Saint Pope John XXIII (Part 2)






“Prayer is the raising of the mind to God.
We must always remember this.
The actual words matter less.”



This is part two of a series on Saint John XXIII. Part One can be found here.


At the end of 1944, Saint John was named the Papal Nuncio to Charles de Gaulle's newly liberated France. Because his previous posts were generally considered unimportant or smaller than the other posts in the Western-oriented Vatican, Saint John originally expressed confusion in the new orders to France, believing it to be an assignment error. The post was an extremely sensitive assignment - his predecessor Monsignor Valerio Valeri had been very close to the German Occupation government. de Gaulle made it clear the new nuncio's job would be to deal with the ill will created by his predecessor and oversee the resignation of bishops who had collaborated with the Nazis.


The papacy was in large impressed by his successes in carrying out this assignment and Archbishop Roncalli was named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII on January 12th, 1953. He was appointed the Patriarch of Venice and Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca. The then president of France, Vincent Auriol bestowed the red biretta at a ceremony at Elysee Palace on Saint John at his departure. Saint John formed his coat of arms with a lion of Saint Mark on a white background, and several months later was awarded the Commander of the Legion of Honor by Vencent Auriol.



Saint John left from Venice on October 11th for the conclave in Rome and after eleven ballots was elected to succeed Pope Pius XII. Upon his election, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant asked the ritual questions of acceptance and if answered yes, what name he would choose. Saint John's exact words were:


I will be called John

This name had not been chosen for over 500 years since it had largely been avoided due to the Antipope John XXIII during the western schism. The now Pope continued:


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.

He immediately began engaging stronger with the Russian Orthodox Church to settle ancient tensions and reached out to engage in dialogue with the Communist countries of Eastern Europe (he called this his Ostpolitik) . He also began immediately calling for the second Vatican Council (Vatican II), with the first session being held in 1962. At a high level, Vatican II was to be the means of spiritual renewal for the church and as an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join in a search for Christian unity. We will have a future article dedicated to Vatican II and once completed will be linked here.


In Pacem in terris the now Pope Wrote:


"Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood."

Both Mother and Teacher in 1961 and Peace on Earth in 1963 are his most famous encyclicals. In addition to many writings, he also enlarged the college of cardinals by 52 and increased the international ranks. He consistently viewed himself as a reconciler and was heavily involved with both sides during the Cuban missile crisis. He believed some level of peace between the West and Communist East was not only desirable, but critical for humanity.


He beatified Elena Guerra, Innocenzo da Berzo, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Luigi Maria Palazzolo and canonized Charles of Sezze, Joaquina Vedruna de Mas, Gregorio Barbarigo, Juan de Ribera, Maria Bertilla Boscardin, Martin de Porres, Antion Maria Pucci, Francis Mary of Camporosso, Peter Julian Eymard and Vincent Pallotti. He also proclaimed Saint Lawrence of Brindisi as a Doctor of the Church.


In 1962, Saint John was diagnosed with stomach cancer but was kept from the public. In 1962, he was the first ever Pope to be named Time magazine's man of the year. The Pope suffered a hemorrhage requiring several transfusions in 1963 (May 25th) but doctors quickly determined that the cancer had perforated the stomach wall and peritonitis had set in. On June 3rd, 1963, at the age of 81, Saint Pope John XXIII died of peritonitis caused by a perforated stomach at 7:49 PM local time. A snippet of his final words is:


"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."


On December 3rd, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson posthumously awarded Saint John the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In his speech, he said:


"I have also determined to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on another noble man whose death we mourned 6 months ago: His Holiness, Pope John XXIII. He was a man of simple origins, of simple faith, of simple charity. In this exalted office he was still the gentle pastor. He believed in discussion and persuasion. He profoundly respected the dignity of man. He gave the world immortal statements of the rights of man, of the obligations of men to each other, of their duty to strive for a world community in which all can live in peace and fraternal friendship. His goodness reached across temporal boundaries to warm the hearts of men of all nations and of all faiths".

Pope Paul VI officially began the cause for canonization during the final session of the Vatican II council in 1965. In May of 1996, Sister Caterina Capitani was suffering from a cancerous stomach tumor. While the tumor was removed in surgery, her health began to fail but after praying to John XXIII, she miraculously recovered fully. The official medical commission could find no scientific rationale for the Sister's health recovery. This was the first miracle in the beatification process. On September 3rd, 2000, Pope John Paul II declared he and Pope Pius IX blessed.


On July 5th, 2013, Pope Francis approved Pope XXIII and Pope John Paul II for canonization without the traditional second miracle requirement (Pope Francis based this decision on the fruits of the Vatican II council). On Sunday April 27th, 2014 both Pope XXIII and Pope John Paul II were officially declared Saints. He is commonly known by his nickname, the "Good Pope"



Aside from his numerous incredible achievements, Saint Pope John XXIII was also known for his humor:


“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.”

“Men are like wine - some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”

“Anybody can be Pope; the proof of this is that I have become one.”



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