The death of a pope so soon after his election caused such great shock that it continues to attract attention.
Vatican reporter Stefania Falasca’s 2017 book “John Paul I: The Chronicle of a Death” is a recent effort that thoroughly discusses his last days. Her work draws on medical reports, witness testimonies, and Vatican documents.
She recounts that the evening before his death, the pope suffered a severe pain in his chest for about five minutes, a symptom of a heart problem. This took place before dinner while he was praying Vespers with his Irish secretary, Monsignor John Magee.
When the pain subsided, the pope rejected the suggestion to call for a doctor. Renato Buzzonetti, his doctor, was only informed of this episode after the pope died.
The specific cause of his death will likely never be ascertained with certainty because no autopsy was performed, in keeping with Vatican protocol. Bishop Enrico Dal Covolo, the former postulator for John Paul I's sainthood cause, has said medical records collected as part of the process also support the conclusion that the pope died of natural causes.
There are various rumors about John Paul’s death, including sensational speculations about an assassination plot by nefarious groups with an interest in the Vatican’s role in religion, politics, or finance.
John Paul I wrote “open letters” to Mark Twain, Pinocchio, and King David
His 1976 book Illustrissimi is a collection of imaginative fiction: “open letters” to historic figures, saints, famous writers and imaginary characters. Some are playful in style, while others engage in social commentary, personal advice, or spiritual reflection.
Several are matters of religious devotion. One collection of these letters closes with John Paul’s letter he wrote “with trepidation” to Christ.
“With You I try to maintain a constant conversation. But to translate it into letters is difficult: these are personal things… And besides, what can I write to You, about You, after all the books that have been written on You?” the letter said.
Expressing dissatisfaction with his open letter to Christ, the future pope concluded: “the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ.”
He was never a pastor of a parish church
Despite his “pastoral” reputation, the future John Paul I never served as a pastor leading a parish! He was a curate for his hometown church in Canale d'Agordo only for the six months after his ordination in July 1935. During his life, he was a seminary professor and seminary rector. He held several leading roles in the chancery of the Diocese of Belluno e Feltre before he was named Bishop of Vittorio Veneto in northern Italy. From there, he would become Patriarch of Venice, cardinal, and pope.
His beatification miracle happened in Argentina
Candela Giarda, an 11-year-old girl from Paraná in northeastern Argentina, suffered brain dysfunction and septic shock amid uncontrollable seizures. She was later diagnosed with Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome.
The girl’s mother, Roxana Sosa, went to pray in the Catholic church next to the Buenos Aires hospital and met a priest, Father José Dabusti.
Candela’s health became worse and worse, a Vatican investigation later reported.
On July 22, 2011, doctors said Candela was facing “imminent death,” When Dabusti came to pray with the girl’s mother, he suggested they pray for healing through the intercession of John Paul I.
Though Sosa did not know much about the deceased pope, she prayed to him exclusively. The priest and the nursing staff of the intensive care unit joined their prayers to hers.
Candela showed improvement overnight. Two weeks later, her doctors removed her breathing tube. Her epilepsy was cured a month later, and she was discharged from the hospital on Sept. 5.
The young girl is now a young woman in her early 20s. As of last year, she was pursuing veterinary studies.
Dabusti reported the apparent miracle to Vatican officials and followed their instructions to record everything that had happened.
By coincidence, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires at the time was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. After the proper investigation by Church officials, Francis on Oct. 21, 2021 recognized Pope John Paul’s miracle.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.