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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pope Saint John XXIII


Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in a stone farm house on November 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte, a small country village 40 miles from Milan.

He was the eldest son of Giovanni Battista Roncalli and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzoll and fourth in a family of 13.

His father was a share cropper who had saved enough money to buy a plot of his own. “Italians come to ruin most generally three times - women, gambling and farming,” Roncalli later said. “My family chose the slowest one.”

At the age of 11 Angelo told his father he wanted to become a priest.

Angelo studied at Bergamo seminary then went onto Rome where he graduated from Apollinare Seminary aged 25.

Roncalli (middle) in 1901.

In addition to Italian, Greek and Latin he spoke fluent French and some Turkish.


In 1905, Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo.

As a young Priest, he spent a year teaching the life and thought of the early Church Fathers at the Pontifical Lateran Seminary in Rome. His views did not endear him to authority. As a result Roncalli languished as a letter copier in the oriental congregation of the Vatican.

The future Pope John XXIII was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant for World War 1, serving in the medical corps and as a chaplain.

After the war, Roncalli founded Italy’s first student home for poor youths.

He was Papal Nunciol, a sort of Papal visitor, to first of all Bulgaria, then Turkey between 1924-44.

During World War II, Roncalli used his position to help thousands of Jewish refugees escape persecution.

In 1944 Roncalli was made Papal Nunciol to the recently liberated France. When he heard of his appointment he thought there had been some mistake saying, “I am not worthy of the job.”

When he was Papal Nunco to France, the future Pope John XXIII  was invited to a banquet. His dinner partner wore an extremely low cut dress, which the prelate affected not to notice. During the meal when dessert was offered however, he selected an apple and offered it to the lady. She refused. He urged "please take it madam. It was only after Eve ate the apple that she became aware of how little she had on."

Of his time in France, Pope John later related in a humorous account that, when a woman wearing a daringly low-cut dress arrived at a reception which he was attending, the people assembled in the room did not watch the woman, but, rather, him to see if he was watching the woman.

On January 12, 1953, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and, accordingly, raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca by Pope Pius XII.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice (1953–1958)


On November 4, 1958 Angelo Roncalli was elected pope. He chose his father's name, John, and became Pope John XXIII thus making his views known on the disputed legitimacy of the 15th century Pope John XXIII.  He was crowned wearing the 1877 Palatine Tiara.

After being elected, Pope John XXIII appeared to cheering masses wearing his new papal robes of white silk cassock, red velvet and white ermine lined cape and gold silk stole.

He was aged seventy-six when elected and was considered a caretaker pope but instead he ushered in a new era in the Roman Catholic Church. Within three months of his election as pope, John XXIII proclaimed to the world his plan for a Vatican Council Two. The idea was inspired, he declared, by the Holy Spirit to "aggriornamento" (which means "bring up to date").

On December 25, 1958, John XXII undertook the first papal pastoral visit off Vatican territory since 1870, when he visited children infected with polio at the Bambino Gesù Hospital and then visited Santo Spirito Hospital.

The following day, he visited Rome's Regina Coeli prison, where he told the inmates: "You could not come to me, so I came to you."

In 1960 John XXIII met with Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, primate of the Church of England, the first meeting of a bishop of Rome and Archbishop of Canterbury for over 400 years.

In 1961 Pope John XXIII issued an encyclical Mater et Magistra in which he sought reconciliation, unity and co-operation between individuals, social groups and denominations. For the first time the papacy is stressing the need for technologically advanced countries to help emerging nations by using their technological skills.

At the Second Vatican Council, which began meeting in 1962, great movements were set in train. Celebration in Latin was replaced by the use of the local language, relations with other denominations were relaxed, the role of the laity was enhanced, and the pope was made more 'one among equals'. Also evangelization and the reading of the Bible by the laity was encouraged.

John XXIII died in 1963 so he did not live to see the completion of his plans.


Pope John XXIII died in his bed on June 3, 1963, after a long struggle with stomach cancer. He passed away minutes after 100,000 people had attended a sunset Mass in St Peters Square. When news reached them the departing congregation started weeping, crying "Papa, poor Papa".

During his five years as pope, John XXIII succeeded in bringing the Catholic Church into the 20th century. His successor, Pope Paul VI commented on his predecessor's reforms, "This holy old boy doesn't realize what a hornets nest he is stirring up."

On September 3, 2000, John XXIII was declared "Blessed" alongside Pope Pius IX by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate step on the road to sainthood after a miracle of curing an ill woman was discovered. He was the first pope since Pope Pius X to receive this honor.

On July 5, 2013, Pope Francis approved Pope John XXIII for canonization without the traditional second miracle required. Instead, Francis based this decision on John XXIII's merits for the Second Vatican Council.

The canonization ceremony of John XXIII and John Paul II. By Jeffrey Bruno from New York City, Wikipedia

The date assigned for the liturgical celebration of John XXIII is not June 3rd, the anniversary of his death as would be usual, but October 11th, the anniversary of his opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Source Faber Book of Anecdotes 

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