After the shock of the death of John Paul I - a man thought blessed with real charisma - Rome concentrated its mind on finding someone equally compulsive and with bags of people-magnetism.
The second edition of US Time magazine that October reported that the search was on for a candidate who had both physical strength and the will to carry on the work of John Paul I.
‘The search for charisma, plus the near-universal insistence on a "pastoral" Pope, concentrates continued attention upon Corrado Ursi, 70, a popular shepherd in Naples whose easygoing air and ample girth inspire repeated comparison to Pope John XXIII. Close behind him in the early discussions is Salvatore Pappalardo, 60, also an effective pastor in Sicily,’ wrote the Time journalist.
Sergio Pignedoli, 68, was also a front-runner, Giovanni Benelli, 57, an outsider. Some mentioned the possibility of a foreign pope, a non Italian! Johannes Willebrands, 68, of The Netherlands. Some Cardinals are touting Curialists Eduardo Pironio, 57, of Argentina and Villot, 72, of France, perhaps? But that was unlikely. It hadn’t happened since 1522.
And then, two paragraphs from the end of the Time article, they get to a name not widely known outside of Poland.
‘Last week speculation also ran to names rarely heard before: Paulo Evaristo Arns, 57, Brazil's brave champion of human rights; Joseph Cordeiro, 60, of Pakistan, who exudes saintly simplicity and concern for the poor; and Poland's Karol Wojtyla, 58, who is a strong leader in a hostile environment—and speaks fluent Italian.’
But it was just speculation. A non-Italian who was under 60 years old? Nah. This was still the world, before JP II.
On Wednesday I am going to the Vatican. Catch you then.
A Light That Left Us Amazed, Time magazine, Oct 16, 1978.