In memory of Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider - The “Pontiff” of John Paul I
The Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida’s last time in Rome and the meeting with Antonia, sister of Pope Luciani
by Stefania Falasca
We came to know him in Santo Domingo in 1993. From then on there were many occasions to meet him in Brazil and to maintain the contact. An authentic friendship his. So many memories. One in particular. That of a late winter afternoon of five years ago. It was 15 January of 2003. Dom Aloísio was in Rome, for the ad limina visit of the Brazilian bishops. And we arranged to meet in Sant’ Anna, in the Vatican. From there to the house of Antonia Luciani, sister of John Paul I. In those days, in fact, Antonia was in Rome staying with her daughter Lina and Dom Aloísio wanted to go and introduce himself. They had never met before. It was a calm, family, serene meeting, with tea and pastries. Dom Aloísio talked about his childhood, his parents, of the surroundings in which he had grown up, German emigrants transplanted to that corner of Brazil and who had held on to their customs and language down there. And in that affable manner of his, always flavored with humor, he spoke of when his father consented gladly to his entering the seminary, “At least that way,” he told him, “you’ll finally learn something of the world and even a bit of Portuguese”. Antonia also talked about her family and how some of her relatives had gone as emigrants to those regions. Dom Aloísio then recalled the occasion on which he had accompanied her brother during the journey to Santa Maria in 1975, where Luciani had received a degree honoris causa from a federal University of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, and found himself at home since both he and all the people spoke Venetian. He recalled the great crowd that gathered to hear him and the many people he had seen cry when Albino addressed them with simplicity in dialect. There were also some personal allusions to the conclave of 1978 and then more small episodes recounted with detail and humor. Up to the moment when, greeting him after the election, Luciani had said to him: “Come and visit me, I expect you”; but, Lorscheider added: “I then had no way of doing so...”. Dom Aloísio and Antonia said goodbye to each other simply. When we left, referring to a next visit, I asked him if he would soon be back in Rome. “I don’t think that I’ll come back again”, he answered, “the doctor has told me that it’s better not to make long journeys”. And that was indeed the last occasion on which we saw him and also the last time he came to Rome.
Of the hundred and eleven cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel in that conclave in August of 1978 that led to the election of Pope Luciani, the Brazilian Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, then Archbishop of Fortaleza, was the youngest. He was 53 years old. In the last poll his name was voted only once. The vote came from Albino Luciani. Luciani himself let it be known. After his election he confided that up to the last he had given his vote in conclave to Cardinal Lorscheider, so great was the esteem he nurtured for the human and pastoral profundity of the then vice-president of the CELAM. A mutual esteem. Luciani and Lorscheider had been Council Fathers. Together, as young bishops, they had taken part in all four sessions of Vatican Council II. They then had occasion to deepen their acquaintance in the synods, in particular during the journey to Brazil that the Patriarch of Venice made in November 1975. Luciani was at that time also vice-president of the Italian Episcopal Conference and during all the return journey to Rio de Janeiro in the company of the vice-president of the CELAM they had a cordial and frank exchange of ideas about the functions that an Episcopal Conference should perform. Lorscheider appreciated in Luciani the “promptness in grasping the issues and seeing them profoundly with decisiveness”, defining him “witty in thought and firm in doctrine”. About the details of that closeness to Luciani and the stages that brought the Patriarch of Venice to the Chair of Peter, Cardinal Lorscheider spoke for the first time in 1998 in an interview he granted us in Aparecida.