Rescuing a Forgotten Pope: The John Paul I Association

A new organization hopes to save John Paul I from the conspiracy theorists and to show who he really was.

In October 2012 a small group of people undertook an unusual rescue operation: they organized an international conference on the “Smiling Pope,” who served for just 33 days in 1978. “It was called “The Real Pope John Paul I.” They wanted to rescue his memory, they say, from obscurity and from the distortions of sensation-seeking authors.

After the success of the conference, in which Pia Luciani, the Pope’s niece, participated, the group incorporated in 2013 as a non-profit, The Pope John Paul I Association, and are now about to launch an Indiegogo campaign to fund their work.

People from different parts of the world are asking if they can start branches of our Association in their own countries. It's really wonderful to be able to introduce people to this great Pope."

Lori Pieper, The John Paul I Association

John Paul I was born Albino Luciani in the northern Italian village of Canale D’Agordo on October 17, 1912.  His parents were migrant workers. He studied for the priesthood in his native diocese of Belluno and was ordained in 1935. After parish work and teaching in the seminary for a number of years, he was named bishop of Vittorio Veneto by Pope John XXIII in 1958 and took part in the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI named him Patriarch of Venice in 1969 and made him a cardinal in 1973. He was elected Pope on August 26, 1978, and died suddenly a little over a month later, on September 28. As Pope, he was loved by the whole world for his captivating smile and his simple speaking style. The cause for his beatification was begun in 2003.

For a pope who served so short a time, John Paul I has attracted an enormous amount of controversy. In 1984, David Yallop published a book titled In God’s Name, which claimed he was a theological liberal who wanted to change the Church’s teaching on contraception, and was murdered with the complicity of Vatican cardinals. On the other hand, John Cornwell’s 1989 book, A Thief in the Night, suggested that John Paul I, who he described as a simple and unsophisticated man, was unfit to be Pope, and died because of neglect by the Vatican and the unbearable pressures of his job.

Dr. Lori Pieper, one of the founders of the association, says, “Our purpose is to take Pope John Paul I back from the Yallops and Cornwells of the world, to replace sensationalism and conspiracy theories with solid historical knowledge about him, and to promote the cause for his canonization. There are so many things people don’t know about him. They may know that he was the first Pope to refuse to be crowned with a tiara, but where did that idea come from in his life? He was for a poor Church long before Pope Francis. He had a love of the poor and the workers that came out of the poverty his own family experienced, and a deep understanding of the Church’s social teachings. He was a bishop who taught his flock the real meaning of Vatican II -- he had practically memorized the Council documents. And he had a very rich spirituality, much of it based on his understanding of God’s mercy.”

To help people get to know John Paul I, Dr. Pieper has published her translation of some of his writings as A Passionate Adventure: Living the Catholic Faith Today.  Other founding members of the Association include Paul Spackman, the author of God’s Candidate: the Life and Times of John Paul I, and Mo Guernon, who is also writing a biography, to be called Love Is a Journey: A Portrait of Pope John Paul I.

Dr. Pieper says, “It’s especially important to highlight Papa Luciani right now because all the documentation for his cause has been completed, and the Vatican can now begin studying his life for evidence of heroic virtue. This could end in him being declared Venerable. We are putting out prayer cards with his picture, and they have proved to be very popular. People from different parts of the world are asking if they can start branches of our Association in their own countries. It’s really wonderful to be able to introduce people to this great Pope.”

The Indiegogo campaign, which begins October 17, will raise money to fund the publication of the conference papers and audio of the talks. Those who donate will get free copies of these and other works about John Paul I. The Association has also begun a petition asking Pope Francis to promote Papa Luciani’s teaching on mercy during the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. More details can be found on the Association’s website or by contacting Dr. Pieper.

About The Pope John Paul I Association

The Pope John Paul I Association was founded to spread accurate knowledge of the life, writing, and spirituality of Pope John Paul I, and to promote the cause for his beatification and canonization.

The Pope John Paul I Association
30 W. 190th St. , #Apt. 6N
Bronx, NY


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