I had a very fruitful research trip to Italy, thanks to my dear friend, Loris Serafini, curator of the Pope Luciani Museum in his birthplace, Canale d’Agordo, Italy. It is because of Mr. Serafini’s intercession that I was able to interview a number of people in Italy who knew Pope John Paul I. He and Laura Busin of the Foundation also facilitated my visit to the exhibits at the papal museum and provided access to the archives.
Thanks too to former Vatican Ambassador Ray Flynn for having opened doors for me in Rome and beyond.
I traced the arc of Albino Luciani’s career from Canale to Belluno to Vittorio Veneto to Venice, and ultimately to Rome.
At the Vatican I visited his final resting place in the grottoes of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
“Papa” Luciani’s final resting place is diagonally across from that of Pope Paul VI, his immediate predecessor and is not too distant from the remains of Saint Peter, the apostle who is considered the very first pope.
This is the central loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica, where John Paul I made his first public appearance as pope.
The top right window of the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace is the Pope’s bedroom in which John Paul I died. The window to its left is that of his study from which he addressed the crowds in the piazza weekly.
While in Rome I attended a Wednesday general audience with Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, voted in the 1978 conclave that elected Luciani as pope.
I also had the opportunity to interview Dr. Lina Petri, daughter of the Pope’s sister Nina.
Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts did not allow me to interview Dr. Stefania Falasca with whom I had tentative plans to meet. As vice postulator of the cause for canonization, she has been a prime mover in promoting John Paul I for sainthood. She wrote the Positio and has advocated effectively for his being raised to the altars. Pope Francis has declared the late pope “Venerable”, the stage prior to beatification.
Also unavailable during my stay, was Luciani’s secretary both in Venice and the Vatican, Don Diego Lorenzi, a Don Orione priest. However, since my return, I have conducted a series of lengthy interviews with him via Skype, and we continued to maintain regular e-mail correspondence until his debilitating accident last November and his subsequent stroke.
Lina Petri, M.D., Pope Luciani’s niece, was the first family member to arrive at the dead pope’s bedside in the papal apartment at the Vatican on the morning of September 29, 1978. The photo of her and the author was taken at the Vatican press office following an interview.
In Tarzo I spent an afternoon interviewing the late Monsignor Francesco Taffarel who gave me parting gifts of two autographed books he had written about Papa Luciani.
Monsignor Francesco Taffarel was Luciani’s personal secretary when he served as Bishop of Vittorio Veneto. The picture was taken at his rectory in the town of Tarzo, following a sometimes contentious interview (in Italian no less!) My friend, Adriana Cillo, devoted countless hours to translating and transcribing the recordings of all the interviews I conducted in Italian. I am deeply indebted to her.
The visit to the town of Belluno was a special trip. There, Luciani attended the Seminario Gregoriano (where he later taught and became administrator). He later became Vicar General of the Diocese.
The rector of the seminary graciously gave me an extended tour. Before parting, we discovered that he is friends with an East Providence, Rhode Island priest, Silvio De Nard, who is originally from Belluno. Father De Nard and his parents knew Luciani well, and he has been a source of important information to me about Luciani and the various personal encounters he and his family had with the future pope.
The facade of the church at Belluno where Luciani served as Vicar General.
Seminarian Albino Luciani (first row, second from left) posing with fellow seminarians in the courtyard of the Seminario Gregoriano. It was one of the sites I visited during a personal tour of the seminary.
The Church at Vittorio Veneto where Luciani served as bishop.
A statue of Bishop Luciani stands prominently to the right of the entrance to the church.
The Basilica of Saint Mark, Venice, where Cardinal Luciani served as Patriarch. It was his last post prior to being elected pope.
A plaque on the Patriarch’s residence in Venice indicates Luciani’s tenure there from 1970 to 1978 before leaving for Rome where he was elected pope. To the right of the entrance is a similar plaque honoring Angelo Cardinal Roncalli who also served as patriarch before being elected pope in 1958. He took the name John and is now Saint John XXIII.
The highlight of my trip was my stay in the pope’s birthplace, Canale d’Agordo. There, thanks to Loris Serafini, his wife Inna, Laura Busin, and Mayor Rinaldo De Rocco, I toured the town and virtually every landmark associated with the late Pope. This included the exhibits and the archives temporarily stored in city hall (I was literally granted the key to the city so that I could scour the archives while the building was closed on the weekend!) Sites I visited included the church where Luciani served as an altar boy and later as a priest, the rectory, the pastures where he watched over the family cow, and the cemetery where his parents and his brother are buried.
My hosts and guides: (left to right) Loris Serafini, then director of Fondazione Papa Luciani and author of the book Albino Luciani, the Smiling Pope; his wife Inna; me; and Laura Busin, who showed me all the museum exhibits, helped me comb through the materials in the archives, and acted as occasional driver and interpreter.
These are some of the books in the rectory library that the young Luciani catalogued.
St. John the Baptist Church in the central piazza of Canale is where Albino worshiped as a youngster and served as an altar boy. It his here that he was called to enter the priesthood. (To the left is the Luciani museum/library then under construction.)
A statue of Papa Luciani in the local church. There I lit a candle in memory of my parents.
The beautifully carved altar at the church depicts Papa Luciani receiving the keys of the kingdom of heaven from Christ.
The modern version of the home where Luciani was born and lived while in Canale. It is unrecognizable from the original structure. His brother Edoardo expanded and upgraded the domicile to house his large brood of children.
Loris Serafini and I hike a mountain path. Even in late July, snow still blanketed parts of the mountains.
Loris and I interrupting the sleeping cows. As is evident, they paid scant attention to us!
A plaque in the local cemetery commemorating Luciani’s parents at their grave site in Canale.
Following an afternoon interview with the Pope’s niece, Pia Luciani. Laura Busin, who drove me to Pia’s home, acted as interpreter when Pia’s English faltered or my tenuous command of Italian deserted me!
Posing beside a portrait of Pope Luciani at Canale’s city hall with Mayor Rinaldo De Rocco.
Thanks to Mayor De Rocco, arrangements were made for me to see Cardinal Luciani’s car (which, of course, I sat in!) At the time it was stored in the municipal garage. Today it is an exhibit enclosed in plexiglass in front of the museum.
Mo Guernon, Ed.M / Biographer