After that brief interruption, we now return to our coverage of all things papal…
With The New York Times glued to Pope Francis’ visit to the States, it is hard to imagine that The Times yesterday once completely missed an entire papacy.
But it happened. Some of you will recall that the tenure of Pope John Paul I lasted only a month — from the end of August to the end of September 1978.
But readers of The Times didn’t get a word about John Paul I — not one word — until after he died. The reason? The newspaper went through an 88-day strike in 1978, and the strike spanned the entirety of John Paul’s brief reign.
After the strike, The Times published a Nov. 6 special section that included a page of obituaries of notable people who had died during the strike. Pope John Paul I got the longest obituary — 10 paragraphs — plus a photo.
However, an Oct. 16, one-time edition of a publication called Not The New York Times chronicled the demise of another short-lived — even less-known — pope, John Paul John Paul I.
It seems John Paul John Paul I had been “Archbishop of Liverpool.” He took his papal name from his three predecessors — John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I — although speculation has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney also influenced his choice.
Here’s the Not The New York Times’ Oct. 16, 1978 report on the papacy of John Paul John Paul I.
Rome, Oct. 11 — Pope John Paul John Paul I, 264th Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, died this afternoon while administering the Papal benediction to thousands who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his investiture. He served as pope for 19 minutes, the briefest reign in the history of the church.
The cause of the Pope’s death was not immediately clear. The 41-year-old Pontiff, formerly Archbishop of Liverpool and the first non-Italian to ascend the throne of St. Peter, collapsed in mid-sentence and toppled forward into a battery of microphones as he blessed the faithful who filled the square below.
His last words, which were also his first as spiritual head of the world’s 49 million Roman Catholics, were heard by millions who watched the ancient rite of investiture via communications satellite. Raising his hand to make the Sign of the Cross, the Pope intoned, “In nomine patri” and seemed to falter. He regained his speech momentarily, but only long enough to pronounce the next two words of the sacrament, “et filio” in a choking voice. Then he emitted a high-pitched squeal, which many mistook as coming from the boys’ choir, and fell forward.
Pope John Paul John Paul’s death followed by two weeks that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, who reigned for only 38 days. The latest papal death produced renewed controversy, confusion and speculation inside the church about choosing a successor for John Paul John Paul and the circumstances of his demise. Highly placed Vatican sources predicted that many of the 112 members of the College of Cardinals would decline to remain in Rome for the selection of a new pope. Rather than return to their spartan quarters deep in the basilica, many cardinals were said to favor choosing John Paul John Paul’s successor in a conference call.
The Italian newspapers immediately seized on the latest papal demise as evidence of a conspiracy. Several possibilities were advanced, with the most serious consideration going to the “single heart attack theory” to account for all the deaths.
Meanwhile, from every corner of the globe came expressions of deep mourning for the little Liverpudlian…Only hours earlier the jocular Pontiff had told his closest aides that he wanted to be called Jay-Pee Two, as a symbol of the informality and bold change that he hoped would mark his reign.
…The moral, I suppose, is you can’t pay close enough attention to a papal visit, because you never know when the Almighty is going to call his representative on earth home.