Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, but he did not see it to completion. His real name was Angelo Giusseppe Roncali and he was born on November 25th, 1881. His place of birth is Sotto il Monti, which is a small country village in Italy.
His parents had twelve other children and like most of the people of Soto il Monte, they were all sharecroppers.
Angelo Roncalli was ordained a priest in the year 1904 in Rome and a year later he was appointed as the secretary of the new Bishop of Bergamo. He worked there until the bishop's death in 1914.
Roncalli had to serve as a soldier during World War I. During his time as soldier he served as a sergeant, a stretcher bearer in the medical corpse and a chaplain. In 1919 he was discharged from the army and he became the spiritual director of the diocesan seminary of Bergamo.
He was appointed as the Italian President of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith by Pope Benedict XV. And Pope Pius XI made him titular bishop of Areopolis, Greece. His guiding motto was: “ Obedience and Peace”.
From his early teens, he maintained a diary of spiritual reflections that was subsequently published as Journal of a Soul. The collection of writings charts Roncalli's efforts as a young man to "grow in holiness" and continues after his election to the Papacy; it remains widely read.
Angelo was made Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece in 1935. He used this office to help save thousands of Jewish refugees in Europe during World War II.
Pope Pius XII named Angelo Apostolic Nuncio to France. This was in the year 1944. He had to negotiate the retirement of bishops who were collaborators of the Germans.
It was the same Pope Pius XII who appointed Angelo Patriarch of Venice in 1953, raising him to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Prisca.
Pope Pius XII died in 1958 and Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope on October 28th, 1958, much to his surprise. He chose the name Pope John XXIII. People of all over the world felt affection for him. This was due to his personal warmth and good humor.
Pope John XXIII made pastoral visits in Rome, seeing children infected with polio telling them: “You could not come to me, so I came to you”.
He was also the First Pope in our times to visit the inmates.
Since he liked to sneak out of the Vatican to walk the streets in Rome, people gave him the nick name “Johnny Walker”.
Pope John XXIII suffered from stomach pains and was diagnosed with stomach cancer on September 23rd, 1962. During eight months he suffered occasional stomach hemorrhages. This made him reduce his public appearances.
During his last public appearance on May May 11th, 1963, our Pope received the Balzan Prize. This was for his engagement for peace. Some weeks after this, he became very sick and needed blood transfusions. The cancer perforated his stomach wall and he got peritonitis.
He received the sacrament of anointing from the Papal Sacristan who was at his bedside. The sacristan was overcome by emotion and forgot the right order of anointing. So Pope John XXIII helped him and said farewell to the people present at his death bed.
He gave his soul back to the Lord on June 3rd, 1963. He was 81 years old and has reigned for four years and seven months.
On december 3rd, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded our Pope posthumously the presidential Medal of Freedom.
Many people all over the world loved this Pope of us dearly. He was called “ Good Pope John”.
Pope John Paul II declared him blessed on September 3rd, 2000. He was the first Pope since Pius X to be called blessed. For this occasion his body was removed and put at the altar of St. Jerome. Here he can be venerated by the faithful.