Good Pope John

Pope John XXIII, on a door of St. Peter's

Pope John XXIII, on a door of St. Peter’s

Fifty years ago today, Pope John XXIII died in the Vatican,of stomach cancer. His dying days were followed by people all the whole world.

This “roly-poly” Pope once wrote, “Every day is a good day to be born. Every day is a good day to die.”

He was beloved by many, not only for his efforts to open up the church and his outreach to non-Catholics, but also for being a true shepherd. He visited hospitals and prisons, telling inmates not to worry since he had two cousins who had spent time in prison and survived.

He beamed joy and seems to have had a sense of humor.

Once asked how many people work in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.”

On his deathbed he was asked how he was feeling. “Like St. Lawrence on the grill,” he noted.

Despite the hesitancy of the Roman Curia, he convoked an ecumenical council, Vatican II, to bring the Church up to date. He never saw his work finished, dying after the first session has ended.

He released two important encyclicals on social issues and peace, Mater et Magistra and  Pacem in Terris, that challenged many Catholics in the call for human rights, for disarmament, and for respect for working people and women.

He called for the Church to be “the Church of the poor” – similar to Pope Francis’s call for the church to be “a poor Church, a Church for the poor.”

His final message to the church, from his deathbed, reveals his spirit and is challenge to all people of faith:

Now more than ever, certainly more than in past centuries, our intention is to serve people as such and not only Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere the rights of the human person and not only those of the Catholic Church it is not the Gospel that changes; it is we who begin to understand it better…. The moment has arrived when we must recognize the signs of the times, seize the opportunity, and look far abroad.

May his life inspire us today to look beyond ourselves, to be people open to God’s Spirit, blowing where it will.


One response to “Good Pope John

  1. Ah! I remember that day! It was the last week of school (fourth grade in a Catholic school) and I remember the sense of sadness. Somehow it was connected to a national (and bigger!) sense of loss and sadness, although different in feeling from Kennedy’s assassination. I remember Life magazine’s coverage of Pope John XXIII as well as extensive coverage of the Vatican Council. In the last decade I acquired some of those Life magazines. Impressive coverage, and so helpful to read it in the time it was occurring! Also remembered reading the excerpts from the book “An Artist and the Pope” about the sculptor who designed new bronze doors for St. Peter’s.
    My “liturgical memory” covers the gamut from making my First Holy Communion just prior to Vatican II to the (experimental) changes through the sixties to a sense of things sorting out more or less by the eighties. Through it all, the warmth of John XXIII’s personality coupled with his responding to the call of the Holy Spirit to set Vat. II in motion has always stayed with me.
    The speech that John XXIII gave from his Vatican balcony on the moonlit eve of the opening of the council has fortunately popped up on the web. One of the most touching things to be able to hear this all these years later.

    John, thanks for posting about this. Reminds me to continue to pray for his canonization.

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