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The life of John XXIII, from a small village to the Chair of Peter

2014-04-25

In Church history, he's best regarded as a revolutionary leader. But John XXIII was at heart a man of the people.

Angelo Roncalli was the third of 13 children, born in northern Italy, in 1881. At 12, he enrolled in a seminary, and at 20, he arrived in Rome. In a letter to his parents, he explained why he became a priest. 

MSGR. BATTISTA ANGELO PANSA
John XXIII Historian
"I chose to become a priest not for compliments, or money, or to find comforts, honors and pleasures. But rather, it's just to do good in any way, for the poor people.”

After finishing his studies in Rome, Roncalli returned to his home diocese in Bergamo. He worked for Bishop Giacomo Tedeschi, a man that impacted him greatly, for his dedication to the working class people of his diocese. 

In 1921, he returned to Rome, and became an apostolic delegate to Eastern Europe. This experience and exposure to the Eastern Churches deepened his ecumenical devotion, which played a key role in the massive Church reform he called as Pope.

MSGR. BATTISTA ANGELO PANSA
John XXIII Historian
"He kicked off the Second Vatican Council with his speech Gaudet Mater Ecclessia, 'Rejoice Mother Church.' It was the first Council since the one in Jerusalem that did not have a particular objective.”

Even as the leader of the global Catholic Church, John XXIII would not exclude anyone. He made all efforts to surround himself with everyday people. It was not uncommon for him to leave the Vatican unannounced, even on important liturgical days like Christmas.

MSGR. BATTISTA ANGELO PANSA
John XXIII Historian
"He went to the Bambino Gesù Hospital next door. 'The kids mistook me for Santa Claus, because I had a red hat,' he said sympathetically. The next day, the 26th, he visited inmates at a Roman prison, and with a bit of irony he said: 'Since you cannot come to me, because they won't let you out, I come to you.'”

The affection between the Pope and the people was mutual. On June 3, 1963, as John XXIII lay on his deathbed, thousands of people from all walks of life gathered at St. Peter's Square to send off the Good Pope.


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