Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. John XXIII, was Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1958 to 1963.
Born Angelo Roncalli, in the Italian province of Lombardy, to a family of sharecroppers, in 1881. He would be ordained a priest in 1904, serve as an stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian army, during World War I. After the war, he would be a bishop’s secretary, papal diplomat to Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. During World War II, he would use his diplomatic and ecclesial status to help hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.
He was appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy, and made a Cardinal, in 1953. In 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, he joined other Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, to elect the new Pope. After eleven ballots, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope. As is custom he took a new name, and became Pope John XXIII.
He was expected to be a “caretaker” Pope, his papacy was to be short and uneventful. He shocked everyone when in 1959, he summoned the world’s bishops to what became the Second Vatican Council. He would not live to see it’s conclusion, dying of stomach cancer in 1963.
I have no memories of his pontificate. As an altar server, I witnessed the steady changes that came in the liturgy. When I was in high school, I came across a book listing his memorable sayings, including his more humorous ones. I became attracted to this Pope from the Italian countryside. In seminary, I read his spiritual journal, “Journal of a Soul,” and encountered the deeply spiritual Pope John. And I have read, or at least tried to read his social justice papal encyclicals “letters,” especially his famous “Pacem in Terris.” I am finding that this letter still has something to say for our times.
Recently, I learned that there is something St. John XXIII and I share; we are both Secular Franciscans. He joined the OFS during his seminary days, I joined in 1988. So to my fellow Franciscan, I ask his intercession for our troubled Church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into living the Gospel life more fully.