a kind of twisted way on the edge of the chair and he seemed to feel ill at ease. As a Pope, he sat calmly on a much higher chair. If he had had a pen in hand and a dove on the shoulder, he would have been one living copy of the miniature of S.Gregory Magno.

As a young man, he was rather shy. He gave the impression of preaching from memory and with the eyes closed. When he was about to become a Bishop, he himself and many with him, saw in this difficulty of preaching and of appearing in public, a serious obstacle to his ministry. As a Pope, what it seemed to be an obstacle has become an attraction. And what an attraction!

His exceptional intelligence carried him to see the evil without sails, and he made negative appraisals about the world; at school he made it several times. On him, as Pontiff, I have not seen any trace of these states of mind. From his face and his words he has  inspired trust and serenity.

 Who has operated these transformations? The enthusiasm with which he has embraced the new task ? His ascetic life taken to the apex and suddenly revealed to the public? Or  it was the Saint Spirit who had prepared him from far away? Or all these factors together.


Aldo Belli



Fond of  tireless walkings and the two old women


" Sometimes, by foot, he loved to follow the paths known since he was a child. And the secretary must recognize that Luciani was a walking man, an authentic " mountain man ", with a slow step, but he never stopped by himself.  Sometimes, in order to stop for breath, I tried a solution … : " Excellence, look ... what is the name of that mountain there... ? that town at the bottom of the valley … ? And he, astute, understood immediately : “All right, let us sit to rest’. He stopped for a talk with  many people he met and with whom he also bade them accompany him along the road.

  He exhorted to carry the basket, full of firewood, of an old woman, with whom he covered a steep path, while she said her " story to him "; then they put together a bunch of flowers to the Crucifix, placed at the angle of the path.

 Another old woman asked him (in dialect) : "Da dove elo lu siór ?" "Mi son de Belún". "Ma ora dove elo prete ?" "Son prete a Vittorio Vèneto". "Ah ! da kuéle parti i vién kassù d'istá, i pesta l erba de l prà e i me porta via i pon (le mele) senza domandarme.. Kuei là no i konose la nostra fadiga e ke noi son poareti". "Ma, signora", - rispose Luciani - vardé ke i e bona gente, da l cor grande ...". "Ben, ben ... sarà vero" " (‘Where are you from, sir ?’ ‘ I’m from Belluno’. ‘ But you are a Priest from where ?’ ‘I am Priest in Vittorio veneto’ ‘Oh, from there, some people come here in Summer, they step on the grass in the field and they take my apples away without asking me … They don’t know anything about our tiredness and that we are little poor people’. ‘But, madam’, Luciani replied – look, they are good people, they have a great heart …’ ‘OK, OK … it will be true’), concluded the old woman, moving the head. A week after, coming back to that place, Luciani made gift of a wine demijohn to them. And on Passo Valles he stopped to collect strawberries and bilberries, " as when I was child with my mother ".



Delighted by the nature


" And Luciani lived again the years of child and adolescent, ecstatic by the sight of the mountains; he contemplated the fields in flower, the resinous trees... the flowers at the windows of the houses, the chapiters at both sides of the roads, with always a bunch of flowers from the fields. And he also collected them, because  " my mother has taught me like that". And as a Bishop he will write: " Faith arrives like that : mother’s hand who indicates the image of the Madonna, who makes the little child’s small hands move and she teaches to make the sign of the Cross; mother’s voice who teaches a prayer, while she is walking and she holds the little child with her hand". He has fun when touching the snow, diving the hands into fresh waters of the torrents ".



Poor Priests and running behind a small pig

"Once, on the hairpin curves of the road of Val Zoldana, towards Passo Staulanza, he walked a while with the Bishop of Belluno and Feltre, Msgr. Gioacchino Muccin. The secretary was to pick them up later in the car. Laughing at this, they said: " It seems to be that those of the Curia go in twos. We were mistaken for those of the Administrative Office and they have asked us if we wanted to buy a piece of land from these places ... Then those people have gone by saying : " They are two poor Priests... they don’t understand anything about these things ". And, turning, one said: " If you have need, we know well (!) the Bishop of Belluno and Vittorio Veneto... "  

 Once, returning  home, he stopped, after Agordo (BL), in order to help a woman who, with her child, tried to catch their piglet which had escaped from the stable and that was jumping happy on the road... finally free".


don Francesco Taffarel




To Paris

" Paris is the first stage in a foreign country after the nomination of Luciani as Patriarch of  Venice (...) The occasion is the twinning between the Basilica della Salute and the church of S.te Eustache, in Paris: a French church used for big concerts, occasion for the group guided by Palewsky - in love of Venice – to take in charge with the restoration of the Basilica della Salute(...). The are intense days of official meetings (...) The more intimate moments are at the table or after supper with Card. Marty (...) But, for me, the new lived moments with the Patriarch have been our escapes, in clergymen, to visit the Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Germain-cDes-Près, St. Severin, the Madeleine, the Sacré Coeur, then from Montmartre to the Grands Boulevards, the Bastille, the Panthéon, Montparnasse. One morning, the Patriarch went out alone very early. He had gone to some book shops, buying some volumes: I met him in a bar while he was talking, at the Quartier Latin: we returned for a few steps along the Seine. Then we came back to Notre Dame and the S.te Chapelle. We returned late in the morning to Card. Marty’s home, before taking the plane from Orly to Milan-Venice ".  

  don Mario Senigaglia


A fantastic author of mischief ! 

" Silvia Tancon, Pope Luciani’s relative, has been teaching for 40 years, near the elementary school of Canale (1931-1970). And here she remembers that the old colleagues said that Albino was a very intelligent and lively boy. A fantastic author of mischief ! (...) Among the several questions that I made Silvia, this could not escape: " What did you think when Luciani became a Pope ?" She smiled at length and she answered me: " I had predicted it ... ". In fact, when invited to go to Rome for his episcopal consecration (1958), she answered: " I cannot come this time, but I will come when they make him Pope ". And she went, as she had promised. This can be considered as a simple joke, but who can say that it was a prophetical inspiration ... "  



Distinguished like a gentleman


 Marcellina De Mio, a Luciani ‘s acquaintance, " speaks gladly about Albino. She does not know him a lot, but twice was enough to estimate him and love him. First time, she met him in the bus, as a young Priest, when he went from Agordo to Canale. She was hit by his fineness. She tells: " He was standing- up, at the bottom of the bus. He was silent, watched, smiled to everybody with a certain distinction. He was  modest, but distinguished like a gentleman. I watched him and I did not forget him ever more ... this  little Priest".


don Cesare Vazza



Pretending not to see


One year, the seminarists of the advanced class to mine organized, made up of pendulums and of feint radioestesia, one solemn joke at the back of the younger. Don Albino shut himself in his room in order to pretend not to see. He knew we were too much lacking of sportive kits and pastimes and he often told us: " If you had money, I would buy some game for you, but I am just in the red ! " 


don Aldo Belli



A breakdown on the highway


"It had been a beautiful,  break on our race  that weekend from Milan to the Saint Gottard, from Basel to Muttenz, from theSanctuary of Mariastein with the Italian emigrants, from the Savoia to Annecy (the land of S. Francis of Sales and Saint Joan Frances of Chantal), from the Monte Bianco tunnel and from Val D’ Aosta to Venice. A break plenty of memories and friendship that grew in a serene dialogue.

 The morning after, Tuesday, June 15th , 1971, we took the old ‘Lancia Flavia ‘and left for Rome: in the afternoon, the General Meeting of the CEI would start. Everything was OK up to Fabro. A break for a cappuccino, a full load of gasoline, a little check of water and oil and, then, going towards Rome. At 12 km from Orvieto, the car showed strange signs: something was going wrong. I slowed down; I stopped close to the emergency road at a SOS phone : " One never knows ". I opened the bonnet. I looked, but did not touch anything. " I am a buranello" (from Burano Island), islander, that finds it even hard work to swim... I tried again to leave, but, this time, our " Flavia " has decided to stop to watch the panorama! I looked at the Patriarch: we smiled at each other and he took me from the comprehensible embarrassment: We were arriving earlier ! Better today than yesterday : ring the SOS bell and let us wait : the time is good ". After a while, an ACI assistance-truck arrived: . it towed us to the exit from Orvieto where the garage was. The Patriarch made his comments: it seems we are on a coach, with people that surpass us and greet us: someone, reading our plate VE, sound the horn. It can happen... also in the best families! In panne !

 The technical report made us think that we would have to plan to arrive in Rome by train, leaving the car in Orvieto: " a piston: I haven’t spares here and I must wait until tomorrow evening ". We had to change our program : the trains timetable would allow us to eat something at a nearby restaurant, then, by taxi, up to the train.

But, we  succeeded in arriving in advance to the CEI Meeting, in spite of everything. Thursday evening, my friends took me to Orvieto to pick up the old ‘Flavia ‘, repaired. ( We had supper, between secretaries, in a beautiful angle of Todi, with the typical course of pigeon) ".



A travel to Lourdes


" From June 29th to July 6th, 1971 he was to take part to the pilgrimage to Lourdes with the UNITALSI Triveneta train of the sick. I had asked him not to accompany him : in 1958 I had gone to Lourdes as a pilgrim and I did not want to go there any more. " I am not capable : it has been nearly a engagement that then I have taken ". The Patriarch had listened to me in silence : I told him about the long travel by train with the " Moroccans ", the interminable rainy days, the long hours of prayer at the " cave ", the " Via Crucis ", the procession with those tearing invocations, the long waiting for the bath in the swimming pool and then the personal refusal... The Patriarch listens to me: " Don’t worry, I will take a seminarist with me : perhaps it would have made you well to go with the sick ... " Accompanying him to the train of UNITALSI, that left that afternoon, I felt very bad , I was living my moment of refusal : He never reminded me of it. When coming back with more than a thousand of veneti and venetian pilgrims, he brought me as a gift (I expected at least a rosary) a fabulous chocolate box : he delivered it with an embrace : " I was missing you ...! " And I remained feeling bad! "  



Receiving the Communion from the Patriarch in... swimsuit !


" Meeting and Mass celebrated at the " New Venice " Camping at Treporti. In the open air : at the center, a fountain and a tree-lined avenue with shops. The hosts were not German but Italian, better, veneti. The parish Priest, don Roberto, had prepared everything perfectly : he played his pianola, he sang, he commented : There were many people: perhaps for curiosity? A Mass with the Patriarch in camping? A religious silence and an exceptional participation : everybody seemed of "ours ". At the Communion, a long queue of younger or less young persons : I held, with curiosity, the " paten "! " The Body of Christ ", " The Body of Christ "... A young and beautiful lady also arrived. She was in " three piece": swimsuit, sunglasses and a handkerchief in head: " the Body of Christ "... he said and, this time, it was me who answered : " Amen! " He didn’t become upset. The parish Priest continued playing and singing. The Mass ended and there was beautiful refreshments with this strange Patriarch who, in camping, shook the hands of those who,  dressed in Italian style, came to him and he asked them the origins. Then I wrote a little article-report on the Catholic weekly magazine " the Voice of Saint Mark ": He didn’t like it when I talked about the" three pieces " !

But, one of those Sundays, we enjoyed  at Passariano of Udine during the Exhibition of Tiepolo, like two tourists, with  guide-catalogues acquired and a beautiful walk with beer and sorbet in the hand in the wonderful park before the sunset! "


don Mario Senigaglia




He was mistaken for his secretary


"I want to remember another meeting, this time, more collective, made in Venice in 1975. I took part of an international ecumenical comission between the Catholic Church, the Worldwide Luteran Federation and the Reformed Churches Alliance. The day that we were announced Patriarch of Venice’s visit, my colleagues have worn their best clothes. First of all, non-Catholics  were waiting for an impressive hierarchy, solemn, in great pomp, with a big entourage. When the motor-boat approached , a Priest dressed in cassock and black overcoat got out of it and he was mistaken for the secretary. During the brief friendly meeting, the Patriarch who was wearing a simple pectoral Cross,  fascinated everyone with his simple, calm, warm, smiling manners. Our non-Catholic friends were deeply impressed”.  


Card. Josef Tomko


The solitary prayer   

" It was Lent of 1978. In the silence  of the church of Canalel D' Agordo, Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, was  kneeling, with the Rosary in hand, praying it. Perhaps he was alone, nearly hidden behind the column, to the right of the presbiterium, in that preferred place since he was a boy and a seminarist. (...) It would have been a sin to disturb that solitary prayer... but so I have been able to take with me the last alive image of Luciani: he kneeling, with the rosary. I will not see him any more, only in TV, smiling, entering in Conclave and more smiling as a Pope from St.Peter’s loggia, blessing the  faithful " Urbi et Orbi ". I will not see him any more, with the Rosary in hand, only within the coffin, in the rigidity of his death.

Just like a child, Luciani was there in church, kneeling with the Rosary in hand. Without moving, with head bowed, he seemed to see someone... in the intensity of a simple prayer, but contemplative, that it is the Rosary ".


don Cesare Vazza



" I would also want to have such a brushy beard ! "


" Standing near the statue of Pope Luciani, in the church of Agordo, the thought returns to the living memory of the meetings, where I took part, with ecclesial groups in Venice. The good Patriarch knew the difficult art not to make anybody embarrassed and so when it happened, at the moment of introductions, I was introduced to him very quickly, giving the sensation of being just only the last wheel of the wagon, but he, looked at me, smiled, and goodly-natured said : " I would also want such a bushy beard! ", referring to  mine.

But the episode, that I think more meaningful, had taken place in patriarchy: there were participating persons of various ages, many of them interrogated the Patriarch, who always answered with much courtesy; he also emphasized the value of the Cardinal title.. Soon afterwards, someone asked him if he would like to become a Pope. Ready and humbly, the Patriarch answered: " With all the engagements that the Pope must face, is better than not! Now, the Pope is old, but the next one will have to go to every part of the world, according to the modern requirements, so it is just better not ! ". In this way I remember my unforgettable Patriarch !"


Paolo Polesso




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