As far as American Catholics are concerned, Pope John Paul I begins his pontificate with their high hopes and expectations, but with a long agenda of problems they would like to see him unravel. They include:

"He has to show the poor of the world that the church is at their service."

"He must establish the credibility of leadership."

"He will have to hold the right and the left together."

"I hope he would follow up on the interests of Pope Paul in the development of peoples in the Third World."

The selection of the virtually unknown Venetian Cardinal Albino Luciani as the 263rd pope of the Romana Catholic Church has sent even the best informed American church leaders to the newspapers and news magazines for information about thenew pope.

Almost universally, they find reason for optimism about what they find.

"Of course a new pope always starts off with everybody giving him 100 percent, with a clean slate," observed Msgr. John Egan, assistant to the president of the University of Notre Dame.

Despite the scarcity of first hand information about the new pope, American church leaders were able to find much to praise in the bare biographical facts.

"I find it very interesting that his father was a migrant worker," said Bishop James S. Rausch of Phoenix, who has been actively involved in the problems of migratory workers in this country. He knows firsthand what it means to be poor."

Rausch, who until a year and a half ago was general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that in his visits to Rome, he had never met the new pope "so far as I know." But he found it an asset rather than a liability that Pope John Paul is inexperienced in both Vatican diplomacy and administration.

"He comes with a fresh look at the world," he said. "Most of us have grown very tired wrestling with the forces that pull us first one way, then the other. He probably will be able to see the forest better because he hasn't been tangled with the trees."

"I guess it's a funny thing for a theologian to say, but I like his smile," volunteered the Rev. Walter Burghardt, editor of the scholarship journal Theological Studies.

"He looks like someone who has the ability to get close to people and that's good." he continued. "We need someone who isn't just making doctrinal statements, but who is a leader, someone who can move the minds and hearts of people."

Robbie L. Robinson, national coordinator for the National Black Catholic Lay Caucus, found hope in the new pontiff's decision to take the names of his two predecessors. "If he follows the lines of (Popes John XXIII and Paul VI) and gets good advice, we'll have a good man."

Robinson also was impressed with the new pope's decision to dispense with the elaborate and costly coronation and instead mark the formal beginning of his reign next Sunday with a simple mass in St. Peter's Square (an action that Bishop Rausch gleefully observed has "got the protocol people in an uproar").

"That says a lot to me," said Robinson. "It says there's dedication and there's commitment. A lot of my people are taking that seriously."

The Rev. Avery Dulles of Catholic University and a leading theologian of the American church, said he was "very pleased with what I've heard." He cited approvingly the new pope's pastoral experience, a point that seems universally to please American church leaders.

But at the same time, Dulles warned, "we shouldn't overdo the idea of the simple pastor; he is a doctor in theology and has taught theology," and his writings reflect "learning, wit and imagination."

"He'll need all of that," Dulles noted.

The Rev. John J. Ricard, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish and former chairman of the Black Secretariat of the Washington Archdiocese, also expressed pleasure with the new pope's pastoral background.

"In recent years, there has been the trend to pick bishops who are pastors, rather than from the chancery," he observed. "Now we have it (pastoral leadership) at the top."

One American religious leader who has met the new pontiff is Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of interfaith relations for the American Jewish Committee. He predicted that Pope John Paul "will be very good for the Jewish people as I hope he will be for the whole human family."

Tanenbaum met the new pope a year ago in Venice during an international Catholic-Jewish dialogue session. He said Cardinal Luciani at that time expressed his views on "central issues of Jewish consciousness today;" condemnation of anti-Semitism, "sympathy and support for the right of Israel to be a sovereign state" and concern for "the Jew" people as a historic realth and not just as an object for conversion [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

Tanenbaum said that under Pope John [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]

Tanenbaum said that under Pope John Paul, he looked forward to opportunities too. "Jews and Christians to work together for peace, for social justice and for human right."

In company with a number of Catholic leaders [WORD ILLEGIBLE] theologian George Lindbeck of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] University Divinity School found [WORD ILLEGIBLE] selection on the first day of the papal conclave significant.

"We don't know what his policies will be," Lindbeck said, but the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the choice "suggests personal qualities that make people trust him spontaneously, implicitly."

The [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] "could have made up the minds that fast only if he is the kind of person one can instinctively trust." said Lindbeck, who was an observer at the Second Vatican Council.

It is just qualities, theologian Burghardt believes, that the church - and the world - needs today. The late Pope Paul, he explained, presented an image of being weighed down with problems.

"If Pope John Paul could give off a sense of a sort of confidence in the Holy Spirit (to assist in dealing with the problems), it could be very helpful to all Christian people," he said.

Both Catholics and non-Catholics cited the pope's monumental task of bridging the differences within the church between conservatives and progressives.

"The major issue before him is to hold the right and the left together and implement the kinds of things that were started by Vatican II in such a way as not to alienate either the right or the left," Lindbeck said.

The Rev. Ronald Saucci, director of communication for the worldwide Maryknoll Missionary order, sees as the top priority for Pope John Paul the problems of the Third World: Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.

"This is a very great concern, for in a few years the number of people in the Third World will outnumber the Christians in the developed world," he said, adding that he hoped the new pope will carry forward the initiatives of Pope Paul in this area.

Saucci predicted that the new pontiff, who reportedly has never traveled outside Italy, would of necessity begin visiting other parts of the world.

"If we thought Pope Paul traveled a lot, I think Pope John Paul will travel a lot more," he said.

Problems of international justice were the focus of a gathering of nearly 1,000 administrators of religious orders - both men's and women's - meeting in Cleveland this week. According to the Rev. Don Clifford, a Jesuit priest from Philadelphia who acted as spokesman for the group, the assembled leaders of the orders of priests, nuns and brothers shared the expectation that the new pope would be concerned about justice.

Egan of Notre Dame also raised the issue of justice. The new pope "has to truly let the poor of the world know that the church is at their service," he said. "He has to show the poor of the world that the church is interested in defending the oppressed and bringing about profound social change."

He added that "if we are concerned about justice in the world, we would have to be concerned about justice in the church." This means, he said, that the new pope will have to wrestle with such questions as "contraception, optional celibacy and the role of women."

Egan said the "overriding questions" for the new pontiff are "the credibility of the papacy and the church, the alienated Catholics of the last 20 years and the proper use of papal authority . . . Will he rule by dictum or collegiality? Will he listen to the needs of the people around the world or just a small coterie?"

Bishop Rausch, too, believes that the central issue before the new pontiff is "to establish the credibility of his leadership. Everything else will depend, after some visibility, on [WORD ILLEGIBLE] he handles that . . . If he really comes on as a strong but gentle leader and I have every hope that he will, then he can deal with the substantive issues."

He, too, cited as the most critical issues the right-leftist divisions within the church and the three major controversies of recent years: family limitation, ordination of women and celibacy in the clergy. "I think very early on he'll have to express himself on these questions," Rausch said.

Black Catholic activist Robinson seemed to sum up the feelings of Catholics and non-Catholics alike when he said: "The thing is, now we've got to pray for him." CAPTION: Picture 1, RABAI [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]; Picture 2, POPE JOHN PAUL I . . . a monumental task; Picture 3, THE REV. AVERY DULLES . . . . "pleased with what I've heard"