Pope John XXIII
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(This article is about Pope Blessed John XXIII of the 20th century; for the antipope of the 15th century, see: Antipope John XXIII)
Blessed John XXIII
wearing a Papal Tiara
Angelo Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, Italy on November 25
. The fourth in a family of fourteen, his family worked as sharecroppers, a striking contrast to the royally born Eugenio Pacelli
, John's predecessor as pope. Roncalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome's Piazza del Popolo in 1905. In 1915 he was drafted into the Royal Italian army as a sergeant in the medical corp and a chaplain. In 1921 Pope Benedict XV
appointed him the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pope Pius XI
named him Apostolic Visitator in Bulgaria
, raising him to the level of bishop with the titular Diocese of Areopolis. He chose as his Episcopal motto Oboedientia et Pax
, which became his guiding motto. In 1935 he was named Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. In 1944, Pope Pius XII
named him Apostolic Nuncio
in Paris. When he was made a cardinal, the French president claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and gave him the red hat
at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace. In 1953, along with becoming cardinal, he was made patriarch of Venice.
Blessed John XXIII's Coat of Arms
Following the death of Pope Pius XII
, Roncalli was to his own great surprise elected pope on October 28
. He was chosen largely for one reason only, his age. After the long pontificate of his dominating predecessor, the cardinals chose a man they presumed because of his great age and personal modesty would be a short "stop-gap" pope. What they did not expect was that Pope John's personal warmth, good humour and kindness would capture the world's affections in a way his predecessor, for all his great learning, failed to do. He visited prisoners in a gaol, telling them, "You could not come to me. So I came to you." When the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy
, arrived in the Vatican
to see him, he began nervously rehearsing the two methods of address he had been advised to use when she entered: "Mrs Kennedy, Madame" or "Madame, Mrs Kennedy". When she did arrive, however, to the amusement of the press corps he abandoned both and rushed to her saying, "Jackie!"
Blessed John XXIII
signing his encyclical Pacem in Terris
Nor did Pope John's radicalism stop at his informality. To the astonishment and horror of aides, he called an ecumenical council less than ninety years after the controversial Vatican Council. While his aides talked of spending a decade in preparation, John planned to hold it in a manner of months. From the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, came changes that reshaped the face of catholicism: a new Mass, a new ecumenism and a new approach to the world.
He met the Most Rev. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for about an hour in the Vatican on December 2, 1960. It was the first time in more than 500 years that a head of the Anglican Church had visited the Pope.
Pope John XXIII excommunicated Fidel Castro on January 3, 1962 in line with a 1949 decree by Pope Pius XII forbidding Catholics from supporting communist governments.
Known affectionately as "Good Pope John" to many people, John XXIII was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II, a step on the road to sainthood.