Albino Luciani, now John Paul I, the 263rd Roman Catholic pope, is the product of one of the thousands of villages that dot the Italian countryside -- where a simple life prevails.
"I am a little man accustomed to little things and to silence," the 65-year-old cardinal recently told a reporter.
He had spent most of his life in Italy's Northeast where he was born at Forno di Canale, a village in an Alpine valley of the Dolomites on Oct. 17, 1912. His father, a socialist, was for many years a migrant worker in Switzerland until he got a job in the glassworks of Murano, an island in the Venice lagoon. His mother was a peasant, "strong and devout," as he once said.
He entered the seminary young and during summer vacations returned home to work in the fields.
Many in his home village, which was renamed Canale D'Agordo in 1964, remember seeing him cutting grass wearing a black cassock.
In the seminary and then at Rome's Gregorian University, from which he was graduated in dogmatic theology, his favorite subjects were philosophy, theology and literature. He was ordained priest on July 7, 1936, at the age of 22, and went to Rome to attend the Gregorian. For his thesis he wrote about the philosophy of Antonio Rosmini, a 19th century priest who was for many years looked upon with distrust by the hierarchy.
After graduation, Luciani went back to his native village to work in the local parish, then in the nearby town of Agordo where he also taught religion in a vocational school.
For 10 years beginning in 1937 he was deputy director in the Belluno Seminary where he had studied and taught theology, ethics, church law and art history. In 1948, Luciani became one of the top aides of the bishop of Belluno with the title of deputy vicar in charge of the teaching of religion.
He concentrated in making this teaching as simple as possible so that illiterate mountain people could understand it. He recounted his experiences in a book entitled "Catechism in Crumbs," now in its seventh edition.
He once said: "The true treasures of the church are the poor, the little ones to be helped not merely with occasional ams but in away they can be promoted."
He had been vicar general in Belluno for four years, When Pope John XXIII named him bishop of Vittorio Veneto, a diocese south of Belluno, in 1958.
Luciani kept in constant touch with the parishes there, sometimes riding a bicycle for his pastoral visits.
During the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council Luciani said it was difficult for him to change his rame of mind from pre-council church attitudes to the more liberal teachings.
"The part that cost me more problems was that on religious liberty," he said later referring to the council's decree stating the right of full and equal liberty for believers and nonbelievers. Referring to Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, the conservative former head of the Holy Office, he added: "For years I had been teaching Ottaviani's theories about law, according to which only the true (Roman Catholic) religion has rights. I convinced myself we were wrong."
In 1969 Pope Paul named Luciani patriarch of Venice, one of Italy's most prestigious episcopal posts. Luciani is the third patriarch of Venice to be elected pope this century, after Pius X in 1903 and John XXIII in 1958.
One of Luciani's first decisions in Venice was to allow parishes to sell jewels and precious stones in the churches and to give the proceeds to the poor. He refused to wear the customary precious ring that symbolized his office.
Yet when the ferment stirred by the Vatican Council reached Venice Luciani appeared to be on the conservative side. He was against worker-priests -- those who went into the factories and fields to labor alongside the laity -- and criticized unions over strikes and workers demonstrations.
In 1975 he recommended discipline for priests who spoke out in favor of the Communist Party or other leftist groups.