Pope Francis blessed John Paul I, the happy and humble pope known as the “Smiling Pope,” whose death after just 33 days as world leader of Roman Catholics sparked decades of speculation and rumors.
In a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, the last official step before canonization, Francis praised John Paul I’s brief but joyous papacy.
“Pope John Paul conveys the goodness of the Lord with a smile,” he said at Mass.
“How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene, smiling face that never closes, never hardens, never complains or holds grudges, never gets angry or impatient, doesn’t look cold or miss the past.”
Sitting under the canopy outside St Peter’s Basilica, Francis led the event, interrupted by thunder, lightning and rain, prompting cardinals, bishops, choirs and thousands of laypeople to open their umbrellas .
Born in Albino Luciani in the northern Italian town of Canale d’Agordo on October 17, 1912, John Paul I became Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal and head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Luciani, who was elected Pope on August 26, 1978 and renamed John Paul, was found dead in his bed in a Vatican apartment on September 28 of that year.
While the Vatican says John Paul died of a heart attack, it has given conflicting accounts of the circumstances in which his body was found.
Despite initially claiming he was found by a priest who served as his secretary, it was later admitted he was found dead by a nun who once brought him his morning coffee.
Given the huge financial scandal in Italy at the time involving figures linked to the Vatican Bank, the secular media soon began to suspect that John Paul might have been poisoned because of his intent to address wrongdoing.
Books speculating on the circumstances of his death have sold millions of copies.
John Paul’s biographer Christophe Henning said the rumours could be explained by the sudden nature of his death and the “catastrophic communication” by the Vatican at the time. The absence of an autopsy to determine the cause of death also fuels speculation.
But Henning told AFP he had no doubt that the Pope died of natural causes, adding that he was “in poor health”.
John Paul’s brief papacy was marked by his simple, direct approach to believers — a marked departure from his more formal predecessors.
Francis said: “Let’s pray, in his own words: ‘God accepts me with my flaws, with my flaws, but let me be who you want me to be.'”
The Pope added that John Paul lived “without compromise” and also “overcame the temptation” to put himself “at the center or to seek glory”.
Francis put John Paul on the path to sainthood last year after he praised him for miraculously healing him for a child in 2011.
The Vatican said the healing of 11-year-old Candela Jalda took place in Buenos Aires, where Francis was born. Jalda suffered from acute brain inflammation, septic shock and other serious medical problems, and doctors said he was near death. But the Vatican added that a local priest “voluntarily turned to Pope Luciani” and she recovered.
Jalda, now 21, told a news conference last week that she wanted to attend the ceremony but couldn’t because she broke her foot while working out at the gym.
AFP and The Associated Press contributed to this report