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A quick glance back to 1978

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2013

Do you remember what you were doing 35 years ago today—assuming that you’re old enough to make that question relevant? Do you remember hearing the words: Habemus Papem?

It was on this date in 1978 that Pope John Paul I was elected.

Unless you were living in Rome at the time, or paying very close attention, you probably didn’t hear the announcement. In those days a papal election was a relatively quiet affair. There weren’t dozens of TV crews around St. Peter’s Square; there was no World Wide Web. Even dedicated Catholics were only vaguely aware that a conclave was going on; they might see the results on the nightly TV news, or more likely they would learn the new Pope’s identity by reading the newspaper the next day.

A lot has changed—and not only in the world of communications. Back in 1978, the typical Catholic didn’t think that the election of a new Roman Pontiff could radically change the public image of the Catholic Church. Later that year they would learn otherwise, and the lesson is being repeated for us again this year.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Aug. 27, 2013 7:26 AM ET USA

    I have to dispute your claim: "Even dedicated Catholics were only vaguely aware that a conclave was going on". I was only 8 years old in 1958 when Pope Pius XII died and I was acutely aware of the Conclave at that time and followed it assiduously every day in the paper. The year was 1978 as you have pointed out when John Paul I was elected. Dedicated Catholics were very much aware of what was happening.