WHEN THE SACRISTAN RULES

He studied a lot, perhaps too much for his people. Farmers, full of faith, who came to his first Mass in order to listen to him. And he, who knew them well, did not want to let them down. So he asked the sacristan...

Angelo Roncalli bambinoAngelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future John XXIII, was born in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo) the 25th of November 1881, the fourth one out of thirteen brothers and sisters and first male in the family. The Roncalli family have a good fame because of their religiosity and the children were educated on the family example: rosary and evening prayers all together, love accompanied the hard work of the fields and helped in the family core. But an exception was made for Angelo Giuseppe: given his deep passion for the study , he could go on studying, first in private, in the care of the Carvico parish priest and then, as an external student, at the Celana College, managing to finish his elementary studies and to do his first studies of the Latin language, so much so, that in the fall of the 1893 , when he was 12 , he could enter the Bergamo Seminary and admitted to the third class of the superior studies. The vocation to the priesthood was natural in the boy and when he was Pontiff , he said. " that he never doubted that that was his life", that is, to become a priest. In the Seminary he came in touch with the holy sciences, but notwithstanding all the difficulties, he became priest. Then, another exception, for the young student: he is so clever that the superiors sent him to Rome in order to perfect his studies, given that the ecclesiastical laws allow him to become priest when he is 23 and the 13th of July 1904 he graduated in Sacred Theology. The 10th of August of the same year he was ordained a priest in the s, Maria in Monte church in piazza del Popolo and the following day he celebrated his first Mass in S.t Peter's Cathedral. That day, unforgettable to him, finished with a happy event. Confused among the crowd of pilgrims, Father Angelo found himself next to the Pope, and the one, accompanying him, introduces him to the Pope saying: " Holiness, this one is a young priest who celebrated his first Mass this morning." The Pope stopped and told him: " Good J encourage you to follow your ideals". Then the pope walked away towards the other pilgrims, but right away went back and asked him: " And when will you celebrate your first Mass at your village?" He answered him " By the Assumption, Holy Father" The Pope replayed "J wonder what a big feast". And so, the 15th of august 1904, Sotto il Monte welcomed the young priest for the first Mass. After the gospel, he went to pulpit for preaching. At his feet, hidden, there was the sacristan with the charge to pull the tunic in case his homily was too difficult for the listeners; in fact , after all those years of study, he did not want to run the risk of not being understood by his co-villagers. But the sacristan did not intervene and for this reason the newly priest made a pause and looked at the sacristan. " Carry on, father Angelo, the sacristan whispered, it is all understandable. It is as clear as the water!"

FARMERS' CHILD

Mamma e Papà di Angelo RoncalliThese simple humane words, by which the new Patriarch Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli introduced himself to the venicians the 15th March 1953, condense in short his biography. "J want to talk with the most clearness of heart and word. They told you about me things too high and I do not deserve. I humbly introduce myself. Like any other man living down here, I come from a family and a determined spot: with the grace and a good physical health and a little of good sense in order to see clearly where to go; with a good inclination towards Fratelli di Angelo Roncallithe love of humankind that keeps me faithful to the gospel law, respectful of my right and other's, which stops me to do others evil, but on the contrary, pushes me to do all others good. I come from humility and was educated in a happy and blessed poverty which has no pretences, which protects the flowering of the most noble and highest virtues and which prepares to the ascensions of life. The Providence took me out of my village and made me walk on the paths of the world, in the West and in the East, nearing people with different religions and ideologies, in touch with acute and dangerous social problems and keeping me calm and equilibrate, always concerned with what unifies us more than what separate us and raises contrasts".


 

BULGARIA, TURKEY, GREECE

 

IN ORDER TO BE FRIEND TO EVERYONE

bulgaria1A pastor since the beginning. This was the novelty which Angelo Roncalli took with himself in the service in the three countries where the Christian communities were small in number. A pastor concerned with having good relationships with everyone.

 

 

 

IN BULGARIA

Angelo Roncalli in Bulgaria 3rd March 1925: Pious XI appointed him Apostolic Visitor in Bulgaria with Episcopal functions. "actually- the new prelate writes- being appointed bishop or remaining simple priest is worthwhile only to the eyes, but says little to the spirit of the one looking for the glory of God and nothing else like mundane satisfactions. The spirit is calm and the heart at peace. I obey because I must leave certain things and take up other ones. Yes, " Obedientia et pax": here is my motto. So always be". He meditated about this motto for a long time: it will be for all his life the truest expression of his program. The 19th March 1925 he was consecrated bishop in Rome and the 25th April entered Sofia the Bulgarian capital, finding an environment not very good. Above all the Macedonian and Thracian catholic Slavonic population is very troubled , pushed by the war to abandon their possessions in order to find refuge in Bulgaria where find themselves scattered and without a religious leader. Mons. Roncalli received right away the day after his arrival, the catholic communities leaders, and afterwards he personally visited them and their communities, bringing to everybody his help and his blessing; one year later he managed to make appoint as Apostolic Administrator for Bulgaria ,the abbey Stephen Kurtev and he gave the Bulgarian Church a solid organisation .

APOSTOLIC DELEGATE IN ISTANBUL


Angelo Roncalli a IstanbulIn November 1934, mos. Roncalli received the nomination as apostolic delegate in Turkey and Greece with permanent dwelling in Istanbul. Here the Catholics are less than those in Bulgaria and the life of faith in these countries is not at all easy. After few months from his arrival in Istanbul, the Turkish government issued a law which prohibited the clergy to wear the clergy clothes; on the other hand, Turkey still strongly influenced by the State laicism of Kemal Ataturk and the government do not recognise officially the existence of the pontifical representative, so the delegate must always be on his guard in order not to run the risk of being accused of violating in any way the laws of the State. Also in Greece mos. Roncalli has to take into account the prohibition of any religious propaganda and the suspect of being faithful to Rome, in a strict orthodox observance country. But he can practice the patience and the charity in a way out of the normal, being extremely prudent and solving out not few difficulties. He goes on cultivating actively friendly relationships with the representatives of the orthodox churches as he had done during his sojourn in Bulgaria. As a religious wrote at his departure from Sofia:" With his personal action, his lovingness, his understanding of the situation he effectively contributed to nearing the spirits, cancelling all the prejudices existing in various parts." In Turkey and , above all in Greece he follows this ecumenical apostolate: " All that was Christian attracted him- mons Vuccino Greek catholic archbishop wrote- Willingly he knocked at the doors of the orthodox monasteries and churches to see and venerate the ancient icons, the marvellous mosaics and manuscripts. He went to see the Mount Angelo Roncalli a IstanbulAthos monks, too and they all marvelled at seeing among them the ancient Rome representative". He also visited the Constantinople orthodox patriarch in his see of Fanar and gave the catholic ceremonies a liturgical majesty which favourably impressed the oriental brothers. When Pious XI died, in the Istanbul cathedral, all the representatives of the orthodox and eastern catholic churches were invited for the mass in honour of the dead; the rite developed with a splendour never seen in Istanbul and mons, Roncalli wanted all the four representatives of the eastern rites with him to say the five absolutions in use for the Pope's death During the II world war mons Roncalli developed an active task on behalf of the refugees and of the prisoners of war. He protected the population and the Italian soldier (after the 8th September 1943) from the Germans managing to obtain that Athens like Rome was declared an "open city" by both the parts in conflict , saving her from the shelling. Noteworthy was his ability in hiding the Jews from the deadly search of the nazis troops and his ability in mitigating the embargo of the British fleet at the Greek coasts , permitting the incoming of food which saved the Greek people from starving.

THE DOOR ALWAYS OPEN

ambasciatoreIn his farewell speech to the Bulgarian Catholics mons. Roncalli shows all his love and pain for his departure:
" According to an Irish tradition, on Christmas night, all the houses put at the windows a lit candle, to show Mary and S.nt Joseph, looking for a refuge in the holy night, that there is a place for them in that house. Therefore, wherever I am, also at the end of the world, whenever a Bulgarian passes in front of my house he will find a lit candle at my window. He will knock at my door and we will open; either catholic or orthodox, he will be able to come in and find in my house the warmest and most loving hospitality".

IN POST-WAR FRANCE

Agelo Roncalli nunzio apostolico a ParigiIn the country of the French revolution , the prejudices against the catholic Church were hard to die. And the war, just finished, favour them. But Angelo Roncalli's lovingness could smooth also the most anticlerical hearts. In December 1944 mons. Roncalli received a telegram from the Secretariat of the Vatican State: " Come immediately. Moved as a Nuncio to Paris. Tardini". That "Come immediately" is imperative. Roncalli set off immediately. And after 48 hours from his departure from Istanbul, and after coming to Rome to get the confirmation from the Pope himself, mons. Roncalli got off at Orly airport. In Paris mons. Roncalli is a very able diplomat always joint to his charity. Agelo Roncalli nunzio apostolico a ParigiThe situation of the Church in France is very difficult; the country since 1939 is going through one of the saddest periods of its history : the military defeat, the occupation, the resistance, the two national governments, the liberation. Inevitably, at the time of the final triumph of the Resistance, all the survived institutions under the Germans came under trial and among them the Church: the Nuncio, mons. Valeri, the bishops and the catholic organisations. A partisan propaganda, supported mainly by the communists, accused the church of connivance with the German enemy, while in truth, either the Nuncio and the bishops tried to save the salvable, helping the Jews and the political persecuted from the German troops. The Nuncio did not stop his activity to the official contacts with the government in order to solve the pending problems, but also is a valid support of the church of France, in these difficult years of the recovery after the horrors and divisions of the war. He went around the country, always present at the religious ceremonies and at the meetings of bishops and priests and at conferences.

THE HOTTEST PROBLEMS

In 1950 he visited also the French North African territories, describing in one of his letters his trip as follows: " I have driven ten thousand kilometres in 38 days following the path of the Arab invasion. From Tunisia, trough all Algeria and Morocco. And I did not suffer anything except for a cold taken visiting the Escorial. A day of fast and rest at the Nuncio house in Madrid made me feel well". In front of the " worker-priests" problem, mons. Roncalli was very prudent until he stayed as a Nuncio although with all limitations which the experience taught him. One of his principles is that "without a bit of holy folly the Church does not enlarge his borders".

DINAMISM AND CORDIALITY

Nunzio Roncalli a ParigiIn the years he stayed in Paris, the Nuncio conquer the France with his loving cordiality, his modesty and his charity towards everybody, without any distinction, so much so, that he declared openly: " I often get on well with an atheist or a communist, better than with certain fanatic Catholics." He kept in touch with everyone, also with parliamentarians and government men belonging to parties opposing the church, multiplying the human contacts with a brilliant conversation full of human warmth. During a diplomatic party, for instance, the Nuncio Roncalli is aware that the soviet ambassador Bogomolov is alone, silent. He approached him and started speaking in a way quite strange for a diplomat: " Excellency-told him- we are in opposite camps: notwithstanding we have in common an important thing: the belly: we are both quite rounded." Bogomolov laughed. The ice was broken.

CONNOISSEUR OF PEOPLE

francia1When mons. Roncalli left France at the beginning of 1953, after his appointment as patriarch of Venice, all the sympathy of the French people is with him. And at the farewell dinner it was the turn of Herriot, a radical with an anticlerical fame, to explain the reasons of the prestige acquired by the Roncalli in France: " The French people will not forget the goodness, the delicateness of trait, the proofs of friendship received, having known you not only as a diplomat but also as a friend who has visited France pushing himself to the African coasts, learner of ancient pages and knower of people. The French people, with their blemishes are seduced by the goodness of heart: so much goodness they have known in the Nuncio, this frenchised Italian, and to you the French people have opened cordially". And the 15th January 1953 , when the president Auriol put on him the Cardinal beret, as the tradition allowed the heads of state of some catholic states the Elisee was the set of an unforgettable scene: at the moment of receiving the beret from the president, Roncalli knelt before the president, but Auriol wanted to flee; but afterwards following the suggestions of the head of the protocol , Auriol bent down towards the Cardinal and with a trembling voice said: "No, Eminence, stand up, stand up; it is me the one who has to kneel before you."

THE HUMBLE PATRIARCH OF THE SERENISSIMA

flashV16When he arrived in Venice, he hoped that the city would be his last stop of his long trip following the divine providence, which he always obeyed. But it was not like this. A train heading for Rome. In the 12 January 1953 Consistory Pious XII appointed Mons. Roncalli as a cardinal, and then Patriarch of Venice where he entered the 15th march. The venicians called him " the calmness after the storm" succeeding Patriarch Agostini an austere man, ascetic and indefatigable worker. At the age of 72, card. Roncalli began a new life and hoped it was the last one. In Venice he found all he always desired since the day of his priestly ordination: the pastoral work in strict contact with the priests and the people. Just arrived at the see he started his pastoral visit, interrupted by his predecessor's death, and finished it with the convocation of a diocesan synod. In 5 years and a half of patriarchate raised up 30 parishes ; he embellished the splendour of the golden cathredal and put the relics of his predecessors in the crypt, and put in order the diocesan archives; he is presenwith advices in various civil , political and cultural happenings in the city. He went back in the East in 1958, to consecrate the big underground Cathedral of Lourdes dedicated to Saint Pious X. In Venice, he continued his ecumenical apostolate, looking for contacts with the "separated brothers" and attending every year the Octave for the Unity of the Churches with homilies and conferences expressing all the anxiety of his soul for the problem. " The path to the union of the various Christian Confessions- he said courageously- is the charity, so poorly observed by all sides". In Venice the patriarch Roncalli leaves an unforgettable remembrance. The new patriarch leads a modest life without formal barriers; now and then he made his apparition down the roads accompanied only by his secretary, stopping to talk with known and unknown people, trying to speak the venician dialect and becoming friend with the gondoliers. Arrived in Venice he made known that anyone can visit him without any formality, because, he said: " anyone can need to confess and I cannot refuse the confidences of a soul in pain". And in fact , according to an expression allegedly said by a venician " he received freely also the last of the drop-outs". Early enough the venicians were well aware that behind this simplicity there1957 il patriarca roncalli per le strade di Venezia a colloquio con la gente was a man of extraordinary culture , a man, as a newspaper said, " having a library in his head". The patriarch Roncalli in fact learned in historical studies and knowing different foreign languages, made a lot of trips and his big experience gave him that security that enchanted not only the ignorant but also the learned. When he left Venice for the conclave, after the death of Pious XII a big crowd accompanied him to the station wishing him a good journey and a good work. The scene is the same as 55 years ago when another patriarch of Venice, the cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, went to Rome in order to attend the conclave; the crowd perhaps is aware also this time that the patriarch won't go back anymore to Venice. For the cardinal patriarch, as his secretary mons. Capovilla wrote: " The tranquillity as always.No personal document with himself; nor the personal testament that other times on leaving for Lebanon or for Spain he took with himself." The patriarch Roncalli went to Rome calm a parenthesis before going back to Venice where he thought it was his definitive place of work and rest after a lot of trips around the world. But the Providence had disposed the things in another way.

JOKING

papa1The future pope's innate sense of humour could expand fully in Venice, in the natural frame of a city which appreciate the ready joke. " Please- the patriarch used to say- do not say around my inattentive phrases". But his jokes went from mouth to mouth. One day, talking to one of the richest man in the city he said: " You and I have one thing in common: the money. You have got a lot and I have nothing at all. The difference is that I do not care about it." Another time, to a journalist asking what he would have done had he began anew his life, he answered: "The journalist". Afterwards with a smile he added: " And now let us see if you have the courage to tell me that, if you could be born again , you would do the patriarch!"

APPARENTLY APPRENTICE

papaHe looked like this at a superficial glance, Angelo Roncalli at the beginning of his Pontificate. Notwithstanding as John XXIII he knew to give himself a precise program, facing hard tasks with big consequences. Without forgetting that the first duty of a pope is to pray. If the catholic world was amazed at the announcement of card. Roncalli as a pope, about whom little was talked before the Conclave, certainly more amazed it was him, the elected, who did not think about this eventuality. Since the beginning, although he called himself " an apprentice pope" and said "let me do my noviciate" faced with his usual calm the first difficult steps. The very evening of the "urbi et orbi" blessing to the secretary asking about which important problems he would speak about firstly, he answered: "Now I am taking the breviary and I will say Vespers and Complete". In the two first speeches of the 29th October, his radio message to the world, and of 4th November, day of his crowning , John XIII already put down his well defined program. " We want above all insist that we care about the duty of pastor of all the sheep. All other human qualities can be an embellishment and complete a pontifical government, but in no way can substitute. But the central point is the zeal of the "good shepherd", ready to any task up to the point of sacrificing himself." A clearly pastoral program. But also an ecumenical and missionary one, towards the furthest people " The horizon expands " I have other sheep that do not belong to this flock...(Jo. 10,16)." Here is the missionary question in all its beauty. And also " Let us open the heart and the arms to all who are separated from this apostolic See. We ardently desire their return to the house of the common Father" . A program of interest towards the problems of mankind, especially towards pms concerning peace and social justice "We would like to appeal to the regents of all nations, in whose hands are the destinies, the prosperity and hopes of the peoples. Because they finally can get on well among themselves. Because the resources of human knowledge and riches of peoples are devoted more often to preparing weapons then increasing the wealth of all of them, particularly of those less rich." Clearly fixed the program of his pontifical action, John XXIII began from the little things which pointed out to his style. To the Roman Observer director he said : " the lofty and noble word of his Holiness" and other similar phrases must be abandoned, he cancelled the prohibition for anyone to be in the Vatican gardens during his strolling, stopping to talk to the gardeners the Swiss guards and the other people there. " I have read attentively the gospel and I have not found any prescription about the prohibition for the Pope to eat in company", he told those who noted that the Pontiffs ate by themselves; and from then on at the table of the Pope there were often prelates and friends. Pope John began to go out of the Vatican walls, breaking the tradition that wanted the Pope to live isolated inside his small kingdom. The Romans got used to seeing him around Rome, during his visits to the parishes to the hospitals to the jails and to old ill friends; so much so that the Romans started to call him "John outside the walls".

THE POPE AND THE CHILDREN

Papa BuonoThe meetings between the pope and the children are famous. When he visited the children at Bambin Gesù Hospital, he was called by a little patient "Come here, pope, come here, pope". He approached the bed and asked him: "What is your name?", "Angel". "See, dear little, once also my name was Angel but few days ago I have changed my name. Now my name is John". In another part of the same hospital a blind child told him: " I know you are the pope, but I cannot see you. But I love you a lot". In the eyes of the pope came out two tears and perhaps for the first time he remained speechless. But the most moving episode wasPapa Giovanni XXIII con la bambina malata di leucemia the one of the audience with an American child suffering leukaemia, who expressed the desire to see the Pope before dying. The child wore thefirst communion white dress although looking well could hardly stand.Pope John met her, took her hand and made her sit next to him. Then they talked to each other for about three quarters of an hour , a very long time, that the pope rarely spent with a very important person. What they told each other is a mystery so much so if you think about the poor English of the pope and about the little comprehensible slang of the child. But the saint and simple souls, can understand each other without long discourse.

A FREE SPIRIT



Papa Giovanni XXIII con il camauroEverybody understood by the name, John XXIII, that something would have gone differently in the old world of the Church. In the history of the church, there were 22 popes called John. The name of one was John XIII, but he was an antipope. Therefore, no pontiff dared to take on that name. Roncalli took on it, without fear to be confounded with the usurper of saint Peter's see. He was the opposite picture of his predecessor. Pious XII appeared hieratical in his high sacredness, aristocratic pontiff, pastor above the world, pastor angelicus. John XIII had a splendid image that emblematically portrayed him.
It is the one with on his head the camauro, that red velvet beret contoured with white fur showing him, a bergamascan farmer, a calm and serene renaissance pontiff. He wore it so that could keep warm his ears.

THE NEW SPRING OF THE ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

94 concilio2What is the image, a bit abused, that the people have of John XXIII? That he was a simple pope. But it is an image that does not explain the personality of Angelo Roncalli, who was good, but a man of great culture and capable of decisions marking the life of the Church. It would be a big mistake looking at john XXIII as a simple pope ready to say a joke. He would not be, in this case a great pope. Suffice it to look at some of his noteworthy acts of government in order to see how he had a precise blueprint and he knew how to implement it. The 17th November 1958, the Roman Observer announced that the new Pope, in the 15th December consistory would appoint 23 new cardinals among them the first African and so the foreigners became the absolute majority compared to the Italians: the sacred College became more internationalised.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE COUNCIL

The 25th January 1959, feast of saint Paul's conversion, to the Cardinals gathered in Saint Paul's cathedral outside the walls, John XXIII announced " trembling a little with commotion, but with humble resolution" his plan of setting up a diocesan synod for the diocese of Rome, an ecumenical council for the universal church and the reformation of the canon law, preceded by the promulgation of the Code of eastern right. The cardinals were amazed , speechless, at the announcement of so big enterprises, so much so that no one of the preceding pontiffs have the guts to begin such work. Pope John launched these proposals before they were clear in his mind, before studying the plans in order to implement them; above all the plan of the Council, as he would say in the following years, was not ripen in him "like a fruit of a prolonged meditation, but like a spontaneous flower of a not-hoped sprin"; and in the message to the venician clergy (29th April 1959) he added. " Regarding the announcement of the ecumenical council we listened to an inspiration; we considered the spontaneity, in the humility of our soul, like an unexpected and unforeseeable touch". The borderless faith in God which fed Pope John XXIII, brought him to answer right away to the inspiration, before wondering how to implement it. But if the first announcement was timid and uncertain, afterwards the pope's exhortation in preparing the council was stronger and stronger; he talked about it to the cardinals and bishops, to the pilgrims and to the people received in audience, to those to whom it concerns and to those who did not bother about it. He assigned a task to everyone in the preparation of the council, at least to pray for it. "We do not doubt to say- he said in a speech of the 13th November 1960- that our tasks and studies in order to make of the council a big happening, could be aimless, provided that this collective task of sanctification were less concord and less decisive. No element can be productive as the sanctity. The prayers, the virtues of the single ones, the interior spirit become an instrument of an immense good". While the complex mechanism of the Ecumenical Council grinded the immense heap of studies and papers coming from all over the catholic world, while commissions and sub commissions, council fathers and experts made a formidable job which usually would have taken a longer time, here that the other plans of the pope were implemented in no time. The Roman Synod, the first that took place in the eternal city after the Trento Council, developed in the January 1960. Then the works for the reformation of the Code of Canonical Right together with the preparation of the Ecumenical Council. And the legislative activity of Pope John XXIII did not stop here: other laws marked a deep rejuvenation in the Church. The dialogue with the Anglicans was reopened, after 4 centuries of hatred and incomprehension, he prohibited the traits of hostility towards the Jews, taking away from the missals the words "the perfidious Jews", and proclaimed the first black saint: Brother Martin de Porres from Perù.

THE POPE'S CARESS

bambini3It was the evening of the 11th October 1962, at the end of the march concluding the opening day of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council. Pope John XXIII in Saint Peter's square, with a familiar tone he said those words that conquered and moved the whole world: "Dear children, I hear your voices. Mine is one voice but recaps the voice of the whole world: here all the world is represented. One would say that even the moon hurried this evening, observe her, in the high, looking at this  show. My person is worth nothing: it is a brother speaking to you, a father at God's willing. Therefore let us go on loving each other, loving each other this way; looking at each other in the meeting: we have to pick up what unifies us and leave aside the rest… Going back home, you will find your children, give your children a caress and tell them: this is the Pope's caress. You will find some tears to wipe away: say a good word. The Pope is with us, specially in the time of sadness and bitterness. And then all together we live: singing sighing, crying, but always full of hope in the Christ, who helps us and listens to us, and let us continue to walk."

THE IMMENSE STRENGTH OF CRISTIANITY

Where does, in Angelo Roncalli, rise that glance at mankind, a glance so positive so full of faith in their capacity? Not from an ingenuous feeling, but in the understanding that what is in the 6 concilioheart of every man is a question of sense, of God. Also to the man who looks to resemble God through the scientific progress. With his last encyclical, "Pacem in terris", for the first time in church history, the pope addressed himself not only to the bishops, clergy and catholic faithful, but " to all good willing people": to all who believe in the existence of natural values that in every creature have the imprinting of the Creator. The encyclical was based on an optimistic view of the humankind and its history, in the certainty that all the sane forces of humankind answer positively to the pacific appeal of the Vicar of Christ and that the events of the human history, led mysteriously by the Divine Providence, bring the humankind to a Christian vision of the life, notwithstanding the often contrasting appearances.

A POSITIVE GLANCE

vaticano2The greatness and extraordinary popularity of pope John XXIII come from also his inalterable optimism concerning the whole humankind, supported by an intrepid faith and by a very strong sense of the divine, which allowed him to meet and establish cordial contacts either with the separate brothers of the orthodox and protestant churches, or with men of other faiths and ideologies, presenting the church not as a closed ivory tower defending her heavenly truths, but really as "the house of the common Father" open to everyone. John XXIII, firmly convinced of the immense strength that Christianity have in itself, did not fear any confrontation and he was sure that the dynamic of truth, freedom and justice, once on the move, would have managed to triumph over the malice and opportunism of humankind. For this reason, pope John did not fear the great progresses of the science and technique, because he knew well that any scientific and technical progress, as extraordinary as it may seems, leaves always without answer the ultimate questions that man asks himself about the reasons of his presence in the universe; he knew that the material progress leaves always behind him a void of soul that no human pride will be able to fill in.

THE PROGRESS IS NOT ENOUGH

Angelo Roncalli knew that the so called "free spirits" more than ever are unsatisfied spirits, who can be reconquered to the faith and hope only with understanding and humility, with the sincere appreciation of their human dignity and of their good faith; he knew that the single man and all humanity after having experienced the ephemeral joy of the progress, they would be back inevitably to the dear and sweet old truths , to the simple faith of the child and old woman, which in their own are worth more than all the machines built by the hands of the man, than all his culture and than all the scientific progresses and they can give the tranquillity of conscience and peace in the human relationships.

WITH THE MISSIONS ALWAYS IN HIS HEART

missio7When, the 28th October 1958, was announced the election of Card. Roncalli to the pontificate, those who knew well his life and thought, were unanimous in foreseeing that John XXIII would have been a missionary Pontiff.
If the official beginning of the missionary activity of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli goes back to 1921, when he was called in Rome by the Card. Van Rossum to direct the Italian organisation of the Pontifical works , his interest in the missions goes back well before. The 21st April 1961 at the end of a meeting of the preparatory Committee of the Mission for the Council, the pope said confidentially he had found some of his spiritual writings of when he was fifteen and student at the Bergamo seminary; in them there was the proposal of praying always and intensively for the " separated brothers" and for the needs of the missions, because, he added, in those very years he had began to become interested in the missionary work through specialized magazines. In the Bergamo diocese, Father Roncalli was a willing supporter of the missionary cooperation and it was for this particular sensitiveness that Benedict XV called him to Rome in 1921, appointed him Director of the Work of the Propagation of the Faith in Italy, with the charge of reorganising the Work in the country.

THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT

missio1Mons. Roncalli stayed in Rome from 1921 to 1925, until when he was appointed Apostolic Visitor in Bulgaria: four years exclusively dedicated to the missionary cooperation. During this time he had the chance to travel a lot along the Italian peninsula, unifying the various regional councils into a unique national centre; he visited also different foreign countries (France, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Germany) to study the ways of cooperation to the missions put in place in those countries; he founded and directed the magazine "La papa57Propagazione della Fede" in the world; he worked to set up the big missionary exposition placed in the Vatican gardens in the Holy Year 1925. In his writings of that time all the love to the missionary cause is shown off. In the twenty years he spent in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, mons. Roncalli knew the "separated brothers" and the vast world of Islam; later on, as a Nuncio in France and as a Cardinal in Venice, he had to visit Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, reporting vivid impressions, as he wrote in a letter to the Florence mayor, missio5La Pira (19th September 1958): "I shall tell you in confidence that since the Lord took me to the streets of the world to meet men and civilisations different from the Christian one. I divided the daily " hours" of the breviary in a way to embrace in prayer the East and the West". Afterwards, as a cardinal of Venice, he attended some missionary happenings : the 17th February 1957 he pronounced the official speech in memory of mons, Conforti founder of the Saverian Missionary Institute and that same year he attended the National Missionary Congress of Padua, holding the final speech.

THE PATRIARCH IN MILAN

91 vescovo1After a few months, the 3rd March 1958, the card, Roncalli was in Milan, at the PIME ( Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) see, on the occasion of the traslation of the body of Patriarch Ramazzotti, his predecessor on the Desk of saint Mark and founder of the PIME. On that occasion he delivered a very important missionary speech, remembering the things of his life concerning the love to the missions. He said: " I remember the first time that the divine providence took me to the Pontifical Institute tor Foreign Missions (PIME) in Milan in Monterosa street, in the fall of 1910, nearly half a century ago, in order to hand down to a group of missionaries the crucifix for the departure. In the conversation with some of the eldest ones come back from the evangelisation fields, I could taste the joy of those meetings. I felt taken by an unspeakable tenderness, educating my spirit to admiration and interest for those called in that mysterious and courageous life"

WHEN A POPE DIES

He surprised once more everyone. Like for the beginning of the Council, also his illness was for the public a thunder in a blue sky. He knew how to live offering his life for the good of the Holy Church and for love to Jesus. mort3Pope Roncalli was known for his health and the works, trips and speeches he did unceasingly were the explanation of his good health. It is difficult to say when the pope had clear conscience of his unrecoverable illness, a cancer at the stomach; it is certain that until the end he went on working and he never lost his optimism, which was the solid faith in God and serene abandonment to God's will. The professor Gasbarrini, pontifical doctor was continually next to him, and he told about the last days: " A lot of times I heard him say:morte4 " God's will be done" and " Dear professor, do not worry, my suitcases are always ready. When the time of departure comes I will lose no time. The conscience abandoned him only at the end, but for a lot of days he could read the newspapers, meet the visitors, deal even with the government of the Church. At the end, he suffered big pains he supported with great courage. The 3rd June, on a Monday, at half past seven in the evening we were gathered in a room next to him; in front of the television, we were listening speechless to the solemn Mass celebrated by card. Traglia on the church-yard of saint Peter's in front of an immense and silent crowd. Now and then, we heard the breath of John XXIII, weaker and weaker. I went back to his bed and I took one of his hands among mine. I could not feel his heart beat. I bent down on his heart. On that moment, I raised my head, whispering : " He is dead". Down below in the square the mass was ending with the words "Ite missa est". I heard them clearly and they looked to me symbolical. A heavenly viaticum to the soul of an unparalleled pope. I had the eyes full of tears. That moment somebody turned on a great light in the room".

11th OCTOBER 1962

camauroThis day marks the solemn opening of the ecumenical council. The news is on all the newspapers, and in Rome it is in the exulting hearts of everyone. " I thank the Lord who has given me the honour to open on his behalf this beginning of great graces for his holy church. He disposed that the first spark he prepared, during three years, this happening came out of my mouth and my heart. I was determined to give up everything also the joy of this beginning. With the same calm I repeat my fiat voluntas tua regarding the staying at this first place of service for all the time and for all the circumstances of my humble life or feeling stopped in any moment, because this duty of going on and finishing passes down to my successor. Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra ( yor wiil be done on earth as it is in heaven)."