John XXIII, il papa buono, “the good pope,” was canonized on April 27, 2014, largely on the basis of the inspired vision of a renewed Church that led him to launch the Second Vatican Council. The Editorial Board of The Call joyfully embraces him as the magazine’s patron saint. We pray that his generous spirit of openness, charity, and wisdom will be mirrored in everything we offer in each issue of The Call.
ANCC clergy share brief thoughts about what il papa buono means to them.
In addition to many positive things, I especially think of John XXIII as one open to the surprise of the Holy Spirit. It took a man of humility and yet courage to let the inspiration of the Spirit truly come through. The Church community should be eternally grateful for his response to God’s leading. I love his words at the opening of the Council. “As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, ‘Ecumenical Council.’…It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light.’
Fr. Vincent McTighe
Sacred Heart of Jesus ANCC (Harrison, NJ)
When Pope John XXIII chose his name, he corrected a 500-year error in the list of popes called John. By choosing John XXIII rather than John XXIV, he made sure that Baldassare Cossa would forever be known as Antipope John XXIII. John is best known for his decision to convene an ecumenical council, the Second Vatican Council, in order to bring the Church into dialogue with the modern world. There are two images I recall about Pope John. The first image is a picture of his brothers carrying a large basket of food into the Vatican. Pope John was not ashamed of his relatives who were poor farmers, people of the earth. The second image is Pope John standing before a group of Roman rabbis saying, “I am Joseph, your brother.” This pope was at home with people of all ranks in life, thus affirming our humanity.
Fr. John Mollish
The reputation of John XXIII was well established before the call to the Church for a council. But this moment electrified everyone in the seminary and the world, and brought the Church into the limelight.
The Curia and Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Secretary of the Holy Office (Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith), were against it. And so they tried to control it to the best of their ability. But John would not let that happen, and in diplomatic ways made sure the Spirit of God was not deterred from moving the Church to open its windows and dusting off the place.
Aggiornamento or “renewal” was the term that came to be known as the bridge to the world. This bridge would allow all of us to be part of the world and allow the world to come in and see the mysteries of the faith anew. No more would the walls of the Castel San Angelo serve as the symbol of a defensive faith, an obstacle to those who would inquire. No, the fortress of ritual set up during and after the Reformation to “protect the Faith” would be obsolete for the purpose of doing the Lord’s command to “go and teach all nations.”
His earlier diplomatic career had prepared John well for his task, even though his pontificate was short, and his legacy is still with us today. Priests and laity were enthralled by the openness and good will that aggiornamento brought to them and which spurred them on to take up Christ’s call to follow Him and come and see what He was all about. The whole world wanted to find out what was going on in this ancient relic, the Church, which all of a sudden had new life infused into it. The best of the Reformation and the fondest dreams of the reformers were not only coming to be, but their own efforts were being recognized as the work of the Spirit, who inspires where He wills.
The media were thrilled to have a story a day as Good Pope John reached out to all the churches to come and see and participate in the work of this great council. The convocation of more than 2,500 bishops and leaders of the major Christian denominations was a simply unprecedented gathering which would have people talking and doing something about it for the next fifty years.
Fr. Carroll J. Mrowicki
Linden, New Jersey
John was the pope when I first entered the minor seminary in 1964. I remember admiring his simplicity and humility. He seemed very open and compassionate and as his papacy developed, my feelings proved true. He genuinely cared for the Church as a shepherd cares for his sheep, and Vatican II became one of the most important councils in the history of the Church. We are all indebted to his vision and spirit. The Call has chosen an excellent person to be its patron. I look forward to the day when we shall call him “Saint John XXIII.”
Fr. Anthony Testa
Our Lady of Guadalupe ANCC (Long Branch, NJ)
The witness of John XXIII reminds me never to doubt for a moment that God has a plan for each of us, unlikely as it sometimes seems. John was elected to be a do-nothing pope, a stopgap who was expected to sit on his hands, smile benignly at pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, and die after a decent interval to make way for a more vibrant successor. But within weeks of his election, this big-eared, rotund, and friendly ex-Vatican diplomat who had always been underestimated by the Curia announced the great ecumenical council that wound up opening the Church to the world and to the Holy Spirit. Who could’ve guessed?
Fr. Kerry Walters
Holy Spirit ANCC (Lewisburg, PA)
My mother would refer to Pope John XXIII as the smiling Pope. We were one of those devout Irish Catholic families whose lives were centered around the Church, and my mother’s affection for Pope John was almost personal. I think Pope John’s spirit and simplicity allowed for a perception of accessibility, and that gave many people this sense of a personal relationship with the smiling Pope.
Bishop George R. Lucey
St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, NJ)
I think what most inspires me about good Pope John is the fact of his total openness and trust in the movement of the Spirit in him. He was supposed to be a transitional Pope expected to do nothing earth-shattering, and yet he set the world of the Vatican and the Church-at-large topsy-turvy by following the prompting of the Spirit while he himself was supposedly well past his prime.
I came to the priesthood not so early in life myself, but Pope John stands as an inspiration to me in his openness that never questioned “Why now?” or “Why so late in life?” We never know what God has in store for us at any age and it is for me, like Pope John, to trust the prompting of the Spirit as I continue with my ministry. His trust and utter surrender to the plan of God for him I struggle to make my own, and even on the days I question myself about what I hope to accomplish, he stands in the back of my mind, his eyes twinkling and his mischievous smile bidding me go forward with confidence. God knows what He is about. Even as John was sanctified, so I hope that God will complete the good work He has begun in me.
Rev. Phyllis McHugh
St. Thomas More ANCC (Philadelphia, PA)