July 22, 2024
Pope John XXIII – Obedience and Peace

Now known as one of the most beloved popes in history, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in a small country village in the province of Bergamo, Italy, in 1854. He was the firstborn son, but was the fourth in a family of fourteen. He parents worked as sharecroppers and his childhood of farm life contributed to his qualities of simplicity, charity and love for others.

Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in 1904 and the next year he was appointed as secretary to the new bishop of Bergamo, with whom he worked for ten years. During World War I, Roncalli was drafted into the Italian army and served as a member of the medical corps and as a chaplain. Roncalli served in Bulgaria and Greece and chose “Obedience and Peace” as his episcopal motto.

Roncalli rose to the office of Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece in 1935 and he used this office to assist the Jewish underground in saving thousands of European refugees. He continued his work during World War II, intervening to free countless Jews from the Nazi concentration camps.

Roncalli was elected Pope following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. The cardinals chose him, already an elderly man, because they thought would be a ‘stop-gap’ pope. However, Pope John XXIII captured the attention of the world with his warmth, good humor and belief in the planetary family of man. As Pope, he reached out not only to Catholics, but also to people of all religions and to all levels of society. He created a sensation in both the Italian and the international press when he began his visits to the children’s hospitals and prisons in the diocese of Rome. “You could not come to me,” he said, “so I came to you.”

Also known as “Good Pope John,” he convoked an Ecumenical Council in 1962 called Vatican II in the interest of bringing a new spirit to the Christian faith. It was his aim to update the Church to match the revolutionary changes that were taking place in science, politics, economics and morals at the time. His goal was one of Christian unity and world peace. His genuine heart-felt hopes for humanity were welcomed by the theologians and leaders of the day, as well as the populace of the world at large. His diary of spiritual reflections, Journal of a Soul, is still widely read.

Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in May of 1963. Despite his short four-year reign as Pope, he is remembered by the world at large for his understanding of the human experience, his openness to change, his fervent desire for peace and his fundamental goodness as a man. In December of 1963, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. In September of 2000, Pope John XXIII was declared “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II, an honored step along the path to sainthood.