The Election of Pope John Paul II

Published: 1978
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI
The Pope covers his ears to protect them from the deafening screams coming from Roman school boys and girls as he enters St. Peter's Basilica December 6, 1978 for his general audience. (UPI Photo/Luciano Mellace)

Edwin Smith: The stunning series of events within the Roman Catholic Church began innocuously enough on Saturday, August the 5th, with a brief announcement that Pope Paul VI was taking a few days' rest in bed because of arthritis in his knees. Then 24 hours later came a swift series of bulletins from the Vatican that he had suffered a heart attack, and two hours and ten minutes later that he was dead.

Thousands flocked to see Paul’s body lying in state at the summer palace at Castel Gandolfo, and hundreds of thousands more crammed St. Peter Square for his open-air funeral...

Unknown Speaker: "And now the procession begins to move back into the vast main gate of the Basilica. First, several priests bearing crosses and behind them the first of a file of more than 100 Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church will jointly have celebrated this requiem mass for Pope Paul VI."

Edwin Smith: Then the Cardinals were sealed up in the Vatican Palace to elect the new pope. Traditionally black smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel is the signal that the voting is inconclusive and white smoke that a new pope has been elected. But when the chimney started pouring smoke on the Saturday evening, the setting sun shining through the smoke made it impossible to be sure what color it was, even for Vatican Radio...

Unknown Speaker: "Well for more than nine minutes, the smoke has been belching out of the chimney and everyone is trying to decide the color themselves, just as we are here watching on the television monitor and the people in the Square are doing the same; everyone is pointing and discussing things with one another. Some say white, some say base, some say black; but it seems to be black."

Edwin Smith: Senior Cardinal Deacon Paraguay Filliche put an end to the suspense with his announcement from the balcony that the Cardinals had elected Venice patriarch Albino Luciani to be Pope John Paul I. Although he was a theological conservative, the shy and smarting figure of John Paul I made an immediate popular impression with the crowd’s in the Square, and his popularity was still growing six weeks later when on Friday, September the 29th, the Vatican stunned the world again by announcing that John Paul had been found dead in his bed, again apparently from a heart attack. Once more the Cardinals converged on Rome for a second conclave, and they set the scene for the biggest surprise of all: Cardinal Filliche's announcement that this time they had elected as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. His election set off great outpourings of joy, both in his native Poland and among the large communities of Polish-Americans in the United States, like Mrs. Jenny Wolshek of North Royalton, Ohio, who came to Rome for his inauguration …

Ms. Jenny Wolshek: "I think he's a people’s pope, and he is very concerned about all the people. And he took the time and he took the energy to walk all the way up the aisle and all the way back down again and touch as many people as he possibly could, and this is the first pope that I've seen do that."

Edwin Smith: The new Polish pope quickly set about establishing his own style, journeying about Italy by helicopter and adding his voice to that of President Carter in defense of human rights. At the year’s end, he was hinting broadly that he would return to Poland next May as the first Pope ever to visit a Communist country.

Edwin Smith for Recap 78.