Pope John XXIII

This article deals with the 20th-century pope. For the 14th-century antipope, see Antipope John XXIII

Template:Infobox pope The Blessed Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (November 25, 1881June 3, 1963), reigned as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City from October 28, 1958 until his death in 1963.


Earlier life

Angelo Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte (Province of Bergamo), Italy, on November 25, 1881. The fourth in a family of 14, his family worked as sharecroppers, a striking contrast to his predecessor, Eugenio Pacelli, who came from an ancient aristocratic family, long connected to the Papacy.

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A young Roncalli in 1901.

In 1905, Roncalli was ordained a priest in the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo. Ten years later, during World War I, he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in the medical corps 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.

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Cardinal Roncalli

In 1953, he was named the Patriarch of Venice, and, accordingly, raised to the rank of cardinal. 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. Of his time in France, John later related in a humorous account that, when a woman wearing a daringly low-cut dress arrived at a reception which he was attending, the people assembled in the room did not watch the woman, but, rather, him to see if he was watching the woman.


Papal coronation of John XXIII
Papal coronation of John XXIII

Following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Roncalli was, to his own great surprise, elected Pope. For the longest time, Archbishop Montini, Archbishop of Milan, was the leading candidate. Though he was named to head one of the most ancient and prominent archdioceses in Italy, Pius had refused to name Montini a cardinal (or, according to some accounts, Montini had refused the honor). As a result, Montini, who would later become Pope Paul VI, was shut out of the following election, and most of the cardinals in the conclave considered him not to be available—in spite of canon law that said any Catholic male could be chosen. After the long pontificate of John's patrician predecessor, the cardinals chose a man whom they presumed, because of his advanced age and personal modesty, would be a short "stop-gap" pope. The cardinals reasoned that by the time this "stop-gap" pope died, Montini would probably have been raised to the Cardinalate, and be available for election. In fact, it was one of Roncalli's first acts as Pope to raise Montini to that rank.

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Pope John's Coat of Arms

What the cardinals and the rest of the Church did not expect was that Pope John's personal warmth, good humour and kindness would capture 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. He undertook the first official act of a Pope away from Vatican territory since 1870. This was to visit prisoners, telling them, "You could not come to me, so I came to you." When the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, arrived in the Vatican to see him, he nervously rehearsed the two methods of address he had been advised to use when she entered: "Mrs. Kennedy, Madame" or "Madame, Mrs. Kennedy". When she did arrive, however, to the amusement of the press corps, he abandoned both and rushed to her saying, "Jackie!"

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Pope John XXIII lying-in-State.

Nor did Pope John's radicalism stop at his informality. To the astonishment and horror of aides, he called an ecumenical council less than ninety years after the controversial Vatican Council. While his aides talked of spending a decade in preparation, John planned to hold it in a matter of months. From the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a new Mass (liturgy), a new ecumenism and a new approach to the world.

He met the Most Rev. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for about an hour in the Vatican on December 2, 1960. It was the first time in over 400 years, since the excommunication of Elizabeth I, that the Archbishop of Canterbury had met with the Pope.

Pope John XXIII excommunicated Fidel Castro on January 3, 1962 in line with a 1949 decree by Pope Pius XII forbidding Catholics from supporting communist governments.

Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer on June 3 1963, at the age of 81. On December 6 1963 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 of America.


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John XXIII's embalmed body being taken to its new resting place in St Peter's Basillica.

Known affectionately as "Good Pope John" and "the most loved Pope in history" to many people, in 2000 John was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II, the next-to-last 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 near the main altar, 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 oxygen in his sealed triple coffin rather than to any miraculous event (although it was certainly seen as such by many of the faithful). 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 buried in this vault.

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

Modern conspiracy theories

A fringe of conservative Catholics—those who disagree with Vatican II—have derided Pope John's influence in calling the council, seeing in him the beginnings of a movement away from the "true faith".

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Pope John XXIII

According to one theory, Pope John was actually an antipope, and the real pope was Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, elected in the 1958 conclave when what may have been white smoke was first seen.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allegedly claimed that Siri had indeed been elected on the third ballot of the 1958 papal conclave.Template:Ref What is unambiguously known is that Vatican Radio did conclude, on the basis of apparently white smoke, that a pope had been elected on the third ballot and announced it as such, telling listeners "The smoke is white. . . . There is absolutely no doubt. A pope has been elected."Template:Ref An FBI source also claimed that Siri was elected a second time on the third ballot.Template:Ref After the 6pm 3rd ballot white smoke appeared, not only the public was confused. The Swiss Guards assembled to give the ceremonial salute to the new pontiff, only to have to withdraw again.

Pope John signing his encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Pope John signing his encyclical Pacem in Terris.

The white smoke often had proven a confusing symbol in the past, leading John Paul II to decree the use of ringing bells in addition to the smoke after a papal election. Allegedly, Siri had even chosen a name, "Gregory XVII", and was preparing to appear at the balcony, but was threatened somehow and forced aside, leaving the cardinals free to elect Roncalli as Pope. Supporters of this theory maintained that Siri was informed that his election would lead to anti-Catholic pogroms in the Eastern Bloc. They claim that rather than endanger the lives of Catholics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and elsewhere, Siri announced non accepto (I do not accept the papacy.) According to the proponents of this theory, Siri was still validly pope, and as such had the papal graces and protection of the Holy Ghost from error, and John thus did not, leading to his calling of the modernizing Second Vatican Council. Such speculations can neither be proved or disproved, as papal conclaves are held under the strictest secrecy, with violations punishable by excommunication. Siri made no effort either to confirm or deny the claim that he had been elected pope, insisting simply in a 1986 interview "I am bound by the secret. This secret is horrible. I would have books to write about the different conclaves. Very serious things have taken place. But I can say nothing."Template:Ref However he discouraged Sedevacantism and openly accepted John XXIII and his successors as the legitimate popes.

Some also make unsubstantiated claims that John was a Freemason, and as such, could not be a valid Pope since Catholics were forbidden at that time from joining Freemasonry under pain of excommunication.

Many who subscribe to the purported teachings of Our Lady of Fatima also believe that Pope John deliberately withheld secret prophetic information revealed by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. [1] (http://www.crc-internet.org/dec97.htm) This is perhaps the basis for internet reports in the late 1990s about the supposed discovery of Pope John's diary where he received prophetic insight into the future, including the return of Jesus in New York in 2000. [2] (http://www.v-j-enterprises.com/pope.html) Although Pope John did have a diary there is no evidence in it to suggest that he received apocalyptic visions of the future. [3] (http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Nov1996/feature1.asp)


  1. Template:Note Department of State secret dispatch, "John XXIII," issue date: November 20, 1958, declassified: November 11, Paul L. Williams, The Vatican Exposed (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003), pp. 90-92.
  2. Template:Note The Tablet, November 1, 1958
  3. Template:Note Department of State secret file, "Cardinal Siri," issue date: April 10, 1961, declassified: February 28, 1994, William, Op. Cit pp.90-92.
  4. Template:Note Louis Hubert Remy, "The Pope: Could He Be Cardinal Siri?" (1986) translated into English by Heidi Hagen for “The Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes” - No. 55 - December 1987. For the controversy concerning Siri's alleged election in the 1958 and 1963 conclaves, see Malachi Martin, The Keys of this Blood (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1991) pp. 607-608.


  • Peter Hebblethwaite & Margaret Hebblethwaite, John XXIII: Pope of the Century (Continuum International, 2000) ISBN 0826449956
  • Malachi Martin, The Keys of this Blood (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1991)
  • Pope John XXIII, Journey of a Soul (trans. D White, 1965) ISBN 0225668955
  • Paul L. Williams, The Vatican Exposed (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003) ISBN 1591020654

External links

Preceded by:
Carlo Agostini
Patriarch of Venice
1953 - 1958
Succeeded by:
Giovanni Cardinal Urbani

Template:End box

Preceded by:
Pius XII
1958 - 1963
Succeeded by:
Paul VI

Template:End boxbg:Йоан XXIII (папа) cs:Jan XXIII. de:Johannes XXIII. (Papst) et:Johannes XXIII es:Juan XXIII eo:Johano la 23-a fr:Jean XXIII hr:Ivan XXIII. it:Papa Giovanni XXIII la:Ioannes XXIII nl:Paus Johannes XXIII ja:ヨハネ23世 (ローマ教皇) no:Johannes XXIII pl:Papież Jan XXIII pt:Papa Joo XXIII ro:Papa Ioan al XXIII-lea ru:Иоанн XXIII, папа sk:Jn XXIII. sl:Papež Janez XXIII. fi:Autuas Johannes XXIII sv:Johannes XXIII zh:若望二十三世


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