Good Pope John

Good Pope John

Yesterday was not only the Feast of St Charles Lwanga and companions, but also the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Bl John XXIII.

(His feast is 11 October — the anniversary of the opening session of Vatican II.)

This anniversary, I must confess, took me by surprise. I think I’ll add Journal of a Soul to my 2013 reading list.

Four and a half years ago, I wrote an article which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of his papal election. It incorporated several memorable anecdotes and quips of his, which I have reproduced here.

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In 1944, then-Archbishop Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, was appointed papal nuncio to Paris. In the post-war reconstruction, his residence received much-needed attention. One day, an irate carpenter, who had hammered his fingers, cursed the Lord’s name. The nuncio’s reply was quick: “Well now, what kind of language is that? Can’t you say merde! [shit!] like everyone else?”

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In 1956, Cardinal Roncalli was Patriarch of Venice when he briefly but graciously played host to Cardinal Wyszyński, Primate of Poland. Wyszyński was aboard a Rome-bound train to visit the Pope after three years of prison in communist Poland. The train was stationed at Venice for 45 minutes, so the Patriarch of Venice suggested to the Primate of Poland a short sight-seeing tour of the floating city.

Several hours later, Cardinal Wyszynski realised how much time had got away from them, and groaned that he had missed his train. Cardinal Roncalli told him not to worry. “Do you see that man sitting at the back of our boat? He’s the engineer of your train. I kidnapped him, and while he is with us, your train cannot leave the station!”

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A few days after his election, Pope John took a stroll through the Vatican gardens in the company of the ever-vigilant Swiss Guards. A pair of his gardeners approached the Holy Father to kiss his ring, but the guards told them to keep back. “Why do that?” the pope asked.

“Security, your holiness.”

“But I would not have hurt them.”

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There are three ways a man can ruin himself: women; gambling; and farming. My father chose the most boring way.

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Latin stuck in my head at the rate of about one clout per word.

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It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.

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And the Holy Father’s final words:

I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church.

Souls! souls! Ut omnes unum sint.

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