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Pope Francis beatifies John Paul I: What is beatification?

Pope John Paul I, born Albino Luciani, died in mysterious circumstances in 1978 but was posthumously credited with a miracle in 2011.

Pope Francis beatifies John Paul I

Pope Francis has beatified one of his predecessors, John Paul I, known as ‘the smiling pope’. The ceremony in St Peter’s Square took place on Sunday, marking the final formal step before canonisation.

“With a smile, Pope John Paul managed to communicate the goodness of the Lord,” Pope Francis said during mass.

“How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene and smiling face, that never closes doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or harbours resentment, does not grow angry or impatient, does not look dour or suffer nostalgia for the past.”

The event took place against the backdrop of rain, thunder and lightning, forcing many cardinals, bishops and the amassed faithful to open umbrellas.

What does it mean for someone to be beatified?

The beatification process is a deeply significant step in the Catholic Church and one that directly precedes sainthood. Beatifying a person means that the subject is definitely in Heaven and is able to plead to God on behalf of those who pray to him.

Beatification is designed to provide confirmation that both these things are true.

The Church must first reread all of the person’s writings to ensure a “purity of doctrine” and to check that the person was motivated by godly virtue. Church officials will have gone through thousands of pages of Pope John Paul I’s writings to judge his oeuvre. If the content is approved then the subject received the title “Venerable.”

However the beatification status rests on one key factor, either being martyred or having provably caused a miracle after your death. Last year Pope Francis attributed a posthumous miracle to John Paul I after a critically ill 11-year-old in Buenos Dias made a full recovery. She had been invited to attend the Vatican ceremony to mark John Paul I’s beatification but had recently injured her foot in the gym so could not travel.

How did John Paul I die?

Born Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I was an Italian who ascended to head of the Catholic Church for 33 days before being found dead in his bedroom. He was regarded as a skilled communicator with altruistic intentions, who cultivated a warm and gentle persona.

On the morning of 29 September 1978 he was found motionless in bed with reading material alongside him and his bedside light still on. It was announced that he had probably suffered a heart attack the night before.

However no autopsy was ever done on his body and as the Church changed its story regarding the exact discovery of his death, rumours began to spread about the true cause of his death.

Pope John Paul I had pledged to tackle the corruption that was commonplace in Italian political life and even within the Church at the time. A huge financial scandal was beginning to break at the time, one which involved key figures at the Vatican’s bank.

With that playing out in the background there was speculation that Luciani may have been poisoned to prevent him attempting to tackle the wrongdoing, but no solid link was ever made and no charges brought.


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