John XXIII, from northern farmers’ family to pope

P(by Manuela Tulli) (ANSA) – Rome, April 23 – As a child, Angelo Roncalli was poor but happy.BRThe future pontiff’s human and spiritual adventure started in a family of farmers in the northern town of Sotto il Monte near Bergamo on November 25, 1881. His father was a tenant farmer; he farmed land with cereal crops and vineyards and bred cows.BRHis mother was in charge of the farm where some 30 relations lived, including Roncalli’s numerous immediate family – the future pope had three older sisters and nine other siblings including brothers and younger sisters.BRThe family was poor and it wasn’t always possible to feed everybody for lunch and dinner.BRIt is no coincidence that in John XXIII’s childhood memories the only lie he said was induced by hunger.BREverybody was saying the rosary in the kitchen and little Angelo, who was hungry, stole a few dried figs his mother kept under the bed to give to her children on special occasions.BRWhen his mother asked him whether he had taken a few figs, the little boy denied everything but then was so sorry he vomited.BRHe attended the small local school for three years.BRThen local priests took charge of his education and when he was just 11 he entered a seminary, first in Bergamo and then in Rome.BRIt was during these years that he wrote in his spiritual diary ‘Journal of the soul’: “What will happen to me in the future? Will I become a good theologian, a famous jurist, a country priest, or a simple poor priest?”, wondered Roncalli.BRBut his list included “bishop, cardinal, diplomat, pope”, as a number of biographers state, though he had cancelled this line out of modesty.BRHe then served in the military as required by the draft and graduated in theology.BRHe was ordained a priest in Rome on August 10, 1904.BR”No family member was there because the family’s economic situation couldn’t make it possible for them to buy a round-trip train ticket Bergamo – Rome”, his longtime secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla, said.BRThe following year he became secretary to the bishop of Bergamo, Monsigneur Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi.BRWhen World War I began in 1915 he served as a military chaplain.BRThe war ended and the priest from Sotto il Monte was transferred to Rome in 1920 where he started his diplomatic career.BRFrom 1925 he served as a diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece.BRDuring World War II he used his diplomatic network to save thousands of Jews.BRIn 1944 he was appointed apostolic nuncio to France.BRBut after almost a decade the Holy See had something else in mind for him and in 1953, after being created a cardinal, he was appointed patriarch of Venice.BRIt was an intense period for Roncalli, who did not travel a lot as a pontiff, but made several pilgrimages, from Lourdes to Fatima, Spain to Lebanon at this time.BROn October 9, 1958 Pius XII died, a pope Roncalli had loved very much.BRBefore leaving Venice, where he thought he would be returning in a few weeks, he wrote a letter to Venetians asking them to pray for the cardinals to choose a pontiff who would be a “comfort for the Church”.BRHe entered the conclave and after 11 votes he was elected pope on October 28, 1958.BRJohn XXIII – a name he chose after his father – spent his first Christmas as pontiff with sick children at the Bambin Gesu’ pediatric hospital and detainees at Regina Coeli prison in Rome.BRThis was only a taste of the brief but intense pontificate that would change the Church.BRFrom the great encyclicals – like ‘Pacem in Terris’ – to the Second Vatican Council, the man affectionately known as the “good pope” conquered the world with his smile.BRHe died on June 3, 1963.BROn April 27 he will be Saint John XXIII.BR
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