Born: October 17, 1912 (Italy)
Died: September 28, 1978 (Rome)
Pope: August 26, 1978 - September 28, 1978 (33 days)
John Paul I was an unusual pope for a number of things, not all of them good. The worst was the fact that his tenure as pope was one of the shortest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church - just 33 days. He was the first pope born from working-class parents. He was the first pope ever to adopt two names after his election, a tradition continued by his successor, John Paul II. The reason for Luciani's decision was an effort to honor both of his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, and to demonstrate an interest in supporting both the progressiveness of John and the traditionalism of Paul.
He was also unusual in that he did not hold any high-ranking office in the Vatican government, something common for many of his predecessors. Although not well known to the outside world, Luciani had made a name for himself within the church itself. He was, for example, very active in the Vatican Council of 1962. As a result of his popularity he became archbishop of Venice in 1969 and then a cardinal in 1973.
Despite being a critic of communism and socialism, he nevertheless believed that, to one degree or another, wealth should be redistributed and great disparities of wealth discouraged; on a practical level, this meant advocating that richer churches help out poorer churches financially. He eschewed lavishness and in fact refused to be coronated like a traditional sovereign - instead, he only allowed himself to be to be invested with a simple palladium, worn around the neck as a symbol of the archbishop's pastoral duties, and a miter.
A great deal of confusion surrounds his death and, as a result, numerous conspiracy theories have grown up around the possibility that he was murdered, either because he was getting too close to some scandal or because conservative feared his progressive inclinations. Whether true or not, the Vatican has itself partly to blame because of its bungling of the matter.
In the first place, the Vatican lied about who found the body of John Paul I - originally, the Vatican claimed that he was discovered by his Irish priest-secretary, which was false. In fact, he was discovered by his housekeeper, Sister Vincenza. Secondly, the Vatican claimed that the last thing he was reading was The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis. This, too, was false and was only told for its public relations benefit.
The most probable truth is that John Paul I was suffering from serious health problems which he failed to seek treatment for. As a result, the most likely lesson of his death is not the corruption of religious institutions, but rather the more prosaic fact that people should watch their health better - perhaps a more important lesson, but not nearly exciting enough for conspiracy theories.
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