Do you remember the ‘Year of the Three Popes’?

Last week I wrote about the Transfiguration and the coincidence of the date matching that of the Hiroshima nuclear attack. It was also the date on which Paul VI died at Castel Gandolfo in Italy in 1978, 40 years ago this year. That date began an extraordinary sequence of events and led to 1978 being given the name of the Year of the Three Popes.

Paul VI had been Bishop of Rome for some fifteen years, following in the footsteps of John XXIII, a difficult journey for anyone to contemplate. It fell to Paul VI to bring the Council to a close and then to guide the Church through the tempestuous and war-torn years of the 60s and 70s.

With his death the due process of Conclave followed, when Cardinals world-wide were summoned to Rome to begin the process of electing his successor.

It was by all accounts that August, in the heat of a Roman summer, an uncomfortable gathering. On the fourth ballot, the name of the patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani, received a significant majority of votes. So it was on the evening of August 26th when the announcement of his election was given to a crowded St Peter’s square and his choice of name, John Paul I made known. He quickly became known as the ‘smiling pope’.

But his residency in Rome was to be brief for, some 33 days later, on 28 September, this quiet, reserved man died of a heart attack. He was found in his bed on the morning of the 29th, his book, the Imitation of Christ, still open and the bedside light still on. The second pope of 1978 had been taken by the Lord. His funeral on 4 October was celebrated by Cardinal Confalonieri who spoke of John Paul as ‘a flashing comet who briefly lit up the Church’. Yes, his papacy was brief but in so many ways it indicated the path that Francis would tread many years later.

On a lighter note, we had just moved house that September and to ease the loss of friends, we bought my son a hamster, who promptly got given the name ‘John Paul’. When I heard the morning news and called upstairs that ‘John Paul is dead’, the howl from his bedroom only ceased when the confusion was explained.

So for a second time, the Cardinals were summoned to Italy. Again it was to be a short conclave. It began on 14 October and after eight ballots, the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, was elected to the See of Rome, taking the name of John Paul II. It was the start of a long, significant and at times controversial papacy. Born in Poland in May 1920, he was a young man at the time of election by the college of Cardinals. Being Polish, he broke with recent tradition of an Italian papacy. His experience of living in Communist Eastern Europe contributed to his playing a major part in the collapse of Communism in 1989, when country after country of the Eastern bloc rejected the totalitarianism of the Soviet era and ‘the Iron Curtain’, in Churchill’s memorable phrase describing the division of post War Europe, became part of history.

Yet only three years after his election, on Wednesday, 13 May 1981, in the square outside St Peter’s, the Pope was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca. He was hit four times, and suffered severe injury. His would-be assassin was apprehended immediately and received a life-sentence from an Italian court. The Pope later forgave Ağca for the assassination attempt.

The later years of his papacy were marked by a conservative pattern of leadership as many subtle, and at times, not so subtle, attempts were made to inhibit the decrees of the Council. He was without doubt a heroic figure, who travelled extensively, and his visit to the UK at the time of the Falklands War was a memorable event.

So 1978, the Year of Three Popes concluded. Peter Hebblethwaite wrote a very good account of that momentous Summer and Autumn with just that title, The Year of Three Popes. It is still available and well worth reading.

That time now is history though 40 years on, its influence is still felt. John Paul I wanted to address the crowded square after his election but he was reminded by the papal master of ceremonies that it was not usually ‘the done thing’. How different when Francis stood on that same spot in 2013 and began

“Good evening! You know that the duty of the conclave was to provide Rome with a bishop. It looks as if my brothers the cardinals went to fetch him from the end of the world!”.

Yes, a long journey, but of benefit to us all.

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  1. Kevin Walters says:

    “1978 The Year of the Three Popes”

    If we fast forward 36 years we could say that this was the Year of Four Popes
    As Pope Frances assisted by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI officiated in the ceremony of the canonisation of Pope John XXIII & Pope John Paul11 on 27 April 2014 (Divine Mercy Sunday)

    Three days prior to the canonization of JP2 the image in the link below was circulated by the media to the majority of mankind, Christians and others would have looked at it, for its significance.

    Prior to the collapse of this structure, with the statue (Image) of Jesus attached (nailed) to the cross (tree) we would have seen that it was significantly different to what we are accustomed to seeing, as normally in the representation of the Cucifixion, we would see Jesus held high between heaven and earth with the top (crown) of the tree directed upwards to heaven, with his beloved Son Jesus Christ in total obedience submitting to our Fathers Will.

    But on this representation we see the cross (Tree) was initially bent acutely downwards, now seen fallen, with shattered ‘broken’ body parts of Jesus Christ ‘scattered’ upon the earth, while noting that it fell upon a young disabled man, crushing and killing him.

    Scrutinize the details of this image than scrutinize it again and understand.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Paul O'Malley says:

    Kevin@1, you seem to carry around with you a briefcase of journalistic curiosities which you hope will some day prove useful. Presumably we must blame this sad event on the shoddiness of North Italian workmen. With the fame of the Brescia-Bergamo-Veneto triangle as a very papaferous region, it’s hard to find a street to be born in that isn’t named after a 20th century pope.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    Paul O’Malley @ 2

    Thank you Paul for your comment, please justify your statement as in “you seem to carry around with you a briefcase of journalistic curiosities”
    What over curiosities have I revealed?

    So a stake/lance conveniently placed, as in, the side in the body of Christ, with the finger of God separated from body now laying upon the earth accompanied by two black, obscure figures stood to the side of a Temple/monument looking down upon the said broken image of Christ, and by implication His church, with the shattered stone, representative flags/tablets of the Commandments, broken as in made worthless etc.
    A ‘curiosity’, yes to some, but to others, one leading to a manipulative deviant mind.

    Perhaps this present image which I happen to have as can be seen by my ongoing comments/posts below it, could be classed as a curiosity also.
    Scrutinize the photo in the link
    Then think along the lines of who sits (Is the controlling mind) behind the throne, who’s mouth piece is representative by the microphone

    Journalist and others in the media do not just use words to convey information especially that which is covertly directed towards the powers of darkness.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Chris McDonnell says:

    With respect Kevin, I feel that your two contributions to this thread have little or nothing to do with content of my original posting. I was trying to open a different story. Go well.

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Chris McDonnell @ 4

    I am sorry Chris that you feel peeved in regards to the two posts that I submitted, as it was not my intention to distract readers away from the contents of your article. I would add that you introduced John Paul ll and Pope Francis into your dialog, permitting me to introduce circumstances relating to them.

    Given that you are in a privileged position, in that you have had eleven articles published on the site this year, virtually ensuring that one of your articles (Worthy of reading) always appears on the opening page of the ACP Site, in these circumstances perhaps a better understanding of your own privilege position would be appropriate, in regards to some of the less privileged amongst us, who have to take the scraps that fall from your keyboard and that of other privileged/established writes and then utilize them so that we may be heard also.

    To end on a more positive note our paths first crossed over fifty years ago and since then again forty years later, on the v2catholic web site where my requested help from you, for grammatical assistance, was generously given, so that my articles reached a grammatical standard acceptable to the site moderator, I thank you once again.
    “Go well” rather may all end well, when we finally stand before our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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