He was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the third of thirteen children to a devout Catholic family in Sotto il Monte, Italy on November 25, 1881 during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. His father was a peasant farmer and from an early age he learned to accept the simple things in life. After completing his studies at the local village school, he entered the minor seminary at Bergamo, then enrolled in the major seminary at the Pontifical Seminary in Rome before receiving his Doctorate in Theology from San Apollinare Institute in 1904. On August 4, 1904 he was ordained a priest, spending the first ten years as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo as well as teaching at the minor seminary there. When World War I broke out he served as Chaplain to the Italian troops. After the war he returned to his duties in Bergamo until 1921 when he was promoted to the Curia, employed by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Four years later he was named Titular Archbishop of Areopolis and Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria by Pope Pius XI, beginning his diplomatic service. In 1935 he was transferred to Titular Archbishop of Mesembria and Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece plus administrator of the Latin Vicariate Apostolic of Istanbul until 1944 when Pius XII made him Apostolic Nuncio to France. These duties prepared him for knowing first hand the problems of the sufferings of war as well as the delicate negotiations between East and West. During the Consistory of January 12, 1953 Pius XII elevated him to the cardinalate. Three days later he was made the new Patriarch of Venice on January 15, 1953.
He served that see for five years until Pius' death on October 8, 1958. In joining the Sacred Conclave at the Sistine Chapel, he had not an inkling he would be selected as Sovereign Pontiff. The aggregate age of the conclave played a significant role in his election for though he was 76 years-old, he was still younger than nearly half the cardinals in the electorate. Add to this the fact that the great majority were rookies in the election of a Pope and Roncalli's name was thrown into a hat, so to speak. His chief rival was the Armenian Cardinal Agagianian with a push from some for France's Cardinal Tisserant. The latter, while greatly seeking the office himself, actually contributed to Roncalli's election because he split the foreign vote. Throughout the ten ballots taken over a three-day period the votes yo-yo'd with none of the candidates able to garner two thirds majority of the vote. On the eleventh ballot at 4:50 Tuesday, October 28, the Italian cardinals' unanimous voting bloc, aided by others who had swung to Roncalli, put him over the top. He chose the name John because that was his father's name and the patron of the humble parish where he was baptized. He also cited the long list of Roman bishops who were named John and the noble name of the Lateran as his reasoning for becoming the twenty-third John. On the evening of October 28, 1958 white smoke curled up into the Roman sky and a new chapter in the Church had begun.
The "fresh air" or Aggiornamento that many of the confused Catholic populace were searching for would come in John's announcement from St. Paul-Outside-the-Wall on January 25, 1959 that he would convene a diocesan synod in Rome, revise Canon Law, and hold an Ecumenical Council to be known as the Second Vatican Council. He explained that this was "a sudden inspiration of the Holy Spirit that would be a new Pentecost for the Church, a means of regenerating her and bringing the Holy Roman Church's teaching, discipline and organization up-to-date while opening a way so that we might heal the schism between Rome and our brethren of the Eastern Church." In an effort toward unity, this ecumenism with the Greek Orthodox Church was also extended to seventeen other non-Catholic sects who were extended a formal invitation to attend.
What few knew then was that they would play a significant role in the "protestantizing" of Holy Mother Church as we look back in retrospect today at the damage done over three decades ago by commissions directly or indirectly linked to Vatican II. To understand the machinations of Vatican II better, we recommend the book by Father Ralph Wilgen, S.V.D., "The Rhine flows into the Tiber." However, we recommend more the collection by the Dominican Father Austin Flannery - "Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents" for these will enlighten all Catholics of the lies being fed them when they hear "Vatican II decreed this, or stipulated that change, or did away with those devotions." By going to the source, most of the time, you'll find just the opposite and the fact that the Council Fathers actually reaffirmed and strengthened devotion to the saints, to the Mother of God and to the traditions and liturgy of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
John XXIII's Papal Bull Humanae Salutis announced Vatican II with the themes of liturgical life, social relations, the Church and the modern world. The first session lasted from October 11 to December 8, 1962. During this time pros and cons were brought up by the Council Fathers as to what needed to be done even though preliminary commissions and secretariats had been set up on June 5, 1960 in preparation for the agenda. The Pope had already staged a "dress rehearsal" so to speak, by convening a diocesan synod in Rome at St. John Lateran from January 24-31, 1960 for the specific purpose of reinvigorating church life in Rome first. With this blueprint he expanded it to the world with Vatican II. John XXIII told a group of cardinals, "When it comes to the Council, we are all novices. The Holy Spirit will be present when the bishops assemble; we'll see."
While that was true, he hadn't counted on God's chief rival also making his presence known outside Council chambers. At the council itself, in a departure from tradition and in an effort to emphasize "ecumenical" Pope John XXIII invited eighteen non-Catholic church leaders to take part. This was an off-shoot of his first major encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram in which he pleaded for truth, unity, peace, a spirit of love and harmony with our separted brethren. The Pope urged the Council Fathers to positively expound on truth and dialogue without calling out anathema...a far cry from the Council of Trent. This almost backfired during the first sesson when the conservative schema on revelation was rejected by over half of the voting bloc, but thankfully not the necessary two-thirds majority. Though John XXIII was considered by conservatives a liberal himself, he realized it was vital to intervene and declare that the issue should be redrafted by a mixed commission in hopes of passing. He wanted to see it to fruition but steadily his health declined, so much so that he was forced to close the first session on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 1962. He would not live to see the council resumed.
While Pius XII, like Pope John Paul II, emphasized a Marian ideology, John XXIII was more reactionary. This, many Vatican experts say, stems from his reliance on others for John XXIII was a great delegator whereas Pius XII trusted few around him and was involved in all decisions almost solely. Within the hallowed halls of the Vatican John XIII de-emphasized the hierarchical austerity of past regimes with a more relaxed style that made veryone as accessible as possible, including himself. While this is commendable in his pastoral approach to the people of God, many took advantage and he often received bad advice from members of the Curia such as his reactionary warnings against the writings of mystic Maria Valtorta which had been given an oral imprimatur by Pius, and the New Testament exegetes of noted French Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is no secret John wanted reform and this played right into the hands of progressive prelates who sought to bring the Church more in line with the humanistic approach of the world of the 60's.
His love for all mankind was reflected in many of his encyclicals, chief among them Mater et Magistra released on May 15, 1961 which reinforced and updated the social teachings of Leo XIII and Pius XI, calling on the wealthier nations to assist their poorer counterparts, something that has been emphasized even moreso during John Paul II's papacy. John XXIII followed up that encyclical with an even stronger one, his last as it turned out, on April 11, 1963 entitled Pacem in terris in which he addressed all mankind, outlining the need for human rights for all and calling for a communion between East and West to live in peaceful coexistence. More than any papacy until our present one, John initiated an emphasis on evangelizing to the East and opening communications with the Soviet bloc nations and China. His greatest impact was gained during the crucial Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when he publicly pleaded with both John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khruschev to exercise caution, winning their respect and the following year the world's in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dialogue with the world was John XXIII's agenda and he felt it was necessary to compromise somewhat to reach a world that had gone modern while the Church remained seemingly "medieval." He made a point to reach out with significant gestures through his establishment on June 5, 1960 of a Secretariat for Christian Unity with Cardinal Augustin Bea as president. Through this channel the Pope welcomed heads from many major faiths including the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in Istanbul, the Anglican leader Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher of Canterbury and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexis of Moscow. The Pope also sent five official Roman Catholic observers to the World Council of Churches in New Delhi. He canonized Saint Martin de Porres and nine others as well as beatifying Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton
While these things were admirable, many feel he leaned too heavily on suggestions to compromise for he also sought to remove phrases in the liturgy which would be offensive to non-Catholics. This opened up a pandora's box with liturgists who took it literally and ran with it resulting in the watered down liturgy we have today. On February 22, 1959 he set up a Papal commission for films, television and radio. Prior to this time there had been the respected Legion of Decency in the Church with ratings of A and B for movies and an F rating for a morally offensive cinema being akin to mortal sin. He abolished that rating system. He also initiated a pontifical commission to revise the Code of Canon Law on March 28, 1962 and approved a new rubrics for the missals and priests' breviary on July 25, 1960. At the same time he also approved some Maronite churches to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the vernacular. This opened the door five years later for a mass exodus from the Latin rite.
His health deteriorated greatly during the spring of 1963. This warm-hearted and roly-poly pontiff with a great sense of joviality, who was affectionate to all and childlike in his simplicity, had won the hearts of people all over the world as "Big Papa John." It was in mid-May when John knew his days were numbered for he had stomach cancer. On the feast of the Ascension the Holy Father, laying in bed in pain sighed to a Passionist laybrother taking care of him that he wished he could celebrate Holy Mass. The brother promptly responded to His Holiness that his bed was his altar. John replied, "You're right. This bed is an altar, an altar needs a victim, and I'm ready." Less than two weeks later he had willingly offered himself as a victim soul. On the Solemnity of Pentecost he fell deathly sick and throughout the night cardinals and close associates, including members of the Roncalli family, held vigil. At 3 a.m. the next morning John awoke from a long sleep and repeated two times with emphasis the words of Peter from John 21: 15, "You know that I love You, Lord." That evening at 7:45 Rome time on June 3, 1963, just as a Mass for the sick was concluding in St. Peter's Square below the dying Pontiff's quarters above, the Holy Father breathed his last as if on cue at the words of celebrant Pro-Vicar Cardinal Luigi Traglia's charge to go, the Mass is ended: "Ite, missa est." Cardinal Suenens of Belgium later wrote, "He went to meet his end with the serenity of a child going home, knowing that its Father is waiting there with open arms."
Needless to say, John XXIII was greatly mourned and his cause for beatification was introduced shortly after his death which could come to fruition in the Jubilee Year 2000 for many are expecting John Paul II to declare John XXIII Blessed. A miracle healing of the Mother Superior of the Daughters of Charity Sister Caterina Capitani in 1964 when she was a young nun has been attributed to his intercession. A bleeding intestinal ulcer and gaping external sore was totally healed, baffling doctors everywhere. From the take on news reports by reputable Catholic news sources as late as yesterday, it is highly expected that within a few weeks the clearance will come for his beatification thirty-seven years after his death.
Yes, 1963 was a year that would become pivotal in world and Church history for it was a year that, along with the assassination of Kennedy, marked the crossroads between a time of innocence and "Camelot" and the cruel realities of a world where satan was ready to be totally unleashed. Had John XXIII realized this, we truly believe he would have been more careful in allowing the free reign of so many he delegated authority to. Regardless, no one can question his sincerity and deep love for all God's children in his papal desire to be, above all else, a "good shepherd."
With his passing after a 21-year pontificate, Pope Saint Stephen IV was elected on June 22, 816. Like Leo he was born in Rome, but unlike Leo his papacy lasted a very short time for he passed away on January 24, 817. During his short term he tried to avoid internal riots and rebellion by instituting a loyalty oath to the Holy Roman Emperor which was contingent on his reciprocal loyalty to the Pope. He also traveled to Reims to crown Charlemagne's son and successor Emperor Louis I as King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor and proclaim his wife Ermengarda Queen of the Franks.
A day after Stephen's death, Pope Saint Pascal I, another Roman, became the 98th successor of Peter. He would give the Holy See more longevity, six years longer than Stephen but only a third of Pope St. Leo III's reign. The Holy Roman Emperor Louis I, also known as "Louis the Pious" presented the new Pope with the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and the Papal States were underway. St. Pascal was consumed with perpetuating the memory of the martyrs and worked tirelessly in overseeing excavation of various catacombs and reburying with proper ceremonies over 2300 martyrs. He died on February 11, 824.
He was followed by Pope Eugene II on May 11, 824. Also a Roman by birth, Eugene is the Vicar of Christ who first instituted the seminary system for priests. To him is also attributed the origin of the present Roman Curia for he organized a supreme council for carrying out the canons and ecclesiastical laws on the books at that time. Many believe he would have done even more had his pontificate lasted longer but he was called home to Heaven on August 27, 827.
The people of Rome were overjoyed on September 1, 827 when one of their own was again elected, a man renowned for his pious character and charity - Pope Valentine as the 100th Vicar in the line of Peter. But that joy was turned to immense sorrow when Pope Valentine died two weeks later on September 16, 827, causing great mourning in the streets of Rome.
His successor would bring longevity to Rome but not stability. Pope Gregory IV was elected four days after Valentine's death. His seventeen-year pontificate was marked by battles for he was a militant Pontiff, organizing a powerful Papl army and placing it under the command of the Duke of Tuscany who led the troops to victory over the Saracens in Africa, turning away not once, but five times the Islam threat as wave after wave of infidels persistently tried to regroup; each time the Papal army defeated them in Africa. But relentless as they were, Gregory could not stop the determined onslaught and the Islam menace infiltrated the Italian shores, destroying Civitavecchia and Ostia and threatened Rome. Weakened by illness, Gregory was not able to rally the troops and died on January 11, 844.
Pope Sergius II was left with the turmoil in Rome when elected a few days after Gregory's death in 844. Like his predeccessor, Sergius was powerless to stop the Saracens from laying siege to Rome and sacking the Basilica of St. Paul and other churches throughout the eternal city. However, thanks to prayer and renewed resolve and help from reinvorced troops the Papal army was able to turn the infidels away at Gaeta and Rome was once again saved. During his three year papacy, Sergius reassembled the Holy Stairs, also known as the Praetorium. He passed away on January 27, 847.
Another Roman followed him in the 103rd successor of Peter who was Pope Saint Leo IV. Strange as it may seem, he was the first Pope to put dates on official Papal documents and decrees. He also passed a resolution allowing Venetians the right to elect their own Doge and though, at the time this did not have repercussions, in the centuries ahead this would lead to excommunication of Venice. To ensure Rome's safety against another attack by either the Saracens or the Lombards, he refortified the city, building walls around the Vatican Hill, some that still stand today. After an eight-year pontificate he passed on to eternal life on July 17, 855.
Next week we will cover the thirteen Pontiffs who ruled the Holy See during the second half of the ninth century.
He is also known as the "Apostle of Flanders" for venturing into Belgium and converting the Britons to the faith and accepting the authority of the Frankish King. He was a friend to the poor and a counselor to the rich, dying on this date at Noyon at the age of 70. He is the patron saint of metalworkers.
Pope Alexander III heads efforts to convince Northern Italian towns to form the Lombard League to offset the advance by Frederick I Barbarossa in overthrowing Italy.
Death of Pope Leo X, 217th successor of Peter. This Firenze-born pontiff neither understood nor knew how to offer a remedy to the dangerous schism brought about by the ex-Augustinian monk Martin Luther. Leo contributed to the institution of the pawnbrokers' activity seen as a work of charity for the assistance of the less fortunate.
Death of Blessed Father Edmund Campion, English Jesuit priest who was martyred for his faith through hanging because he dared to disobey Queen Elizabeth and follow Rome.
Death of Cardinal Giovanni , the Italian 71-year old theologian who contributed much to the counter reformation and the Council of Trent.
Father Edward Flanagan, with very little in his pockets, but a heart of gold, founds a small community just outside Omaha, Nebraska and calls it "Boys Town." He would open the doors of Boys Town less than two weeks later.