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Pope John XXIII
- This article deals with the 20th-century pope. For the 14th-century antipope, see Antipope John XXIII
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.
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 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.
In 1953, he was named the Patriarch of Venice, and, accordingly, raised to the rank of cardinal. As a sign of his esteem, President Charles de Gaulle 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.
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 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 dominating 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.
What the cardinals and the rest of the church did not expect was that Pope John's personal warmth, good humor 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 off 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!"
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.
Known affectionately as "Good Pope John" to many people, in A.D. 2001 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). Interestingly, this grave was later reused for John Paul II's own burial.
Modern conspiracy theories
Many conservative Catholics—those who disagree with Vatican II—have derided Pope John's influence in this area, seeing in him the beginnings of a movement away from the true faith. 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.  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.  Although Pope John did have a diary (Journey of a Soul, ISBN 0225668955) there is no evidence to suggest that he received apocalyptic visions of the future. 
- Vatican biography
- John XXIII was embalmed; Vatican denies he is subject of miracle of incorruptibility
- Website about the preserved nature of John XXIII's body when his tomb was opened on January 16, 2001
- Pope John XXIII's encyclical Aeterna Dei Sapientia (1961)
- Conservative Catholic website claiming Pope John XXIII was horrified by the liberalism of the Second Vatican Council
- Advocating Roncalli as Righteous Among the Nations
- Detailed article on Roncalli's actions Frontpagemag.com
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