John xxiii

For the 15th Century Antipope, see Antipope John XXIII.

Blessed Pope
Papacy began 28 October 1958
Papacy ended 3 June 1963
Predecessor Pius XII
Successor Paul VI
Ordination 10 August 1904
by Giuseppe Ceppetelli
Consecration 19 March 1925
by Giovanni Tacci Porcelli
Created Cardinal 12 January 1953
by Pius XII
Personal details
Birth name Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli
Born (1881-11-25)25 November 1881
Sotto il Monte, Kingdom of Italy
Died 3 June 1963(1963-06-03) (aged 81)
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Previous post
  • Titular Archbishop of Areopolis (1925-1934)
  • Official to Bulgaria (1925-1931)
  • Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria (1931-1934)
  • Titular Archbishop of Mesembria (1934-1953)
  • Apostolic Delegate to Turkey (1934-1944)
  • Apostolic Delegate to Greece (1934-1944)
  • Apostolic Nuncio to France (1944-1953)
  • Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca (1953-1958)
  • Patriarch of Venice (1953-1958)
Motto Obedientia et Pax (Obedience and Peace)
Coat of arms
Feast day 11 October
Title as Saint Saint (As of 27 April 2014)
Beatified 3 September 2000
Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City
by Pope John Paul II
Patronage Papal delegates [1]
Other popes named John

Pope John XXIII (Latin: Ioannes XXIII), born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Italian pronunciation: [ˈandʒelo dʒuˈzɛppe roŋˈkalli]; 25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963) was the head of the Catholic Church from 28 October 1958 to his death in 1963.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was the fourth of fourteen children born to a family of sharecroppers that lived in a village in Lombardy.[2] He was ordained a priest on 10 August 1904 and served in various posts including appointment as papal nuncio in France (1944), Bulgaria and Greece. Pope Pius XII made Roncalli a cardinal on 12 January 1953 in addition to naming him the Patriarch of Venice.

Roncalli was elected pope on 28 October 1958 at the age of 77 after eleven ballots, and he knew that his election was imminent given the type of candidate the cardinal electors wanted. He was the first pope to take the name "John" upon his election in more than 500 years, and his choice settled the complicated question of official numbering attached to this papal name.

Pope John XXIII surprised those who expected him to be a caretaker pope by calling the historic Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the first session opening on 11 October 1962. He did not live to see it to completion, dying on 3 June 1963 of stomach cancer, four-and-a-half years after his election, and two months after the completion of his final and famed encyclical, Pacem in Terris. His passionate views on equality were summed up in his famous statement 'We were all made in God's image, and thus, we are all Godly alike.' John XXIII made many passionate speeches during his pontificate, one of which was on the day that he announced the Second Vatican Council in the middle of the night to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square: "Dear children, returning home, you will find children: give your children a caress and say: This is the caress of the Pope!"

Pope John XXIII was buried in the Vatican grottoes beneath Saint Peter's Basilica on 6 June 1963 and his cause for canonization was opened by his successor, Pope Paul VI, who declared him a Servant of God. In addition to being named Venerable in the years that followed, he was beatified on 3 September 2000 by Pope John Paul II alongside Pope Pius IX and two others. Following his beatification, his body was moved from its original place to the altar of Saint Jerome where it could be seen by the faithful. Bypassing the traditionally required second miracle, Pope Francis declared John XXIII a saint based on his merits of opening the Second Vatican Council on 5 July 2013. He is expected to be canonised alongside John Paul II on 27 April 2014.[3] John XXIII today is affectionately known as the "Good Pope" and in Italian, "il Papa Buono".

His feast day is not celebrated on the date of his death as is usual, but it is on 11 October, the day of the first session of the Second Vatican Council. He is also commemorated in the Anglican Communion.


Early life and ordination

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, a small country village in the Bergamo province of the Lombardy region of Italy. He was the first-born son of Giovanni Battista Roncalli (1854–1935) and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla (1855–1939), and fourth in a family of 13, including: Angelo Giuseppe, Alfredo (1889–1972), Maria Caterina who died as a young child (1877–`83), Teresa (1879–1954), Ancilla (1880–1953), Domenico Giuseppe who died in infancy (22 February – 14 March 1888), Francesco Zaverio (1883–1976), Maria Elisa (1884–1955), Assunta Casilda (1886–??), Giovanni Francesco (1891–1956), Enrica (1893–1918), Giuseppe Luigi (1894–??) and Luigi (1896–98)who also died as a young child.[4] [5] His family worked as sharecroppers as did most of the people of Sotto il Monte – a striking contrast to that of his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII), who came from an ancient aristocratic family, long connected to the Papacy. However, he was still a descendant of an Italian noble family, from a secondary and impoverished branch.[6]

In 1904, Roncalli completed his doctorate in theology[7] and was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome on August 10. Shortly after that while still in Rome, Roncalli was taken to Saint Peter's Basilica to meet Pope Pius X.

Priest and bishop

In 1905, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, the new Bishop of Bergamo, appointed Roncalli as his secretary. Roncalli worked for Radini-Tedeschi until the bishop's death on August 22, 1914, two days after the death of Pope Pius X. During this period Roncalli was also a lecturer in the diocesan seminary in Bergamo.

During World War I, Roncalli was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer and as a chaplain. After being discharged from the army in early 1919, he was named spiritual director of the seminary.[8]

In November 1921, Pope Benedict XV appointed him as the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In February 1925, Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri summoned him to the Vatican and informed him of Pope Pius XI's decision to appoint him as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria (1925–1935). On March 3 Pius XI also named him for consecration as titular archbishop of Areopolis,[9] Jordan.[10] Roncalli was initially reluctant about a mission to Bulgaria, but he would soon relent. His nomination as apostolic visitor was made official on March 19.[11] After he was consecrated, he introduced his family to Pope Pius XI. He chose as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax ("Obedience and Peace"), which became his guiding motto. While he was in Bulgaria, an earthquake struck in a town not too far from where he was. Unaffected, he wrote to his sisters Ancilla and Maria and told them both that he was fine. In October 1935, he led Bulgarian pilgrims to Rome and introduced them to Pope Pius XI on October 14.

In February 1939, he received news that his mother was dying. On February 10, 1939, Pope Pius XI died. Roncalli was unable to see his mother for the end as the death of a pontiff meant that he would have to stay at his post until the election of a new pontiff. Unfortunately, she died on February 20, 1939, during the nine days of mourning for the late Pius XI. He was sent a letter by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, and Roncalli later recalled that it was probably the last letter Pacelli sent until his election as Pope Pius XII on March 2, 1939. Roncalli expressed happiness that Pacelli was elected, and, on radio, listened to the coronation of the new pontiff.


On November 30, 1934, he was appointed Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece and titular archbishop of Mesembria,[12] Bulgaria. Roncalli took up this post in 1935 and used his office to help the Jewish underground in saving thousands of refugees in Europe, leading some to consider him to be a Righteous Gentile (see Pope John XXIII and Judaism). On December 22, 1944, during World War II, Pope Pius XII named him Apostolic Nuncio to France.[13] In this capacity he had to negotiate the retirement of bishops who had collaborated with the German occupying power.

Efforts during the Holocaust

As nuncio, Roncalli made various efforts during the Holocaust in World War II to save refugees, mostly Jewish people, from the Nazis. Among his efforts were:

  • Jewish refugees who arrived in Istanbul and were assisted in going on to Palestine or other destinations
  • Slovakian children managed to leave the country due to his interventions.[14]
  • Jewish refugees whose names were included on a list submitted by Rabbi Markus of Istanbul to Nuncio Roncalli.
  • Jews held at Jasenovac concentration camp, near Stara Gradiška, were liberated as a result of his intervention.
  • Bulgarian Jews who left Bulgaria, a result of his request to King Boris of Bulgaria.[15]
  • Romanian Jews from Transnistria left Romania as a result of his intervention.
  • Italian Jews helped by the Vatican as a result of his interventions.
  • Orphaned children of Transnistria on board a refugee ship that weighed anchor from Constanța to Istanbul, and later arriving in Palestine as a result of his interventions.
  • Jews held at the Sered concentration camp who were spared from being deported to German death camps as a result of his intervention.
  • Hungarian Jews who saved themselves through their conversions to Christianity through the baptismal certificates sent by Nuncio Roncalli to the Hungarian Nuncio, Monsignor Angelo Rota.

In 1965, the Catholic Herald quoted Pope John as saying:

We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognise in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know not what we did."[16]

On 7 September 2000, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation launched the International Campaign for the Acknowledgement of the humanitarian actions undertaken by Vatican Nuncio Giuseppe Roncalli for people, most of whom were Jewish, persecuted by the Nazi regime. The launching took place at the Permanent Observation Mission of the Vatican to the United Nations, in the presence of Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The IRWF has carried out exhaustive historical research related to different events connected with interventions of Nuncio Roncalli in favour of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Until now, three reports have been published compiling different studies and materials of historical research about the humanitarian actions carried out by Roncalli when he was nuncio.[17][18]

In 2011, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation submitted a massive file (the Roncalli Dossier) to Yad Vashem, with a strong petition and recommendation to bestow upon him the title of Righteous among the Nations.[19]


On January 12, 1953, he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and, accordingly, raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca by Pope Pius XII. In addition to him, two other Italians were named cardinals alongside him. On March 5, 1953, he took possession of his new diocese in Venice. As a sign of his esteem, the President of France, Vincent Auriol, claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and bestowed the red biretta on Roncalli at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace. It was around this time that he - with the aid of Monsignor Bruno Heim - formed his coat of arms with a lion of Saint Mark on a white ground.

Roncalli decided to live on the second floor of the residence reserved for the patriarch, choosing not to live in the first floor room once resided in by Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, who became Pope Pius X. On May 29, 1954, the late Pope Pius X was canonized and Roncalli ensured that the late pontiff's patriarchal room was remodelled into a 1903 (the year of his election) look in his honor. With Pius X's few surviving relatives, Roncalli celebrated a mass in his honor.

His sister Ancilla would soon be diagnosed with stomach cancer. Roncalli's last letter to her was dated in November 1953 where he promised to visit her within the next week. He could not keep that promise, as Ancilla died on November 11, 1953 at the time when he was consecrating a new church in Venice. He attended her funeral back in his home town. In his will, he mentioned that he wished to be buried in the crypt of Saint Mark's in Venice rather than with the family in Sotto il Monte.


Papal styles of
Pope John XXIII
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Blessed

Papal election

Main article: Papal conclave, 1958

Following the death of Pope Pius XII on October 9, 1958, Roncalli watched the live funeral on his last full day in Venice on October 11. His journal was specifically concerned with the funeral and the abused state of the late pontiff's corpse. Roncalli left Venice for the conclave in Rome well aware of the fact that he was papabile, and after eleven ballots, was elected to succeed the late Pius XII, so it came as no surprise to him, though he had even arrived at the Vatican with a return train ticket to Venice. Many had considered Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, a possible candidate, but, although archbishop of one of the most ancient and prominent sees in Italy, he had not yet been made a cardinal.[20] Though his absence from the 1958 conclave did not make him ineligible – under Canon Law any Catholic male may be elected – the College of Cardinals usually chose the new Pope from among themselves.

After the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man who – it was presumed because of his advanced age – would be a short-term or "stop-gap" pope. In John XXIII's first consistory on December 15 of that same year, Montini was created a cardinal and would become John XXIII's successor in mid 1963, taking the name of Paul VI.

Upon his election, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant asked him the ritual questions of if he would accept and if so, what name he would take for himself. Roncalli gave the first of his many surprises when he chose John as his regnal name. This was the first time in over 500 years that this name had been chosen; previous Popes had avoided its use since the time of the Antipope John XXIII during the Western Schism.

On the choice of his name, Pope John XXIII said,

I choose John ... a name sweet to us because it is the name of our father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I was baptized, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, including our own basilica [St. John Lateran]. Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy have [been Pope], and almost all had a brief pontificate. We have preferred to hide the smallness of our name behind this magnificent succession of Roman Popes.[21]

Upon his choosing the name, there was some confusion as to whether he would be known as John XXIII or John XXIV; in response, John declared that he was John XXIII, thus affirming the antipapal status of antipope John XXIII.

Before this antipope, the most recent popes called John were John XXII (1316–1334) and John XXI (1276–1277). However, there was no Pope John XX, owing to confusion caused by medieval historians misreading the Liber Pontificalis to refer to another Pope John between John XIV and John XV.

After he answered the two ritual questions, the Habemus Papam announcement was delivered by Nicola Canali to the people. A short while later, he appeared on the balcony and gave his first Urbi et Orbi blessing to the crowds of the faithful below in Saint Peter's Square. That same night, he appointed Domenico Tardini as his Secretary of State.

Visits around Rome

On 25 December 1958, he became the first pope since 1870 to make pastoral visits in his Diocese of Rome, when he visited children infected with polio at the Bambino Gesù Hospital and then visited Santo Spirito Hospital. The following day, he visited Rome's Regina Coeli prison, where he told the inmates: "You could not come to me, so I came to you." These acts created a sensation, and he wrote in his diary:

...great astonishment in the Roman, Italian and international press. I was hemmed in on all sides: authorities, photographers, prisoners, wardens...[22]

During these visits, John XXIII put aside the normal papal use of the formal "we" when referring to himself, such as when he visited a reformatory school for juvenile delinquents in Rome telling them "I have wanted to come here for some time". This was noticed by the media which reported "He talked to the youths in their own language".[23]

His frequent habit of sneaking out of the Vatican late at night to walk the streets of the city of Rome earned him the nickname "Johnny Walker",[24] a pun on the whisky brand name.

Relations with Jews

One of the first acts of Pope John XXIII was to eliminate the description of Jews as "perfidious" in the Good Friday liturgy. He interrupted the first Good Friday liturgy in his pontificate to address this issue. He also made a confession for the Church of the sin of anti-semitism through the centuries.[25]

Calling the Council

Far from being a mere "stop gap" pope, to great excitement, John called for an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the First Vatican Council (Vatican I's predecessor, the Council of Trent, had been held in the 16th century). This decision was announced on January 29, 1959. Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, remarked to a friend that "this holy old boy doesn't realise what a hornet's nest he's stirring up".[26] From the Second Vatican Council came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised liturgy, a stronger emphasis on ecumenism, and a new approach to the world.

Pope John XXIII and papal ceremonial

Pope John XXIII was the last pope to use full papal ceremony, some of which was abolished after Vatican II, while the rest fell into disuse. His papal coronation ran for the traditional five hours (Pope Paul VI, by contrast, opted for a shorter ceremony, while later popes declined to be crowned). However, as with his predecessor Pope Pius XII, he chose to have the coronation itself take place on the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, in view of the crowds assembled in Saint Peter's Square below.

Vatican II: The first session

On October 11, 1962, the first session of the Second Vatican Council was held in the Vatican. On that same night following the conclusion of the first session, the people in Saint Peter's Square chanted and yelled with the sole objective of getting John XXIII to appear at the window and to address them. Pope John XXIII did indeed appear at the window and delivered a speech to the people below, and told them to return home and hug their children, telling them that it came from the pope. This speech would later become known as the so-called 'Speech of the Moon'.

Final months and death

On 23 September 1962, Pope John XXIII was first diagnosed with stomach cancer. The diagnosis, which was kept from the public, followed nearly eight months of occasional stomach hemorrhages, and reduced the pontiff's appearances. Looking pale and drawn during these events, he gave a hint to his ultimate fate in April 1963, when he said to visitors, "That which happens to all men perhaps will happen soon to the Pope who speaks to you today."

On 7 March 1963, the feast of the University's patron Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope John XXIII visited the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum and with the motu proprio Dominicanus Ordo,[27] raised the Angelicum to the rank of Pontifical University. Thereafter it would be known as the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the City.[28]

Pope John XXIII offered to mediate between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Both men applauded the pope for his commitment to peace. Khruschev would later send a message via Norman Cousins and the letter expressed his best wishes for the pontiff's health. John XXIII personally typed and sent a message back to him, thanking him. Cousins, meanwhile, travelled to New York City and ensured that on December 31, 1962, it was John XXIII that was Time's 'Man of the Year'. The front cover had his own face on it.

On 11 May 1963, the Italian president Antonio Segni awarded Pope John XXIII with the Balzan Prize for his engagement for peace. While in the car en route to the ceremony, he suffered great stomach pains but insisted on meeting with Segni to receive the award, refusing to do so within the Vatican. He stated that it would have been an insult to honour a pontiff on the remains of the crucified Saint Peter. It was the Pope's last public appearance.

On 25 May 1963, the Pope suffered another hemorrhage and required several blood transfusions, but the cancer had perforated the stomach wall and peritonitis soon set in. The doctors conferred in a decision regarding this matter and John XXIII's aide Loris F. Capovilla broke the news to him saying that the cancer had done its work and nothing could be done for him. Around this time, his remaining siblings arrived to be with him. By 31 May, it had become clear that the cancer had overcome the resistance of Pope John XXIII. "At 11 am Petrus Canisius Van Lierde as Papal Sacristan was at the bedside of the dying pope, ready to anoint him. The Pope began to speak for the very last time: "I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, Ut omnes unum sint."[29] Van Lierde then anointed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Overcome by emotion, Van Lierde forgot the right order of anointing. Pope John XXIII gently helped him before bidding those present a last farewell.[30]

John XXIII died of peritonitis caused by a perforated stomach at 19:50 (local time) (7:49 P.M.) on 3 June 1963 at the age of 81, ending a historic reign of four years and seven months. He died just as a mass for him finished in Saint Peter's Square below. After he died, his brow was ritually tapped, and those with him said prayers. Then, the room was illuminated, thus, informing the people of what had happened. He was buried on 6 June in the Vatican Grottos. Two wreaths, placed on the two sides of his tomb, were donated by the prisoners of the Regina Coeli prison and the Mantova jail in Verona. On June 22, 1963, one day after his successor Pope Paul VI was elected, the latter prayed at his tomb.

On 3 December 1963, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award, in recognition of the good relationship between Pope John XXIII and the United States of America.

Beatification and canonization

He was known affectionately as "Good Pope John" and "the most beloved Pope in history" to many people. On 3 September 2000, John was declared "Blessed" alongside Pope Pius IX by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate step on the road to sainthood after a miracle of curing an ill woman was discovered. He was the first pope since Pope Pius X to receive this honour. Following his beatification, his body was moved from its original burial place in the grottoes below St Peter's Basilica to the altar of St. Jerome and displayed for the veneration of the faithful. At the time, the body was observed to be extremely well preserved—a condition which the Church ascribes to embalming[31] and the lack of air flow in his sealed triple coffin rather than to a miracle.

When John XXIII's body was moved, the original vault above the floor was removed and a new one built beneath the ground; it was here that the body of Pope John Paul II was entombed from April 9, 2005 to April 2011 before being moved for his beatification on May 1, 2011.

The 50th anniversary of his death was celebrated on 3 June 2013 by Pope Francis who visited his tomb and prayed there for a few minutes. Francis then addressed the gathered crowd and spoke about the late pontiff. The people that gathered there were from Bergamo, the province where the late pontiff came from. A month later on 5 July 2013, Francis approved Pope John XXIII for canonization, along with Pope John Paul II without the traditional second miracle required. Instead, Francis based this decision on John XXIII's merits for the Second Vatican Council.[32] On 30 September 2013 it was announced that Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be declared saints on 27 April 2014.[33]

The date assigned for the liturgical celebration of John XXIII is not 3 June, the anniversary of his death, as would be usual, but 11 October, the anniversary of his opening of the Second Vatican Council.[34] He is also commemorated in the Anglican Communion.


From his early teens when he entered the seminary, he maintained a diary of spiritual reflections that was subsequently published as Journal of a Soul. The collection of writings charts Roncalli's efforts as a young man to "grow in holiness" and continues after his election to the Papacy; it remains widely read.

Sedevacantist and Conclavist groups have been some of Pope John's most outspoken critics. The more extreme devotees of Our Lady of Fátima also believe that Pope John deliberately held back secret prophetic information revealed during an apparition of the Virgin Mary.[35] This is perhaps the basis for Internet reports in the late 1990s about the supposed discovery of Pope John's diary in which he allegedly wrote about receiving prophetic insight into the future, including the return of Jesus in New York in 2000.[36] Catholic Church authorities give absolutely no credence to these rumours. Although Pope John did have a diary, there is no evidence in it to suggest that he received apocalyptic visions of the future.[37]

In 2003, The Guardian newspaper found a confidential communique from John to Catholic bishops, allegedly mandating confidentiality in matters of pederasty with the threat of excommunication.[38] These allegations were later denied by Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols, Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults. Nichols explained that the communique "is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law."[39]

The opening titles of Pier Paolo Pasolini's film The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) dedicate the film to the memory of John XXIII.[40]

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Vatican biography
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Valerio Valeri
Apostolic Nuncio to France
23 December 1944 – 12 January 1953
Succeeded by
Paolo Marella
Preceded by
Carlo Agostini
Patriarch of Venice
15 January 1953 – 28 October 1958
Succeeded by
Giovanni Urbani
Preceded by
Pius XII
28 October 1958 – 3 June 1963
Succeeded by
Paul VI

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