The Mystery is over: An underestimated illness led to Pope Luciani's death

The Mystery is over: An underestimated illness led to Pope Luciani's death

By Andrea Tornielli/ lastampa.it

The truth in a book: on the very evening of his death, the Pontiff was struck by a strong pain in the chest. But it was John Paul I himself who did not want to warn his doctor.

For the first time, thanks to a documented investigation, as compelling as a police investigation and as accurate as an historical research, it is been brought to light about the circumstances of the death of John Paul I, whose pontificate lasted only 33 days in 1978: just before dining for the last time, the Pope had a sudden, yet underestimated by all, illness. On Tuesday November 7th, a book based on unpublished documents and testimonies, will be out in stores. The author puts an end to the "mystery" on the death of the Pontiff from Veneto. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin wrote the preface of "Pope Luciani. Chronicle of a Death"(Piemme, pp. 252,17 euro). The journalist Stefania Falasca, vice-postulator of the case, and author of the book has questioned witnesses never heard before, and accessed to the secret files of the Holy See along with Luciani’s medical records.

Sister Daisy

She is called Sister Margherita Marin, now 76 years old, and at the time of the events she was the youngest of the Venetian religious at the service of the Pope. She was the one who entered the bedroom of John Paul I at dawn on 29 September 1978, immediately after Sister Vincenza Taffarel, the elderly religious who had been assisting Luciani for over twenty years. She was the one who witnessed for the first time what happened in the hours prior to the sudden death of the Pope. She denies that he was fatigued if not crushed by the burden of the new responsibility, "I have always seen him calm, serene, full of trust, confident". She attests that he did not follow any particular diets and that he was eating what the others ate. This is how John Paul I spent his last hours of life on the afternoon of 28 September, "I was ironing in the wardrobe with the door open and I saw him walking back and forth. He was walking in the apartment holding some papers he was reading.... I remember him seeing me ironing and saying, "Sister, I make you work a lot... don’t bother ironing the shirt so well because it's hot, I sweat and need to change them often... just iron the collar and wrists, that the rest is not seen, you know…".

The bedside

From the cross testimonies, among which is that of the room helper Angelo Gugel, some light is shed on the sudden illness that Luciani had that evening, just before dinner, while praying with the Irish Secretary John Magee. It is all described in a secret document drawn up in the days after his death. Renato Buzzonetti, the first doctor to be called to the bedside of the dead Pope, wrote it. In the detailed report addressed to the Secretariat of State on 9 October 1978, he spoke of an "episode of pain localized at the third superior of the sternal region, suffered by the Holy Father around 7:30 pm. on the day of death. The episode lasted for more than five minutes, occurred while the Pope was seated and intent on the recitation of Compieta with Father Magee and it regressed without any therapy". It is a decisive testimony, because it was collected in the immediacy of death: nobody had the Vatican Pharmacy open, and nobody warned Sister Vincenza, who was a nurse and spoke on the phone on that same evening to the Pope's doctor, Antonio Da Ros, resident in Vittorio Veneto, without making any mention of the sickness. Luciani was not given any medication, nor was a doctor called to make any checks, despite the fact that the new Pope had suffered severe chest pain, a symptom of the coronary problem that that same night would have stopped his heart. Father Magee in his testimony recounted that it was the Pope himself who did not want to warn the doctor. Buzzonetti will only be made aware of it the next day, in front of the cold body lying on the bed.

The discovery

Falasca‘s book, thanks to the new testimonies, brings out some contradictions in the stories of the two special secretaries of the Pontiff. Don Diego Lorenzi, the Orionian priest who had followed Luciani from Venice, was not present at the time when the Pope had the chest-pain in the chapel. And on the evening of September 28th, immediately after dinner, he left the apartment. Sister Margherita Marin reports that John Paul I had decided to replace him. On the morning of 29 September, it was not the secretaries who found the body of the Pope, but Sister Vincenza and Sister Margherita. The Pope had not touched the coffee that had been left for him in the sacristy at 5:15 a. m., and so Sister Vincenza after knocking several times, entered the room and said, "Holiness, you shouldn't joke with me! The religious woman in fact was weak of heart. Then she called me, coming out shocked," Sister Margherita recounts, "I immediately went in and saw him too... I touched his hands, they were cold, I saw, and I was struck by my his slightly dark fingernails".

The doubts of the Cardinals

Among the unpublished documents in the appendix to the book are the medical records from which it can be seen that already in 1975, during a hospitalisation, a minor cardiovascular pathology was reported, that was treated with anticoagulants and considered resolved. And there is also the note that the cardinals, before the new conclave, wanted to address, in complete secrecy, to the doctors who had dealt with the Pope on the occasion of the embalming. Through the Secretariat of State, the Cardinals asked if "the examination of the body" allowed to "exclude traumatic lesions of any kind"; if the diagnosis of "sudden death" was ascertained and finally they asked if "Sudden death is always natural”. Serious and significant doubts: the cardinals did not exclude a priori the hypothesis of a caused death, which the doctors' denied.

Beatification, the final ok is on its way

On Tuesday 7 November, on the same day as the release of Falasca's book, the ordinary session of the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints will be held in the Vatican: they are called to pronounce on Albino Luciani's "heroic virtues". That same day, or the day after, Pope Bergoglio's signing of the decree will finally be announced. In the meantime, two trials are underway on two alleged "miracles" attributed to the intercession of the Venetian Pontiff. Beatification is getting closer and closer.

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Sun, 11/05/2017 - 22:01
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