ROME – If the “smiling pope,” John Paul I, were alive today, he would stand as a counter-example to a social media-driven culture of “followers” and “likes,” according to the Church official in charge of his sainthood cause, refusing to sacrifice truth on the altar of popularity.
Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella made that comment during a homily offered as part of a Mass in honor the memory of Pope John Paul I in the small Italian town of Canale d’Agordo, in the northern Veneto region, where the future pontiff was born in 1912.
The Mass marked the 45th anniversary of the election of Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as Pope John Paul I on August 26, 1978. Pope Francis beatified his predecessor on Sept. 4, 2022, marking the penultimate stage before sainthood.
According to Stella, a veteran Vatican diplomat who’s overseen the sainthood cause of the late pope since 2016, if John Paul I were alive today, he would stand in sharp contrast to the dominant modes of public speech and behavior.
“Let’s learn from the Blessed to use a humble, rich in beautiful humanity,” Stella said. “Let’s eliminate arrogance from our mouths, presumption, projecting ourselves as first class [figures] who know everything and always have to teach others,” he said.
Stella said the personality of John Paul I, who was known for simple figures of speech and common-place references, is at odds with the culture one often finds in the 21st century in digital spaces.
“His humility contrasts strongly with the modern obsession in social media with ‘followers’ and ‘likes’, an altar upon which lives, people, and hours of work and sleep are sometimes sacrificed, not mention, unfortunately, the truth, in both speaking and thinking,” Stella said.
“With respect and grace, I’d like to say, even to those who show up armed with a microphone, or in front of a camera, or on a social media channel,” he said, “that we shouldn’t compete for who says something ‘bigger,’ or who’s capable of offending others more deeply, or who’s more impressive, or, even worse, who’s better at lying.”
Now 82, Stella is a former Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy who also once served as the papal ambassador to Cuba and Colombia, and also headed the Vatican’s elite academy for diplomats.
In general, Stella said, John Paul I can teach today’s generation a different, gentler way of relating to people.
“Let’s keep away from language we wouldn’t use in front of our children,” Stella said.
“Let’s learn to be noble in words and gestures, respectful of the elderly and of little ones, to set a good example as parents, and to fill our days with small good works and humble service to others,” he said.
“Let’s go back to acting well towards the elderly, and towards everyone,” Stella said.
On another front, Stella also referred to the devotion many young Italian couples struggling to have a child feel to the late pope, seeing him as a patron saint of newborns and children.
“I’d like to say, quietly and submissively but with deep admiration, that service to newborn life today is a great act of faith, hope and charity … I’d almost say it’s a work of true saints, to both society and the Church,” Stella said.
“We trust in the Lord, who invites [couples] to be fathers and mothers of new lives, and who won’t fail to provide ‘bread and water’ – I’m speaking metaphorically – to sustain us in hours of weariness, of need, of distress, for us and for our children,” he said.
Stella then expressed gratitude to “this charming town that gave [John Paul I] birth, to this dear diocese that preserves his memory, and to all those who knew and loved the unforgettable John Paul I and who are here today, with strong emotions in their hearts, to venerate his memory and to implore his intercession.”