Bishop Vittorio Veneto - Future Pope John Paul I (John Paul I Vatican Foundation) Bishop Vittorio Veneto - Future Pope John Paul I (John Paul I Vatican Foundation)  

Pope John Paul I: “A servant” for the people

As the day for his beatification arrives, newly-released audio from then-Bishop Albino Luciani, future Pope John Paul I, provides a sketch of a pastor living in service to others.

By Andrea Tornielli

"My mother never told me to go and become a priest, never; but she was so good, she loved the Lord so much that when He called me, I spontaneously took this path...".

The voice is unmistakable and one that many faithful still fondly remember.

It is those who, during the 34 days of his pontificate, were beginning to know and love John Paul I, the pope who will now be beatified by his successor, Pope Francis.

It is the voice of Albino Luciani who, on the 29 June 1968, in the large parish church of Santa Maria del Piave in the diocese of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, ordained Don Giuseppe Nadal a priest.

Eleven minutes of a homily provide a sketch of the soon-to-be Blessed.

An audio recording that we can listen to in full here, dated over fifty years ago but still contains words that are very relevant today: they speak of shepherds, "with the smell of sheep," and help us to enter into the heart of the new Blessed Pope.

Mothers as models of faith

Fr. Giuseppe, 79 – now a parish priest in the village of Pieve di Soligo, Italy after serving nearly a decade as a “Fidei donum” missionary in Burundi – provided Vatican Media with the audio recorded in his home parish on the day of his ordination.

At the beginning of the recording, then-Bishop Luciani provides words of reflection for the new priest's family and for the sacrifices they made for him.

The bishop recalls a French writer who had said, "There are some mothers who have a priestly heart and transpose it into their children."

Then he recalls his own mother, Bortola Tancon, whose witness of faith had led him to embrace the priesthood: "It seemed to me that for me there was no other way. The Lord used the family environment."

Priests as servants of the other

"I truly hope," then-Bishop Luciani added, "that the Lord will help the new priest, like the priests I consecrated this morning, and make them dedicated to the people and capable of serving. You hear they say the phrase ministers of God: ministers mean 'servants;' servants of God and servants of the people. A priest is a good priest when he is a servant of others; if he is a servant of himself, he is not is not at the right place."

Bishop Luciani quotes a "holy priest" – Don Francesco Mottola, a priest who would also become later “Blessed” – who had written: "The priest must be like bread, the priest must let himself be ‘eaten’ by the people."

Therefore, he added, "The priest must be available to people at all times; he gave up his family on purpose to be available to other families."

In the homily there is an explicit mention of priestly celibacy: "Some people say, 'Priests don't get married because the Church doesn't value marriage: The Church is afraid to put marriage next to these holy things': not true, not true! St. Peter was married; that's not it. Instead, we think this: the family is a sublime and great thing, and that's precisely why if someone is a father of a family, he has enough to do his duty: children to educate, children to raise; it's all committed to that thing there, it's too big a family for one to be with a family and be able to do such great assignments as the priesthood. It's one thing or the other."

"So," the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto continued, "I repeat: let the priest be the servant of all. This is especially his task, his place: to serve. And the people know how to understand, when they see that the priest is really a servant who undoes himself for others. Then they say, 'We have a good priest;' then they are happy, then they truly are happy."

Living life as an example

After insisting that a Bishop should make "many examinations" and listen to "what people think of him" before ordaining someone a priest, Bishop Luciani insists on living life as a personal testimony; that is, the importance of embodying in life what he professes and preaches.

And he does so with traits that describe his humility.

For the preached word, "first, possibly, it must be lived; I cannot say to you and others, 'Be good,' if I am not good enough first; and if you knew at times what an embarrassment even for the bishop, to stand before people and say, 'Be good, be better, I perhaps have not done enough, even I am not good enough.' It would be wonderful if I, before lecturing others, had done everything I say to others. This is not always possible. You have to be content with the effort; we have also temper, we have also weakness. But the priest, if he wants to be a priest, must not show up to preach to others if he himself has not first at least tried – by repeated effort – to do what he asks others to do."

Finally, a suggestion: in pastoral life and in the celebration of the sacraments, "in confession above all," one must be gentle and treat people well: "I always tell my priests, 'Dear brothers... people must be treated well. If it is true that we are servants we must treat people well; it is not enough to dedicate ourselves to people, but to be gentle with people even if some people are sometimes ungrateful."

And if "there is not always right gratitude, we do not have to work for that gratitude. The Lord is waiting for us there, to see if in spite of everything we are able to continue to do some good to people."

The conclusion is a prayer and a wish to "have priests who are truly holy and truly servants of the people."

Listen to Albino Luciani's homily in Italian
03 September 2022, 08:45