Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pope John XXIII - 50 Years Since Election

Blessed Pope John XXIII (Latin Ioannes PP. XXIII), born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963), known as Blessed John XXIII since his beatification, was elected as the 261st Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City on 28 October 1958.

He called the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) but did not live to see it to completion, dying on 3 June 1963, two months after the completion of his final encyclical, Pacem in Terris. He was beatified on 3 September 2000, along with Pope Pius IX, the first popes since Pope Pius X to receive this honour.

His feast day is 11 October in the Catholic Church, the day that Vatican II’s first session opened.

He is also commemorated on 3 June by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and on 4 June by the Anglican Church of Canada.

In Italy he is remembered with the affectionate appellative of "Il Papa Buono" ("The Good Pope").

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, a small country village in the Province of Bergamo, Italy. He was the firstborn son of Giovanni Battista Roncalli (1854-1935) and his wife Marianna Giulia Mazzolla (1854-1939), and fourth in a family of 14, including: Angelo Giuseppe, Alfredo, Maria Caterina, Teresa, Ancilla, Francesco Zaverio, Maria Elisa, Assunta Casilda, Giovanni Francesco, Enrica, Giuseppe Luigi and Luigi.

His family worked as sharecroppers like the largest part of Sotto il Monte peoples, a striking contrast to his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli, 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.

In 1904, Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome. He was trained as an historian.

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 in 1914. During this period Roncalli was also a teacher in the diocesan seminary.

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.

In 1921, Pope Benedict XV appointed him as the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, also naming him for consecration as titular bishop of Areopolis. He chose as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax ("Obedience and Peace"), which became his guiding motto.

In 1935 he was made Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. Roncalli used this office to help the Jewish underground in saving thousands of refugees in Europe, leading some to consider him to be a Righteous Gentile. In 1944, during World War II, Pope Pius XII named him Apostolic Nuncio to Paris, France. In this capacity he had to negotiate the retirement of bishops who had collaborated with the occupying power.

In 1953, he was appointed as the Patriarch of Venice, and, accordingly, raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca by Pope Pius XII. As a sign of his esteem, President Vincent Auriol of France claimed the ancient privilege possessed by French monarchs and bestowed the red hat on the now-Cardinal Roncalli at a ceremony in the Elysee Palace.

Following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Roncalli was elected Pope, to his great surprise. He had even arrived in the Vatican with a return train ticket to Venice. Many had considered that Archbishop Montini, Archbishop of Milan, was a possible candidate, but, although he was Archbishop of one of the most ancient and prominent Sees in Italy, he had not been appointed a cardinal.

As a result, he was not present at the 1958 conclave and most of the cardinals abided by the established precedent of voting only for a member of the College of Cardinals, in spite of the affirmation in Canon Law that any Catholic male could be chosen. 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, Montini was raised to the rank of cardinal; and in time he became John's successor, Paul VI.

John XXIII's personal warmth, good humor and kindness captured the world's affections in a way his predecessor, for all his great learning and personal holiness, had failed to do. While Pius would look slightly away and up from the camera whenever his photograph was taken, John would look directly at the camera and smile.

On 25 December 1958, he became the first pope to leave Vatican territory since 1870, when he visited children suffering from polio at the Bambin Gesù hospital and then visited Santo Spirito Hospital. The next day he visited Rome's Regina Coeli prison, where he told the prisoners: "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...

Far from being a mere "stop gap" Pope, to great excitement John called an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the Vatican Council. Cardinal Montini remarked to a friend that "this holy old boy doesn't realize what a hornet's nest he's stirring up".

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 was the last pope to use full papal ceremony, much of which was abolished subsequently after Vatican II. 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 St. Peter's Basilica, in view of the crowds assembled in St. Peter's Square.

John XXIII wore a number of tiaras from the papal collection. On formal occasions, such as giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing, he wore the traditional 1877 Palatine tiara he had been crowned with.

However, on other occasions he wore the lighter and more comfortable 1922 tiara of Pope Pius XI, which he used so often that it became strongly associated with him.

As with most other popes in the last two decades up to that point, he was given an expensive silver papal tiara by the people of Bergamo. The Tiara of Pope John XXIII, the lightest in the papal collection at 2 lb (900 g), was given to him eventually in 1959.

When asked about the tiara during its manufacture, John asked that the makers halve the number of jewels with which they planned to decorate it and give the financial saving to the poor.

Traditional Pontifical High Masses and most papal ceremonial aspects—including use of the flabelli (ceremonial fans made of ostrich feathers) and the Palatine Guard—and the saluting of the pope on his arrival at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica by the playing of trumpets were abolished by Pope Paul VI in stages during his reign. None of the tiaras associated with Pope John have been worn by later popes.

While maintaining the traditional papal ceremonial, Pope John continued his predecessors' policy of a gradual reform to the traditional Roman liturgy, publishing changes that had accrued since 1920 in the 1962 Missal, before the major reform of the liturgy after Vatican II.

The 1962 Missal published by Pope John XXIII was the last typical edition of the Tridentine rite, which has now come to be formally recognized by Pope Benedict XVI as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.

Pope John was also the last pope to date to have his Requiem Mass celebrated within St. Peter's Basilica, amid traditional papal pomp.

His successor, Pope Paul VI, abolished the traditional papal funeral and had his funeral as a simple concelebrated Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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 11 May 1963, the Italian president Antonio Segni awarded Pope John XXIII the Balzan Prize for his engagement for peace. It was the Pope's last public appearance.

On 25 May 1963, the Pope suffered another hemorrhage and required blood transfusions, but peritonitis soon set in.

On 31 May it had become clear that the cancer had overcome the resistance of Pope John XXIII. At 11 A.M. Petrus Canisius Van Lierde as Papal Sacristan was at the bedside of the dying pope, ready to anoint him.

The Pope begins to speak for a 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, Van Lierde then anoints his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet.

Overcome by emotion, he forgets the right order of anointing. Pope John gently helps him. Then the Pope bids him and all the other bystanders a last farewell.

The Pope died 7:49 p.m. (local time) on 3 June at the age of 81.

He was buried on 6 June, ending a reign of four years, seven months and six days.

On 6 December 1963, the US 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 and the United States.

Known affectionately as "Good Pope John" and "the most loved Pope in history" to many people, on 3 September 2000, John was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II, the penultimate step on the road to sainthood. 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 the lack of air flow in his sealed triple coffin rather than to any miraculous event.

When John was moved, the original vault — which was above the floor — was removed.

A new vault was built beneath the ground, and Pope John Paul II was later buried in this vault.

The date assigned for the liturgical celebration (where authorized) of Blessed 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.

He is honored by many Protestant organizations as a Christian reformer. Both Anglican and Lutheran denominations commemorate John XXIII as a "renewer of the church."

From his early teens, 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 continue after his election to the Papacy. It remains widely read.


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The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Sotto Voce

(Source: WKP)

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