Monday, February 18, 2008

Pope of the Week: John XXIII 1958-1963

This week we are looking at John XXIII. He was a fat and smiley pope, who is mostly remembered for holding the 2nd Vatican Council, which resulted in a broad modernising of the Catholic Church. He died before the Council was concluded.

He was born Angelo Roncalli, in 1881, 4th of 14 children of a sharecropping family from Bergamo, Italy. He was ordained in 1904. During World War I, he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer and chaplain. In 1935 he was made the Vatican's delegate in Greece and Turkey, and during WW2 was Nuncio (ambassador) to France. In these roles he was able to help the Jewish underground save thousands of Jews.

He succeeded Pius XII. His papal coronation was the last one to run for the traditional five hours.

John XXIII was fond of wearing the papal tiaras. On formal occasions 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. In 1959 he was given an expensive silver papal tiara by the people of Bergamo. It is the lightest in the papal collection at 2 lb (900 g), 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.

John XXIII is remembered fondly as "The Good Pope". He was beatified on September 3, 2000, and is now correctly referred to as Blessed John XXIII.

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