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St. John the XXIII

The Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881 - 1963), was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Italy. He headed the Catholic Church and ruled the Vatican City from 1958 until his death. Pope John XXIII was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000.

Angelo Roncalli was the third child of thirteen born in an Italian village to sharecroppers. He was ordained a priest in 1904 and served in various posts including appointment as Papal Nuncio in several countries, including France (1944). He did much to help Jews during the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII made Roncalli a Cardinal in 1953. Pope John was elected on 28 October 1958 at the age of 77. He surprised those who expected him to be a caretaker Pope by calling the historic Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). He did not live to see it to completion, dying in 1963, four-and-a-half years after his election, and two months after the completion of his final encyclical, Pacem in Terris. Pope John was beloved for his evident warmth and kindness. He was beatified on 3 September 2000.


Early life and ordination

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, a small country village in the Bergamo province of the Lombardy region of Italy. He was the first-born son of Giovanni Battista Roncalli (1854–1935) and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla (1854–1939), and fourth in a family of 13, including: Angelo Giuseppe, Alfredo (1889–1972), Maria Caterina (1877–1883), Teresa (1879–1954), Ancilla (1880–1953), Domenico Giuseppe (22 February 1888 – 14 March 1888), Francesco Zaverio (1883–1976), Maria Elisa (1884–1955), Assunta Casilda (1886–??), Giovanni Francesco (1891–1956), Enrica (1893–1918), Giuseppe Luigi (1894–??) and Luigi (1896–1898). His family worked as sharecroppers as did most of the people of Sotto il Monte – a striking contrast to that of his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII), who came from an ancient aristocratic family, long connected to the Papacy. However, he was still a descendant of an Italian noble family, from a secondary and impoverished branch.

In 1904, Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome.

Priest and bishop

In 1905, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, the new Bishop of Bergamo, appointed Roncalli as his secretary. Roncalli worked for Radini-Tedeschi until the bishop's death in 1914. During this period Roncalli was also a lecturer in the diocesan seminary in Bergamo.

During World War I, Roncalli was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer and as a chaplain. After being discharged from the army in 1919, he was named spiritual director of the seminary.

In 1921, Pope Benedict XV appointed him as the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria (1925–1935), also naming him for consecration as titular bishop of Areopolis, Greece. He chose as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax ("Obedience and Peace"), which became his guiding motto.


In 1935 he was made Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. Roncalli used this office to help the Jewish underground in saving thousands of refugees in Europe, leading some to consider him to be a Righteous Gentile (see Pope John XXIII and Judaism). In 1944, during World War II, Pope Pius XII named him Apostolic Nuncio to France. In this capacity he had to negotiate the retirement of bishops who had collaborated with the German occupying power.


In 1953, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and, accordingly, raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca by Pope Pius XII. As a sign of his esteem, the President of France, Vincent Auriol, claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and bestowed the red hat on Roncalli at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace.


Papal election

Following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Roncalli was elected Pope, to his great surprise. He had even arrived in the Vatican with a return train ticket to Venice. Many had considered Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, a possible candidate, but, although archbishop of one of the most ancient and prominent sees in Italy, he had not yet been made a cardinal. Though his absence from the 1958 conclave did not make him ineligible – under Canon Law any Catholic male may be elected – the College of Cardinals usually chose the new Pope from among themselves.

After the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man who – it was presumed because of his advanced age – would be a short-term or "stop-gap" pope. In John XXIII's first consistory, Montini was created a cardinal and would become John's successor in 1963, taking the name of Paul VI. John XXIII's personal warmth, good humour and kindness entirely captured the world's affections.

Upon his election, Roncalli chose John as his regnal name. This was the first time in over 500 years that this name had been chosen; previous Popes had avoided its use since the time of the Antipope John XXIII during the Western Schism.

On the choice of his name Pope John said that

I choose John ... a name sweet to us because it is the name of our father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I was baptized, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, including our own basilica . Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy have , and almost all had a brief pontificate. We have preferred to hide the smallness of our name behind this magnificent succession of Roman Popes.

Upon his choosing the name, there was some confusion as to whether he would be known as John XXIII or John XXIV; in response, John declared that he was John XXIII, thus affirming the antipapal status of antipope John XXIII.

Before this antipope, the most recent popes called John were John XXII (1316–1334) and John XXI (1276–1277). However, there was no Pope John XX, owing to confusion caused by medieval historians misreading the Liber Pontificalis to refer to another Pope John between John XIV and John XV.

Visits around Rome

On 25 December 1958, he became the first pope since 1870 to make pastoral visits in his Diocese of Rome, when he visited children infected with polio at the Bambino Gesu 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." These acts created a sensation, and he wrote in his diary:

...great astonishment in the Roman, Italian and international press. I was hemmed in on all sides: authorities, photographers, prisoners, wardens...

His frequent habit of sneaking out of the Vatican late at night to walk the streets of the city of Rome earned him the nickname "Johnny Walker", a pun on the whisky brand name.

Relations with the Jewish People

One of the first acts of Pope John was to eliminate the description of the Jews as "perfidious" in the Good Friday liturgy. He also made a confession for the Church of the sin of anti-semitism through the centuries.

Calling the Council

Far from being a mere "stop gap" pope, to great excitement, John called an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the First Vatican Council (Vatican I's predecessor, the Council of Trent, had been held in the 16th century). Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI remarked to a friend that "this holy old boy doesn't realise what a hornet's nest he's stirring up". During his stay in Bulgaria as Apostolic Visitor (1925–1935) he apparently studied deeds of Saints Cyril and Methodius which are much honored in this country. They developed a new Slavic liturgy using local tongue in Moravia. They arrived in Rome in 868, where they were warmly received. This project found support from Pope Adrian II, who formally authorized the use of the new Slavic liturgy. From the Second Vatican Council came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised liturgy, a stronger emphasis on ecumenism, and a new approach to the world.

Pope John and papal ceremonial

Pope John XXIII was the last pope to use full papal ceremony, some of which was abolished after Vatican II, while the rest fell into disuse. His papal coronation ran for the traditional five hours (Pope Paul VI, by contrast, opted for a shorter ceremony, while later popes declined to be crowned). However, as with his predecessor Pope Pius XII, he chose to have the coronation itself take place on the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, in view of the crowds assembled in Saint Peter's Square below.

Final months and death

On 23 September 1962, Pope John XXIII was first diagnosed with stomach cancer. The diagnosis, which was kept from the public, followed nearly eight months of occasional stomach hemorrhages, and reduced the pontiff's appearances. Looking pale and drawn during these events, he gave a hint to his ultimate fate in April 1963, when he said to visitors, "That which happens to all men perhaps will happen soon to the Pope who speaks to you today."

Pope John offered to mediate between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On 11 May 1963, the Italian president Antonio Segni awarded Pope John XXIII the Balzan Prize for his engagement for peace. It was the Pope's last public appearance.

On 25 May 1963, the Pope suffered another hemorrhage and required blood transfusions, but the cancer had perforated the stomach wall and peritonitis soon set in. By 31 May, it had become clear that the cancer had overcome the resistance of Pope John. "At 11 am Petrus Canisius Van Lierde as Papal Sacristan was at the bedside of the dying pope, ready to anoint him. The Pope began to speak for a very last time: "I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, Ut omnes unum sint." Van Lierde then anointed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Overcome by emotion, Van Lierde forgot the right order of anointing. Pope John gently helped him before bidding those present a last farewell.

The Pope died at 19:49 (local time) of peritonitis due to a perforated stomach cancer on 3 June at the age of 81, ending a reign of four years, seven months. He was buried on 6 June.

On 3 December 1963, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award, in recognition of the good relationship between Pope John and the United States.

Efforts during the Holocaust

As nuncio, Roncalli made various efforts during the Holocaust to save refugees, mostly Jewish people, from the Nazis. Among his efforts were:

Jewish refugees who arrived in Istanbul and were assisted in going on to Palestine or other destinations

Slovakian children managed to leave the country due to his interventions.

Jewish refugees whose names were included on a list submitted by Rabbi Markus of Istanbul to Nuncio Roncalli.

Jews held at Jasenovac concentration camp, near Stara Gradiška, were liberated as a result of his intervention.

Bulgarian Jews who left Bulgaria, a result of his request to King Boris of Bulgaria.

Romanian Jews from Transnistria left Romania as a result of his intervention.

Italian Jews helped by the Vatican as a result of his interventions.

Orphaned children of Transnistria on board a refugee ship that weighed anchor from Constanța to Istanbul, and later arriving in Palestine as a result of his interventions.

Jews held at the Sered concentration camp who were spared from being deported to German death camps as a result of his intervention.

Hungarian Jews who saved themselves through their conversions to Christianity through the baptismal certificates sent by Nuncio Roncalli to the Hungarian Nuncio, Monsignor Angelo Rota.

In 1965 the Catholic Herald quoted Pope John as saying:

We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognise in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know what we did."

On 7 September 2000 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation launched the International Campaign for the Acknowledgement of the humanitarian actions undertaken by Vatican Nuncio Giuseppe Roncalli for people, most of whom were Jewish, persecuted by the Nazi regime. The launching took place at the Permanent Observation Mission of the Vatican to the United Nations, with the presence of the Vatican's then State Secretary, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The IRWF has carried out exhaustive historical research related to different events connected with interventions of Nuncio Roncalli in favour of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Until now three reports have been published compiling different studies and materials of historical research about the humanitarian actions carried out by Roncalli when he was nuncio.

Legacy and beatification

He was known affectionately as "Good Pope John" and "the most beloved Pope in history" to many people. On 3 September 2000, John was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate step on the road to sainthood. He was the first pope since Pope Pius X to receive this honour. Following his beatification, his body was moved from its original burial place in the grottoes below St Peter's Basilica to the altar of St. Jerome and displayed for the veneration of the faithful. At the time, the body was observed to be extremely well preserved—a condition which the Church ascribes to embalming and the lack of air flow in his sealed triple coffin rather than to a miracle.

When John's body was moved, the original vault above the floor was removed and a new one built beneath the ground; it was here that the body of Pope John Paul II was entombed from 2005 to 2011 before being moved for his beatification in 2011.

The date assigned for the liturgical celebration of John XXIII is not 3 June, the anniversary of his death, as would be usual, but 11 October, the anniversary of his opening of the Second Vatican Council. He is also commemorated in the Anglican Communion.

From his early teens, he maintained a diary of spiritual reflections that was subsequently published as Journal of a Soul. The collection of writings charts Roncalli's efforts as a young man to "grow in holiness" and continues after his election to the Papacy; it remains widely read.

Sedevacantist and Conclavist groups have been some of Pope John's most outspoken critics. The more extreme devotees of Our Lady of Fatima also believe that Pope John deliberately held back secret prophetic information revealed during an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This is perhaps the basis for Internet reports in the late 1990s about the supposed discovery of Pope John's diary in which he allegedly wrote about receiving prophetic insight into the future, including the return of Jesus in New York in 2000. Catholic Church authorities give absolutely no credence to these rumours. Although Pope John did have a diary, there is no evidence in it to suggest that he received apocalyptic visions of the future.

In 2003, The Guardian newspaper found a confidential communique from John to Catholic bishops, allegedly mandating confidentiality in matters of pederasty with the threat of excommunication. These allegations were later denied by Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols, Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults. Nichols explained that the communique "is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law."

The opening titles of Pier Paolo Pasolini's film "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964) dedicates the film to the memory of John XXIII.

In Santo Domingo, The College PUCMM has a high school called Juan XXIII.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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