Pope John XXIII

Delice Bette | October 25, 2022


Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Sotto il Monte, Nov. 25, 1881 – Vatican City, June 3, 1963), was the 261st bishop of Rome and pope of the Catholic Church, primate of Italy and 3rd ruler of the Vatican City State, in addition to the other titles proper to the Roman pontiff, from Oct. 28, 1958 until his death.

In less than five years of his pontificate, he succeeded in launching the renewed evangelizing drive of the Universal Church. A former Franciscan tertiary and military chaplain during World War I, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 3, 2000, and later canonized on April 27, 2014, together with John Paul II, by Pope Francis, in the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who concelebrated the canonization mass.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born on Brusicco Street in Sotto il Monte, a small town in the province of Bergamo, on November 25, 1881, to Giovanni Battista (1854-1935) and Marianna Mazzola (1855-1939), the fourth of thirteen siblings: Caterina (1877-1883), Teresa (1879-1954), Ancilla (1880-1953), Zaverio (1883-1976), Elisa (1884-1955), Assunta (1886-1980), Domenico (1888-1888), Alfredo (1889-1972), Giovanni (1891-1956), Enrica (1893-1918), Giuseppe (1894-1981), and Luigi (1896-1898).

Unlike his future predecessor to the Petrine throne, Eugenio Pacelli, who was of noble lineage, was of humbler origins: his family belonged to the peasant class and lived on sharecropping; his father was engaged in public life: he was president of the local fabbriceria, town councilor, alderman and justice of the peace. He received the sacrament of confirmation on February 13, 1889, from Bishop Gaetano Camillo Guindani of Bergamo. With financial help from his uncle Zaverio, he studied at the minor seminary in Bergamo; here, under the spiritual direction of Luigi Isacchi, he entered the Franciscan Third Order on March 1, 1896. Thanks to a scholarship, he transferred to the seminary of the College of Sant”Apollinare in Rome, later the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, where he completed his studies.

While in Rome, attending the funeral of Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi in 1903, he had to write, “If I possessed his science and virtue, I could well call myself satisfied.” As a boy, and during seminary, he manifested veneration for the Virgin with numerous pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady of the Woods in Imbersago. By 1901 he had been conscripted and enlisted in the 73rd Infantry Regiment, Lombardy Brigade, stationed in Bergamo.

First steps in a church career

He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1904, by Patriarch Giuseppe Ceppetelli in the church of Santa Maria in Montesanto in Rome”s Piazza del Popolo.

In 1905, the new bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, appointed him as his personal secretary. Father Roncalli stood out for his dedication, discretion and efficiency. In turn, Radini-Tedeschi would always remain a guide and example for Angelo Roncalli. The personality of this bishop would succeed in sensitizing Roncalli to new ideas and movements in the Church of the time, making him sensitive to the social question, at a time when the non expedit that, after 1861, prevented Catholics from engaging in politics still applied. In particular, Radini-Tedeschi and Roncalli were to be key figures in the Ranica (BG) strike, so much so that they were even put under indictment by the Holy Office, though they later emerged unscathed.

Roncalli remained at Radini-Tedeschi”s side until his death on August 22, 1914; during this period he also devoted himself to teaching church history at the seminary in Bergamo. He also distinguished himself in historical research work on the diocese, working on the critical edition of the acts of St. Charles Borromeo”s apostolic visitation to Bergamo.

He was recalled in 1915, when the war had begun, to military health care and was later discharged from it with the rank of lieutenant chaplain. The establishment in 1919 of Don Luigi Sturzo”s Italian Popular Party was seen by Roncalli as “a victory of Christian thought.”

In 1921 Pope Benedict XV appointed him domestic prelate (which earned him the appellation monsignor) and president of the Italian National Council of the Work for the Propagation of the Faith. There he was responsible, among other things, for drafting the new Pope Pius XI”s motu proprio Romanorum pontificum, which became the magna charta of missionary cooperation.

The advent of fascism did not find Monsignor Roncalli particularly favorable: at the last elections held with opposing lists (1924), he declared to his family that he remained faithful to the Popular Party, despite Catholic Action”s pro-fascist policy. His judgment of Mussolini is quite negative, albeit in his usual moderation of tone: “The health of Italy cannot come even from Mussolini, however ingenious a man he may be. His ends are perhaps good and upright, but the means are iniquitous and contrary to the law of the Gospel.”

Diplomatic missions

In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him apostolic visitor to Bulgaria, elevating him to episcopal dignity and entrusting him with the titular See, pro illa vice with archiepiscopal title, of Areopoli. This was an ancient diocese in Palestine, formerly called in partibus infidelium, i.e., a titular See, which is assigned to confer the rank of bishop-in this case to Roncalli-without having to entrust the chosen one with the pastoral care of an actual diocese. Roncalli chose as his episcopal motto Oboedientia et pax (“Obedience and peace,” in Italian), a phrase that became the symbol of his work and which he had taken from Cardinal Cesare Baronio”s motto Pax et oboedientia.

The episcopal consecration, presided over by Cardinal Giovanni Tacci Porcelli, secretary of the Oriental Congregation, was held March 19, 1925, in Rome at the church of San Carlo al Corso. Initially his ministry in Bulgaria was to last only a few months, in order to accomplish five tasks: visit all the Catholic communities in the kingdom (resolve the conflict in the Diocese of Nicopolis between Fr. Karl Raev and Passionist bishop Monsignor Damian Theelen (promote and start a national seminary for the formation of local priests (reorganize the Eastern Rite community (initiate diplomatic relations with the court and the government, with a view to full representation of the Holy See (work that led to the creation, on September 26, 1931, of the Apostolic Delegation). For various reasons, the planned few months became ten years, and thus Monsignor Roncalli had the opportunity to insert himself more deeply into the life of the Bulgarian people, whose language he also learned. He also found himself in contact with the Orthodox majority of the population, towards whom he showed particular charity, always within the framework of the unionist ideal, without any ecumenical anticipation.

Later he also had to deal with the marriage between the Bulgarian Orthodox King Boris III and the daughter of the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III, Giovanna of Savoy. Pope Pius XI had in fact granted a dispensation for mixed-religion marriages on the condition that the marriage would not be repeated in the Orthodox Church and that any offspring would be baptized and educated Catholic. After the Catholic ceremony, celebrated in Assisi on Oct. 25, 1930, on Oct. 31 the royal couple, while not renewing their marriage consent, gave the Bulgarian people to understand that they had repeated the marriage in the Orthodox cathedral in Sofia. Pope Pius XI”s deep irritation at the incident gave rise to a solemn papal protest. The Orthodox baptism of the couple”s children, beginning with that of Marie Louise in January 1933, gave rise to further outrage, which took the form of new public papal protest.

In 1934, he was appointed titular archbishop of Mesembria, an ancient city in Bulgaria, with the post of apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece and also as apostolic administrator of sede vacante of the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul.

This period of Roncalli”s life, which coincided with World War II, is particularly remembered for his interventions on behalf of Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied European states. Roncalli forged a close relationship with Germany”s ambassador to Ankara, Catholic Franz von Papen, former vice-chancellor of the Reich, begging him to work on behalf of the Jews. The German ambassador will testify thus, “I used to go to Mass to him in the apostolic delegation. We used to talk about the best way to guarantee Turkey”s neutrality. We were friends. I would pass him money, clothes, food, medicine for the Jews who came to him, arriving barefoot and naked from Eastern European nations as they were occupied by Reich forces. I think 24,000 Jews were helped in that way.”

During the war, a ship full of German Jewish children, fortunately escaping detection, arrived at the port of Istanbul. According to the rules of neutrality, Turkey was supposed to send those children back to Germany, where they would be sent to extermination camps. Monsignor Roncalli worked day and night for their safety, and in the end-thanks in part to his friendship with von Papen-the children were saved.

In July 1943 Angelo Roncalli wrote in his diary, “The most serious news of the day is Mussolini”s withdrawal from power. I welcome it very calmly. I believe the Duce”s gesture to be an act of wisdom, which does him honor. No, I will not throw stones at him. Even for him sic transit gloria mundi. But the great good he did for Italy remains. To retire in this way is atonement for some of his mistakes. Dominus parcat illi (God have mercy on him).”

In 1944 Pope Pius XII appointed Monsignor Roncalli as apostolic nuncio to Paris. Meanwhile, with the German occupation of Hungary, deportations and mass executions had begun in that country as well. The cooperation of the apostolic nuncio and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg enabled thousands of Jews to avoid the gas chamber. Having learned-thanks to Wallenberg-that thousands of Jews had managed to cross the border into Hungary and take refuge in Bulgaria, Roncalli wrote a letter to King Boris III (grateful to the nuncio, who had had his marriage celebrated, despite the difficulties interposed by Pius XI), begging him not to give in to Adolf Hitler”s ultimatum, which had ordered the refugees to be sent back.

The wagons with the Jews were already at the border, but the king cancelled the deportation order. Research carried out by the Wallenberg Foundation and the Roncalli Committee, with the participation of a number of historians, has revealed that the apostolic nuncio, taking advantage of his diplomatic prerogatives, arranged to send Hungarian Jews false baptism and immigration certificates for Palestine, where they finally arrived. His intervention extended to the Jews of Slovakia and Bulgaria and multiplied for many other victims of Nazism. That is why the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, since September 2000, has formally asked Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to add Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli”s name to the list of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Among the greatest diplomatic successes in Paris was the reduction in the number of bishops whose purges the French government was demanding because they were compromised with Vichy France. Roncalli succeeded in getting Pius XII to accept only the resignations of three bishops (those of Mende, Aix and Arras), as well as those of an auxiliary bishop of Paris and three vicars apostolic of the overseas colonies. When Roncalli was created a cardinal in 1953, French President Vincent Auriol (although a socialist and notoriously atheist) claimed an ancient privilege reserved for French monarchs and personally imposed the cardinal”s biretta on him during a ceremony at the Elysée Palace (the French president himself awarded him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic on January 14, 1953).

The Patriarchate of Venice

In 1953, in addition to being created cardinal by Pope Pius XII in the consistory of Jan. 12 of that year, he was appointed patriarch of Venice, where he was able to exercise the immediate pastoral work, in close contact with the priests and people he had desired from the day of his priestly ordination.

The new Patriarch led a modest life, avoiding formal barriers with faithful and strangers; he often took long walks through the calli and campielli, accompanied only by his new secretary Fr. Loris Francesco Capovilla, stopping to converse in dialect with gondoliers. Anyone could visit him at the patriarchal residence because, he let it be known, “anyone may need to confess and I could not refuse the confidences of a soul in pain.” According to a textual expression attributed by one newspaper to a Venetian, “he would receive without much fuss even the last of the ragamuffins.”

Moreover, during this period he was notable for some gestures of openness: among many, the message he sent to the Congress of the PSI, when the socialists met in the lagoon city on February 6, 1957, should be mentioned. Nonetheless, he never disavowed continuity with the Church”s historical positions towards the daily challenges: Jean Guitton, an academic of France and lay observer at the Second Vatican Council, recalls that, as reported in a January 2, 1957 journal, Angelo Roncalli identified the “five wounds of today of the Crucifix” as imperialism, Marxism, progressive democracy, Freemasonry and secularism.

In Venice, Roncalli did not abandon the ecumenical apostolic commitment he had already exercised in his missions in the East: in fact, his contacts with the “separated brethren” continued and he participated every year in the Octave for the Unity of the Churches with homilies and conferences.

On his departure for the 1958 Conclave for the death of Pius XII, a large crowd accompanied him to the station, loudly wishing him a safe journey and good work.

The 1958 conclave and election as pontiff

On Oct. 28, 1958, Roncalli was elected pope, for whose office the name John XXIII was imposed, which in the curial and archaic form of the time, and preferred by himself, was pronounced John vigesimoterzo (from the Latin vigesimus, “twentieth”). The following November 4 he was crowned 261st pontiff.

It is believed that his advanced age (almost 77 at the time of his election) combined with his personal modesty were among the main reasons for his choice by the College of Cardinals, which was oriented toward electing “a transitional pope.” It came unexpected, however, that John XXIII”s human warmth, good humor and kindness, in addition to his diplomatic experience, won the affection of the entire Catholic world and the esteem of non-Catholics.

Many cardinals realized that Roncalli was not what they expected from the moment they chose the pontifical name: John was a name no pope had adopted in centuries, not least because there had been an antipope named John XXIII in history from 1410 to 1415.

Moreover, a fact that had not happened since the election of Pius IX, at the moment of the opening of the Sistine Chapel for the entrance of Monsignor Alberto di Jorio, secretary of the Conclave, when the prelate knelt in homage before him, the Pope (still dressed in his cardinal”s robes) removed his zucchetto and placed it on his head, to the surprise of the cardinals present. They realized, already from this, that the new pontiff would be a man of surprises and not an “accommodating old man.” He chose Monsignor Loris Francesco Capovilla, who already assisted him when he was patriarch of Venice, as his private secretary. Capovilla himself remained, after Roncalli”s death, a faithful guardian of his memory.

The choice of name

When Cardinal Roncalli was elected there was a small controversy over whether he should be called John XXIII or John XXIV. He himself chose the first hypothesis, ending the matter.

The decision not to assume the numeral XXIV was worth confirming the antipope status of the first John XXIII. The choice was made, in a sense, on Saturday, September 27, 1958, in Lodi, where the cardinal, in his capacity as papal legate for the celebrations of the eighth centenary of the city”s re-founding, welcomed by Bishop Tarcisio Vincenzo Benedetti, visited the picture gallery in the Yellow Room of the bishop”s palace, pausing in the presence of a painting depicting a pope in a blessing pose. Having asked who it was and hearing the reply “John XXIII,” Roncalli good-naturedly pointed out that it was not convenient to keep the painting of an antipope in an episcopal palace. Then, to the embarrassment of those present (first and foremost Bishop Benedetti), he added, “He was an antipope, but he had the merit of calling the Council of Constance, which restored unity to the Church after the Western Schism.” . No one imagined that a month later it would be Roncalli”s turn to truncate the issue once and for all by choosing the ordinal XXIII next to his name as pope. Years later it was discovered that that painting, still preserved in the bishop”s palace in Lodi, actually portrayed Pope Pius VI and not Baldassarre Cossa-John XXIII.

The papal coat of arms

Being of humble origins, Pope John XXIII did not have a family coat of arms. When he had to choose a coat of arms, the priest Roncalli chose the coat of arms of his hometown, Sotto il Monte. As patriarch, Roncalli followed the Venetian tradition of placing the lion of St. Mark at the head of his shield, a symbol he intended to preserve in his coat of arms as pontiff as well, following the example of Pius X who had also been patriarch of Venice before being elected pontiff. To his heraldist, Msgr. Bruo Bernhard Heim, John XXIII asked only to make the lion of St. Mark at the head of his coat of arms “less fierce and more human,” making his teeth and claws less visible.

Pope John XXIII”s coat of arms, in gratitude, is also echoed by that of his personal secretary, Msgr. Loris Capovilla.

The ecumenism of the universal church

Pope John XXIII”s first act was the appointment of Monsignor Domenico Tardini as secretary of state, a post his predecessor had left vacant since 1944.

In December 1958 he provided for the integration of the College of Cardinals, which, due to Pope Pius XII”s rare consistories, had been greatly reduced. The first cardinal he created was Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini of Milan, who would succeed him on the papal throne under the name Paul VI. He likewise created Secretary of State Tardini a cardinal.

In four and a half years John XXIII created fifty-two new cardinals, exceeding the ceiling of seventy set in the 16th century by Pope Sixtus V. In the consistory of March 28, 1960, he appointed the first black cardinal, African Laurean Rugambwa; the first Japanese cardinal, Peter Tatsuo Doi; and the first Filipino cardinal, Rufino Jiao Santos. On May 6, 1962, he also elevated to the altars the first black saint, Martín de Porres, whose canonical process had begun in 1660 and then been interrupted.

A distinguishing feature of his pontificate were the often engaging “off-plans.” They filled that void of contact with the people that previous pontiffs had pursued with the distant communication of the “Vicar of Christ on Earth” and preserved by virtue of the pope”s outdated immanentist and dogmatic role. For his first Christmas as pope, John XXIII visited and blessed sick children at Rome”s Bambin Gesù hospital, some of whom were so surprised that they mistook him for Santa Claus.

The next day, the liturgical memorial of St. Stephen, he visited the inmates in Rome”s Regina Coeli prison, telling them, “You cannot come to me, so I come to you…. So here I am, I have come, you have seen me; I have put my eyes in your eyes, I have put my heart close to your heart…. The first letter you write home must carry the news that the pope has been to you and pledges to pray for your family members.” He then caressed the head of a recluse who knelt before him, asking him if “the words of hope that you have spoken apply to me as well.”

In total, there are 152 exits of Pope John from the Vatican walls; he adopted the habit of Sunday visits to Roman parishes.

Pope John XXIII”s style was not only characterized by informality. Only three months after his election to the papal throne, on January 25, 1959, in the basilica of St. Paul”s Outside the Walls, John XXIII announced the convening of an ecumenical council, a synod for the diocese of Rome and the updating of the Code of Canon Law.

Ninety years later the First Vatican Council, to the amazement of its advisors and overcoming resistance from the conservative part of the Curia, announced:

In addition to the ecumenism of the council proposal, John XXIII pursued fraternal relations with representatives of different Christian and non-Christian denominations, especially with Pastor David J. Du Plessis, a Pentecostal minister of the Assemblies of God Evangelical Christian Church. On Good Friday in 1959, without any warning, he gave orders to remove from the Pro Judaeis prayer, which was recited on that day during the solemn liturgy, the adjective calling Jews “wicked.” This gesture was considered a first step toward rapprochement between the two monotheistic religions and prompted Jules Isaac, director of the “Jewish-Christian Friendship” Association, to request an audience with the Pope, which was granted on June 13, 1960.

On Aug. 24, 1960, on the eve of the start of the Games of the 17th Olympiad, the Pope delivered a speech in St. Peter”s Square addressed to all athletes participating in the Olympics and imparted the apostolic blessing on those present. On December 2, 1960, John XXIII met with Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Vatican for about an hour. It was the first time in more than 400 years that an Anglican Church leader visited the pope. On August 12, 1961, following the death of Cardinal Tardini, he appointed Cardinal Hamlet Giovanni Cicognani as secretary of state.

On October 17, 1961, on the anniversary of the rounding up of the Rome ghetto, Pope John XXIII received a group of one hundred and thirty Jews from the United States at the Vatican to thank him for his work on behalf of the Jewish people before and after World War II, and welcomed them with the biblical words, “I am Joseph, your brother,” in reference (in addition to his own baptismal name) to the meeting in Egypt and the reconciliation between the patriarch Joseph and his eleven brothers who had persecuted him in his youth.

On Jan. 3, 1962, news broke that Pope John XXIII had excommunicated Fidel Castro, following up Pope Pius XII”s 1949 decree forbidding Catholics to support communist governments. The one who spoke of excommunication was Archbishop Dino Staffa, at that time secretary of the Congregation for Seminaries, who on the basis of his studies in canon law considered it already effected de facto if not de jure; moreover, other important members of the curia wanted with this move to send a hostile signal to the rising center-left in Italy. The authoritativeness of such rumors ensured that the legend of the excommunication was not denied by the pope (who was, however, very displeased by it) and was believed by all, even by Castro himself, who had previously abandoned the Catholic faith and who considered it an event of little consequence since, by his own admission, he was never a believer.

In reality, such an act was never carried out by the pontiff, as revealed on March 28, 2012 by then-secretary Monsignor Loris Capovilla, according to whom the word “excommunication” was not part of the “good Pope”s” vocabulary. Testifying to this statement is John XXIII”s diary in which the pope does not mention the measure either on Jan. 3, 1962 (when he speaks only of his audiences) or on other dates.

In the same 1962, the Holy Office, presided over by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, drafted the Crimen sollicitationis, with the endorsement of Pope John: a document directed to all bishops around the globe, setting out the penalties to be imposed according to canon law in cases of sollicitatio ad turpia (Latin, “provocation to turpish things”), that is, when a cleric (presbyter or bishop) was accused of using the sacrament of confession to make sexual advances to penitents. In it, excommunication was provided for the most serious episodes for those who did not comply.

On March 7, 1963, to the general astonishment, he granted an audience to Rada Chruščёva, daughter of PCUS General Secretary Nikita Chruščёv, and her husband Alexei Adžubej: they reported to him the Soviet leader”s appreciation for the pope”s initiatives in favor of peace, hinting at readiness for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. In response John XXIII emphasized the need to proceed in stages in that direction, fearing that otherwise such a step, if too hasty, would not be understood by public opinion.

The Second Vatican Council

While his advisors were thinking of a long time (at least a decade) for preparations, John XXIII planned and organized the Second Vatican Council in a few months. On Dec. 25, 1961, he officially signed the Bull of Indiation Humanae Salutis, and indicated the Council”s purpose in seeking unity and world peace.

On Oct. 4, 1962, a week before the start of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII made a pilgrimage to Loreto and Assisi to entrust the fate of the upcoming council to Our Lady and St. Francis (Roncalli had been a Franciscan tertiary since the age of 14). For the first time since the unification of Italy, a pope left the confines of Rome and its environs. The short journey set the example of the pilgrim pope that was later followed by his successors (Paul VI, John Paul II, etc.). People welcomed the initiative by overwhelmingly crowding the various stations where the papal train stopped and the two shrines that were the destination of the journey (in Assisi, the friars even climbed onto the roofs in front of the basilica).

The council was officially opened on October 11, 1962 inside St. Peter”s Basilica in the Vatican with a solemn ceremony. On that occasion John XXIII delivered the address Gaudet Mater Ecclesia (Rejoice Mother Church) in which he indicated what the main purpose of the council was:

The council was therefore immediately characterized by a marked “pastoral” nature: the “signs of the times” were to be interpreted (the Church was to resume talking to the world, rather than entrenching itself in defensive positions.

In the same speech Roncalli also addressed the “prophets of doom.”

Over the past century, the Catholic Church had been increasingly characterized as a universal Church from being Eurocentric, especially thanks to the missionary activities initiated during the pontificate of Pius XI. The Council was the first real opportunity for ecclesial realities that had hitherto remained on the margins of the Church to make themselves known.

Diversity was no longer represented by the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches alone, but also by the Latin American and African Churches, which demanded greater consideration for their “diversity.” Not only that, the Council was also attended for the first time, as observers, by representatives of other Christian denominations other than the Catholic one, such as the Orthodox and Protestant ones.

Since the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII did not see coming to an end, fundamental changes would take place in the following years that would give a new connotation to modern Catholicism; the most immediately visible effects consisted of the liturgical reform of the Roman rite and a new approach to the world and to modernity.

The moon talk

One of Pope John”s most famous speeches is the one known as the “moon speech.” On the opening night of the Council, St. Peter”s Square was packed with faithful gathered for a torchlight prayer procession induced by Catholic Action. Called upon in a loud voice, Roncalli decided to lean out, to bless those present. Then he decided to deliver a simple, sweet and poetic speech, with a special reference to the moon, containing entirely innovative elements:

He greeted the faithful of the diocese of Rome, being its bishop, and performed a probably unprecedented act of humility, asserting, among other things:

Particularly famous are the final sentences, marked along the lines of humility:

The crisis in Cuba

A few days after the opening of the Ecumenical Council, the world seems to be plunging into the abyss of a nuclear conflict. On Oct. 22, 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announces to the nation the presence of missile installations in Cuba and the approach to the island of several Soviet ships carrying nuclear warheads to arm the missiles. The U.S. president imposes a military naval blockade 800 miles from the island, ordering crews to be ready for any eventuality, but the Soviet ships seem intent on forcing the blockade.

Faced with the drama of the situation, the Pope feels the need to act for peace. The following October 25, on Vatican Radio, he addresses “to all men of good will” a message in French, already delivered – earlier – to the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and to representatives of the Soviet Union:

The Church cares more than anything else about peace and brotherhood among men; and she works tirelessly, to consolidate these goods. In this regard, we have recalled the grave duties of those who bear the responsibility of power. Today we renew this heartfelt appeal and implore the Heads of State not to remain insensitive to this cry of humanity. Let them do everything in their power to save the peace: thus they will prevent the world from the horrors of a war, the frightening consequences of which no one can foresee. Let them continue to negotiate. Yes, this fair and open disposition has great value as a testimony to each one”s conscience and in the face of history. Promoting, favoring, accepting negotiations, at every level and in every time, is a norm of wisdom and prudence, which attracts the blessings of Heaven and earth.

The message elicits consensus on both sides of the issue, and eventually the crisis recedes.

No documents have yet been published on the peace activity exercised in those days by Vatican diplomacy toward the Catholic Kennedy and the Soviet Union, through the Italian government, headed by Christian Democrat Amintore Fanfani. It is certain, moreover, that on October 27 at 11:03 a.m., not even forty-eight hours after the Pope”s radio message, a proposal arrived in Washington from Nikita Chruščёv, concerning the return of Soviet ships to the homeland and the dismantling of Cuban positions in exchange for the withdrawal of American atomic warheads from Turkey and Italy (San Vito dei Normanni base). Since Ettore Bernabei, Fanfani”s trusted man, was present in the U.S. capital that same morning, already in charge of delivering to President Kennedy a note from the Italian government agreeing to the withdrawal of the missiles from the Italian base, it is not unlikely that diplomatic mediation was skillfully concerted between the Vatican and Palazzo Chigi.

On October 28, the United States accepted the Soviet proposal.

The importance of the step taken by the Pope is testified by the Russian Anatoly Krasikov, in the biography of John XXIII written by Marco Roncalli: “It remains curious that in the Catholic states one cannot find any trace of a positive official reaction, to the papal appeal for peace, while the atheist Khrushchev did not have the slightest moment of hesitation to thank the Pope and to emphasize his primary role in the resolution of this crisis that had brought the world to the brink of the abyss.” In fact, on December 15, 1962, a thank-you note from the Soviet leader was received by the Pope with the following tenor: ”On the occasion of the holy Christmas holidays please accept my best wishes and congratulations… for your constant struggle for peace and happiness and well-being.” The dramatic experience convinces John XXIII even more to a renewed commitment to peace. From this awareness, the drafting of the encyclical Pacem in Terris was born in April 1963.

Pacem in Terris

Pacem in Terris still remains a fundamental piece of Catholic theology on the side of sociality, civil life and Western (including secular) social culture in the 20th century. It is a text whose discreetly easy reading is necessary for understanding certain traces of Vatican and Western politics.

John XXIII revealed that he had entrusted the composition of his most famous encyclicals, those of a social nature, to his collaborators: in the case of Mater et Magistra it was he himself who confirmed this at the window of St. Peter”s Square, pointing out that the group of those in charge had retired to Switzerland and he had lost track of them. For the encyclical Pacem in Terris the same thing happened: receiving the prime minister of Belgium, Théo Lefévre, who congratulated him on the publication of the document, he confided to him, ” Apart from a few lines that are mine, everything else is the fruit of the work of others…. These are problems that the Pope cannot know thoroughly.” The Belgian humor newspaper Pan also reported the episode.

It is the first encyclical to address “all men of good will” in addition to clergy and faithful Catholics.

Read in the headings of its paragraphs, it would appear to be a quasi-statutory and constitutional document, an organic classification of rights and duties. Letta historically, however, contains elements that were worth of force de frappe to overcome the immobility in the then practically stagnant idealistic relations between church and states. The call for the necessity of the welfare state, while in the Western world schemes of extremist capitalism on the U.S. style were beginning to be proposed, came in the midst of the Cold War, with European nations intent also politically and administratively on paying the tolls of defeat and therefore more inclined to consider (what would also be a means of managerial facilitation for governments) reductions in public expenditures for assistance.

The encyclical did not go toward proposals for a state that could become socialist from social, and pointed to the role of the centrality of man, of free thinking and understanding, the reason and engine of ideal choices and the goal of sociality. It is appropriate to quote point 5:

Peace, the fundamental and declared object of the encyclical, can arise only from the reconsideration, in a particularized (humanistic) sense, of the value of the individual, who cannot annihilate himself in the presence of systems, whether capitalist or socialist. This is the so-called “third way,” also known as the “way of common sense,” now rediscovered by more and more people and groups, but defined already at the time.


As early as September 1962, even before the opening of the Council, John XXIII began to feel the signs of stomach cancer, a condition that had already affected some members of his family.

Although visibly tried by the progression of cancer, on April 11, 1963, the pope signed and published the encyclical Pacem in Terris, and a month later, on May 11, he received the Balzan Prize from Italian President Antonio Segni for his commitment to peace. This was his last official engagement; instead, his last appearance was on May 23, when on the Solemnity of the Ascension he looked out of the window of the Apostolic Palace for the last time to recite the Regina Coeli.

On May 31, the pontiff”s clinical picture began to precipitate: in the early afternoon of June 3, he was diagnosed with a fever of about 42 degrees Celsius. Although increasingly tried, John XXIII remained lucid until his last moments, in which he entrusted his last words to his particular secretary Msgr. Loris Francesco Capovilla:

John XXIII passed away at 7:49 p.m. on June 3, 1963, at the age of 81, as a prayer mass drew to a close in St. Peter”s Square.

Mindful of the disastrous outcome of the surgery performed five years earlier on the body of Pope Pius XII, Roncalli had recommended to his trusted physician, Professor Pietro Valdoni (director of the institute of general surgery at the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome), that any conservative interventions on his remains be conducted with skill and judgment. Valdoni and anesthesiologist Nicola Mazzoni contacted a number of experts in forensic medicine and anatomy, until they reached Dr. Gastone Lambertini, who introduced them to 40-year-old Professor Gennaro Goglia, who for the past two years had been perfecting a method of cadaveric preservation based on the injection into the main arteries of a liquid he had invented, in order to replace blood and body fluids as much as possible.

On the evening of June 3, Goglia was called to the Vatican and practiced the procedure on the pope”s body; in the following days he returned several times to check that no problems arose.

The next day the pope”s body, clothed in the multiple vestments proper to papal mourning (golden miter, papal baleen, pallium, rochet, chiroteche, slippers, dalmatic, maniple and chasuble, all in red), was transferred to St. Peter”s basilica and displayed before the high altar on a catafalque to the homage of the faithful. It was the last occasion on which the papal funeral rite resorted to such pomp; in fact, five years earlier Roncalli himself, in commenting on his predecessor”s funeral, had – along with other cardinals – bitterly criticized the spectacular nature of the ensemble and the prolonged display of the body (being, moreover, already in an advanced state of decomposition):

The funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Peter”s on June 6, after which John XXIII was buried in a sarcophagus in the Vatican Grottoes although in one of his autographs he left his wish to be buried at the Lateran.

For the first time during the subsequent novendials, the mound (the traditional pyramid-shaped catafalque covered with black drapes and adorned with many votive candles) was not erected in front of the high altar of St. Peter”s.

In 2000, at the time of the beatification, the body was exhumed, and it was found to be in a perfect state of preservation (except for various blackening and slight colliquations in the sloping parts), proving the expertise of the intervention practiced by Goglia. Once some conservative interventions had been practiced, a conservative layer of wax was applied to the face and hands. After the beatification ceremony and the ostension to the faithful, the body (clad in a choral habit, with red-ermellated camauro and mozzetta) was reassembled in a glass urn in an altar in the right aisle of St. Peter”s Basilica.

John XXIII was declared blessed by John Paul II on Sept. 3, 2000. Initially, June 3, the day of his death, was set as the date of his anniversary, while the dioceses of Rome and Bergamo and the archdiocese of Milan celebrated his local memory on Oct. 11, the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (Oct. 11, 1962). Following canonization, October 11 was established as the only date universally.

In general, for the purposes of beatification, the Catholic Church considers a miracle to be necessary: in the case of John XXIII, it deemed miraculous the sudden healing, which took place in Naples on May 25, 1966, of Sister Caterina Capitani, of the Daughters of Charity, suffering from a very serious hemorrhagic ulcerative gastritis that had reduced her to the brink of death. The nun, after praying to Pope John XXIII together with her fellow sisters, reportedly had a vision of her, followed by her immediate recovery, later declared scientifically unexplainable by the Medical Consultation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Since 2000 there have been numerous reports and alleged miracles.

On July 5, 2013, Pope Francis signed the decree for the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II, which took place on April 27, 2014, regardless of the results of the process convened by the competent congregation for the veracity of a second miracle .

The ceremony in St. Peter”s Square, celebrated by Pope Francis in the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, twenty-four heads of state, eight deputy heads of state, ten heads of government and 122 foreign delegations, was attended by about one million faithful, while an estimated two billion people watched the event worldwide via worldwide television. In addition to giant screens placed in churches and squares around the world, for the first time in history an event was also broadcast live in 3D in more than 500 cinemas in twenty countries (in Italy it was also aired in that format on the Sky 3D pay channel). The event was also recorded in Ultra HD 4K thanks to a collaboration between the Vatican Television Center, Sony and Sky Italia.

They recorded records dedicated to Pope John:

In addition:

Soon after Pope Roncalli”s death, the small town in the Bergamo area that gave him birth took the name Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Presidential Decree No. 1996 of Nov. 8, 1963), which is the destination of many pilgrimages. In addition to the house where he was born, particularly significant is the museum that Monsignor Loris Francesco Capovilla, his particular secretary from the time of his episcopate in Venice, has set up since 1988 in the residence of Ca” Maitino (also near Sotto il Monte), where Roncalli used to go for his summer vacations before being elected pope. This museum preserves countless relics that belonged to Roncalli, including the bed on which the pontiff expired on June 3, 1963, and the altar in his private chapel.

Pope John XXIII during his pontificate created 52 cardinals during five separate consistories.

John XXIII beatified 5 servants of God and canonized 9 blesseds.

The episcopal genealogy is:

Apostolic succession is:

Honors of the Holy See

The pope is sovereign of the pontifical orders of the Holy See while the Grand Magistry of individual honors may be maintained directly by the pontiff or granted to a trusted person, usually a cardinal.

Other awards


  1. Papa Giovanni XXIII
  2. Pope John XXIII
  3. ^ Le radici (1881-1887), su Fondazione Papa Giovanni XXIII. URL consultato il 1º febbraio 2022.
  4. ^ M. Benigni, G. Zanchi, Giovanni XXIII, San Paolo
  5. ^ Marco Roncalli, Papa Giovanni il Santo, Edizioni San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo (MI), 2014
  6. ^ a b In his native Lombard language, his papal name is rendered Giuànn XXIII; his birth name as Angel Giüsepp Roncalli.
  7. ^ William Doino is one of the commentators who claim that Roncalli was papabile and argue that “[b]y the time of Pius XII’s death, in 1958, Cardinal Roncalli ”contrary to the idea he came out of nowhere to become pope” was actually one of those favored to be elected. He was well known, well liked and trusted.”[55]
  8. ^ At the 1958 conclave, the two Eastern Catholic cardinal-electors were Gregorio Pietro Agagianian, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church and Ignatius Gabriel I Tappouni, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrian Catholic Church
  9. ^ At the 1958 conclave, Nicola Canali the Cardinal protodeacon was only an ordained priest and Alfredo Ottaviani, the Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica had not yet been consecrated as a bishop.
  10. ^ ‘…that all may be one.”
  11. Thomas Cahill (en), Jean XXIII, Les Editions Fides, 2003 (lire en ligne), p. 113
  12. (en) Peter Hebblethwaite, John XXIII : Pope of the Century, Mondres et New York, Continuum, 2000 (ISBN 978-0-86012-387-3), p. 56-57
  13. Jean XXIII, p. 164 par Thomas Cahill, Dominique Bouchard
  14. in Pie XII: diplomate et pasteur, Philippe Chenaux p. 267, op. cit.
  15. a b c et d Yves-Marie Hilaire, Histoire de la papauté : 2 000 ans de mission et de tribulations, éd. Tallandier, 2003, p. 465–468
  16. son innumerables los pasajes de su vida matizados por el buen humor, varios de ellos recogidos por José María Cabodevilla. Cuando acababa de ser nombrado papa, y debía salir al balcón para bendecir por primera vez a la cristiandad vestido con sotana blanca, ninguna de las tres tallas preparadas le quedaba bien. Incluso la más ancha le venía estrecha. Mientras le soltaban las costuras a toda prisa y hacían un arreglo de emergencia, el suspiró y dijo: «Todos me han elegido papa menos el sastre». Pocos días más tarde, dio orden de elevar el sueldo a los funcionarios del Vaticano. La inflación, la política salarial italiana, el encarecimiento de los precios, podrían haber resultado razones suficientes. Sin embargo, a los encargados de llevar la silla gestatoria les dio otra razón concerniente a la justicia: «Es lógico que ahora cobréis más; yo peso el doble que Pío XII». En una audiencia concedida a la plana mayor del ejército italiano, estaba presente monseñor Arrigo Pintonello, obispo castrense con rango de general que usaba su uniforme. Cuando este iba a arrodillarse para besar el anillo a Juan XXIII, el papa lo impidió, se cuadró ante él y lo saludó: «Sargento Roncalli. A sus órdenes, mi general». José María Cabodevilla reflexionó que podía haberse presentado como simple mortal o incluso como pecador para demostrar mayor humildad, renunciando a todos los títulos de vanagloria, pero prefirió exhibir públicamente su título de sargento. Cabodevilla, José María (1989). La jirafa tiene ideas muy elevadas. Para un estudio cristiano sobre el humor. Madrid: San Pablo. pp. 15 y 27. ISBN 84-285-2045-3.
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