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Blessed John XXIII, pope

Born: November 25th, 1881     Died: June 3rd, 1963
Feast Day: October 11th

What he said

"See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little."

What the world was like

The world during the lifetime of Pope John XXIII was full of change and war. He lived during World War I and World War II. After World War II, the nations of the world, led by the United States and the Soviet Union, began an "arms race," stockpiling nuclear weapons. The struggle became known as the "Cold War." During this time, Pope John XXIII was elected and continually called for peace. When Soviet missiles were found in Cuba, a country very near to the United States, he broadcast a message on Vatican Radio to the rulers of the world. He said, "We beg all rulers not to be deaf to the cry of humanity." This message encouraged Nikita Krushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to back down. Pope John's last encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), is considered his "last will and testament" to the world.

Who he was

Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli was born on November 25, 1881, in a small farming community in northern Italy. He was the fourth of fourteen children. The family farmed as sharecroppers. Angelo helped his brothers to work in the fields until he entered the seminary in 1892. He began to write spiritual notes at that time that were later collected into a book called Journal of a Soul. Angelo was ordained a priest in Rome in 1904. In 1905 he was appointed secretary to Bishop Tedeschi of Bergamo. Bishop Tedeschi was very involved in the lives of the people. He supported programs that gave dignity and worth to the lives of workers and the poor. Father Roncalli helped him as much as he could. When the bishop died in 1914, Father Roncalli continued to minister in various ways and also taught in the local seminary.

During World War I he served as a sergeant in the medical corps and as a chaplain to wounded soldiers. After the war, he was concerned about the spiritual needs of young people and opened a "Student House" where they could gather for meetings and discussions.

In 1925 he was named a bishop, and chose as his motto Oboedientia et Pax (Obedience and Peace). As bishop, he served in the Middle East, in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. The Middle East was the crossroads of the world. There he met people of many faiths and cultures. Unity among people of different religions and within Christianity itself later became one of his goals as pope.

When World War II began, Bishop Roncalli helped Jewish people escape from the Nazis in Germany to other countries under the protection of "transit visas" from his office. In 1953, he was made Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice.

Cardinal Roncalli was elected Pope on October 28, 1958. His pontificate lasted less than five years, but in that time "Good Pope John" presented to the world "an authentic image of the Good Shepherd." He was the first Pope to leave the Vatican since 1870. He visited prisoners in Rome's city jail. He also visited orphanages, schools, and churches. His was open to all people. He once said, "It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope."

His most memorable act was calling of the Second Vatican Council, with the goal of renewing the Church. Pope John XXIII opened the Council on October 11, 1962. He had already been diagnosed with stomach cancer, and said to a friend: "At least I have launched this big ship -- others will have to bring it into port."

Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963. His lasting work as Pope -- the convening of the Second Vatican Council -- is reflected in the date of his feast day. Usually a saint's feast day is set on or near the date of death but Blessed Pope John XXIII's feast day is the date, October 11, on which he launched the "big ship" of Vatican Council II.

What this holy person means to us today

Blessed Pope John XXIII was open-hearted, loving, generous, funny, caring, yet also seriously concerned about the future of the Church. Because he was concerned for the future, he was empowered to act in the present -- no matter what people thought. Blessed Pope John XXIII teaches us that we are never too old for right action, and that it is never too late for peace.

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