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St. Pope John XXIII

The man who became John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli on November 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte, Italy. His family were sharecroppers and Angelo was the fourth sibling in a family of 14. Angelo, his parents and siblings lived with the family of his father’s brother. The family patriarch, Angelo’s great-uncle Zaverio guided the family and was a significant influence on young Angelo, teaching him the Faith. Angelo entered the seminary at Bergamo in 1892; during his time as a seminarian he became a Secular Franciscan. He also started writing in a spiritual journal; this became his lifelong habit. He was ordained in 1904 and became secretary to Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi, the new Bishop of Bergamo. He assisted the bishop with the work of the diocese, promoting social action. During this time Father Roncalli also taught in the seminary. In 1915, the young priest was drafted into the Italian army as a chaplain. After World War I he continued working at the seminary and in 1921 he was appointed the Italian preside of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925, he became a bishop with his appointment as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria. He served in Bulgaria for ten years as Apostolic Delegate, establishing respectful relations with other Christian churches; this was a difficult mission, but Bishop Roncalli endured it with trust in Jesus. He became Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey in 1935; here he respectfully dialogued with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church and with Moslems. During World War II, he saved the lives of many Jews by issuing transit visas from the Apostolic Delegation. In December 1944, he became Papal Nuncio to France; this was a more prominent post than his other positions and Bishop Roncalli filled it with the same simplicity, care and concern for others that he had shown in previous positions. He arrived in France in the last months of the war and helped prisoners of war. He helped normalize France’s ecclesiastical organization which had been disturbed by the German occupation. Every day he spent several hours in prayer. In 1953, he was appointed Cardinal of Venice. He enjoyed this position for it enabled him to go out and minister to ordinary laypeople. On October 28, 1958 he was elected pope. Very few observers, including the new pontiff himself had expected this development. Most people thought he would simply be a “caretaker” pope so that a younger candidate could be chosen at the next election. From the outset, the Cardinal from Venice surprised people. He took the name John XXIII; there had not been a Pope John in hundreds of years, because the last pontiff of that name had been elected amidst controversy. John XXIII won the hearts of millions around the globe, both Catholic and non-Catholic. He was gentle, warm, and humorous. He visited the sick and prisoners. He issued the encyclicals Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra on social justice. He is best remembered for summoning the Second Vatican Council. John XXIII died of cancer on June 3, 1963, before he could see the main fruits of the Council. During his last months, the ill pope was his same gentle, cheerful self, trusting in the Lord.

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