By Salvatore Cernuzio - Vatican City
A year ago, on 28 April 2020, Pope Francis established the John Paul I Foundation in an effort to shed light on the thinking and teachings of Albino Luciani, priest, bishop, patriarch and, for only 34 days, Pontiff.
In the course of a year the Foundation, presided over by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has worked steadfastly to consolidate its framework and outline activities that might contribute to the recovery of the theological and cultural legacy of this Pope who hailed from the northern Italian region of Veneto. Over the past twelve months, a series of important steps were taken, despite the difficulties and adverse conditions stemming from the pandemic.
Among these was the relocation to Rome of the private Archive of John Paul I from the Historical Archive of the Venice Patriarchate to the Vatican offices of the Foundation located in 'Via della Conciliazione'. A heritage of fundamental importance, consisting of 64 folders with photos, books and letters as well as the agenda with the initials adopted during the pontificate. All useful material for the realisation of a project regarding the "opera omnia".
"These are the papers of a lifetime," says Stefania Falasca, vice president of the Papa Luciani Foundation, coordinator of its Scientific Committee and vice postulator of the Cause of canonization, in an interview with Vatican Media, which is reproduced here:
Interview with Stefania Falasca
The collection offers a wealth of heterogeneous documentation, covering half a century: from 1929 to 28 September 1978, consisting of various papers among which autographed writings, note books, notes, diaries, printed and photographic material as well as correspondence. For a total of 64 folders which contain from the exercise books with the notes he took during lessons as a student at the Gregorian Seminary of Belluno, to the 66 agendas of his episcopate from 1960 to 1978, among which the blue imitation leather agenda with the initials AL on the cover. One he continued to use during his 34-day pontificate. In fact, it contains his last handwritten words. They are the papers of a lifetime
Q: When did all this documentation come to light?
We only discovered the existence of these papers at the beginning of the Year 2000. And in 2007 I was entrusted with the first recognition in the course of the diocesan supplementary Inquiry, requested by the bishop of Belluno-Feltre in the context of the Cause of canonisation of this Pope from Veneto, contained in the Positio. During the first examination, I was able to identify the nature of the writings, trace their genesis, their development and the complex course of this private archive. One which at the death of John Paul I on the 28 September 1978, was sent back from the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to the Patriarchal See of Venice.
Q: What is the value and importance of these papers?
The value of these papers, characterised principally as a personal database, lies mostly in the interventions, lessons, conferences, homilies, articles therein. Even though there is the occasional precise description in diary format, such as some notes relating to his participation in the Second Vatican Council or to his private audience with John XXIII on the occasion of his consecration as Bishop. Luciani was not given to keeping a personal and intimate sort of diary. Nor is there any indication he wished to lend to his writings any form of commemoration or project. Luciani's archive would appear to go under the category of archives defined in Italian as "specchi di carta" (papers mirroring reality) or an "evidence of identity". As a whole and in parts Luciani's papers are certainly very telling of the profile of the writer and of the person who kept them. They represent a privileged source to study the evolution of his thinking, of the themes he focused on, of his oscillations as well as a tool to better understand the personality of Luciani in relation to the context of his life experience.
Q: Papa Luciani never went anywhere, including Rome, without his Archive. What was the purpose of this?
The Archive was his " officina da lavoro", a sort of ongoing workshop. One which Luciani deemed indispensable in so much as it allowed him to continuously draw from and add to it. Beyond the writings contained in this Archive and as an integral part of it there is also a well-stocked library. Together they represented a working space he used as a laboratory. And the day after his election to the See of Peter he had this personal baggage brought to the Apostolic Palace. On the 13 September, roughly fifty crates containing the papers from his Archive and some of the books from his library were delivered to his apartment. One of the nuns from the order of "Maria Bambina" who was part of the team running this papal apartment, told me during the deposition she gave at the canonical process that the first books Luciani had placed on the shelves of his bookcase were part of the "opera omnia" of Saint Francis de Sales in French, books Luciani had bought earlier on in the city of Annecy. A collection I was later to come across in the library of the Venice Seminary. Even the night he died he was deep in reading past papers taken from this "workshop", intent on preparing for the next general audience during which he intended to focus on the cardinal virtue of prudence. This was his manner of operating, his "modus operandi". Ever since the days as professor in the seminary he was in the habit of studying in bed before falling asleep while reading.
Q: When did this Archive return to the Vatican?
After crossing the waters of the lagoon of Venice for four times on different occasions, the papers reached Rome on 1 December 2020, according to provisions specified by the Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia. The papers had an accompanying note by the Director of the Historical Archive of the Patriarchate of Venice who together with Doctor Loris Serafini had a full detailed list compiled regarding the different units of the Foundation. The crates containing the Archive were then delivered to the Foundation's headquarters in "Via della Concilazione". On 1 March 2021, under the supervision of the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Archive, Bishop Sergio Pagano, the work relating to the cataloguing of the inventory began. To do this the Foundation set up a series of scholarships as well as request the collaboration of the Vatican Apostolic Library, to help with the digitalisation process.
Q: The John Paul I Foundation is now a year old. It began life during an unprecedented pandemic. How would you evaluate the work achieved so far?
Over 40 years after his death, as had been done for other recent Pontiffs, a body was finally established dedicated to the protection of the documentary heritage and of the study of the works of Pope John Paul I. During this first year an effort has been deployed to rectify this delay by implementing the groundwork aimed at achieving the goals the Foundation wishes to achieve. And despite the adverse circumstances stemming from the effects of the pandemic we have accomplished some important steps. Certainly, among these is the return to the Holy See of the "corpus" of John Paul I's papers. Given its importance, our priority was to focus on the private Archive of Albino Luciani, which represents the "heritage" of the Foundation and is fundamental for the realisation of the project relating to the "opera omnia".
Q: Tell me about some of the future initiatives you have planned?
Once the cataloguing done, the Scientific Committee will establish the long-term projects to be undertaken relating to the papers of the Archive that need to be transcribed and also undergo a thorough philological scrutiny. Then there is project of the realisation of the "Opera Omnia". As for the book series dedicated to John Paul I, undertaken in collaboration with the Vatican Publishing House (LEV), almost ready to go to print are the translations in Spanish and English of the volume dedicated to the death of John Paul I. The method adopted for this volume is of an historical critical nature, based on acquired court files. With this method the historical truth regarding the circumstances of the death of John Paul I will be established. The next in this series to go to print regards the critical edition of the teachings of John Paul I, including a complete review of the writings and discourses of the pontificate, as well as transcriptions of his autographed agenda and the personal note book of Papa Luciani during his 34-day pontificate. Further to this publication a critical edition of the text of the "Illustrissimi" will also be published. This represents the first doctoral thesis on Luciani's works that I discussed in "Italianistica" at Rome's University of Tor Vergata. Furthermore, considering the private Archive also had, as an integral part, a well-stocked library, the projects of the Foundation also include the reestablishment of Luciani's personal library at the diocesan library of the Patriarchal Seminary. A further project also concerns preparations on the part of the Scientific Committee for a conference focusing on the magisterium of John Paul I, scheduled for the Spring of 2022.