Blessed John XXIII
(Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) Pope (1881-1963)
Saint of the day October 11
Let the winds of change blow into the Church!” said His Holiness, Pope John XXIII, symbolically opening a window, at the commencement of Vatican II in the year 1962. Ever since, neither have the winds of change stopped blowing nor has any of John’s successors closed the window of the Church on the winds of change. Indeed, the Church Universal continues to take a scrutinizing look both at herself and at the gospel she preaches and practises.
Blessed John XXIII was obviously a man with a keenness all his own a keen foresight that led him to call the council whose discussions, decisions and directives have had far reaching implications; a keen sense of duty that ensured he maintained a busy schedule, whether as a priest or a bishop, as Archbishop, Cardinal or Pope, that was both exacting and productive; a keen sense of judgement that helped him save the Church in France much embarrassment and heart-break during the priest-workers’ strife in that country; a keen sense of humanity that saw him save an estimated 24,000 Jews from extermination; a keen sense of humour that saw him steer clear of controversy through many a possible crisis; a keen sense of God’s providence that made him the ideal person to promote a new dialogue with Protestant and Orthodox Christians and with Jews and Muslims as well; and, above all, a keen sense of Christian unity that had him make his own the priestly prayer of Jesus on the eve of his death, “Ut unum sint”, i.e., “that they may be one” (Jn 17:22).
Born into a simple peasant family of Sotto il Monte near Bergamo, Northern Italy on 25 November 1881, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was ordained Priest in 1904. He was drafted into the army as a stretcher-boy during World War I. In 1921 he was appointed national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and in 1925, consecrated Bishop. He was then made Archbishop and appointed Papal diplomat first to Bulgaria, then to Turkey and, finally, from 1944-53 to France. During the World War II, he became familiar with several Orthodox Church leaders, establishing a rapport between the two Churches that continues to grow till this day.
In 1953 he was created Cardinal and appointed Patriarch of Venice. In October 1958, subsequent to the death of Pius XII, Angelo Roncalli, aged 78, was elected Pope. He took the name of John after his father and the two patrons of Rome’s cathedral, viz., Sts John the Evangelist and John the Baptist.
A many-sided personality, with deep reserves to draw upon, John XXIII was a man of intuitive tact and gracious courtesy, simple and open-minded, always succeeding in bringing out the best in people. In keeping with his Episcopal motto, “Obedientia et Pax” (Obedience and Peace), John XXIII was truly a man of obedience all his priestly life obedience to the will of God in all things and a man of peace, a peace that transmitted itself to others. As a certain journalist named Giovanna once said, “One experiences a sense of release in speaking to him”.
This humble “Pope of the Council” was raised to the honours of the Altar on 3 September 2000 by Pope John Paul II who assigned his feast to 11 October, the opening day of the first session of Vatican II.