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John XXIII’s brief papacy made big mark for church

April 24, 2014

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope John XXIII left his imprint on humanity and the Catholic Church he led for fewer than five years, helping propel him to sainthood on Sunday. Here are some highlights, in deeds and words:


—1940s: One of the Vatican’s most skillful diplomats in the tumultuous years surrounding World War II, the prelate Angelo Roncalli, born to sharecroppers in northern Italy, is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust as the Vatican’s envoy in Turkey, through exit visas, forged birth certificates and other assistance.

In 1943, he however, he formally complains to the Vatican about of “this convoy of Jews to Palestine, aided by the Holy See.”

—Oct. 28, 1958: Elected pontiff at age 76 after the nearly 20-year-long papacy of Pius XII.

—Dec. 25, 1958: Pays a Christmas day visit to sick children in their hospital beds at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu pediatric center in Rome, highlighting his paternal and pastoral role as bishop of Rome. Later jokes that some of the children mistook him for Santa Claus.

—Dec. 26, 1958: Greets inmates, who cheer for him, at Rome’s main prison.


—Jan. 25, 1959: Just three months into his pontificate, announces he will convene the Second Vatican Council, confounding Vatican watchers who had predicted an uneventful and transitional papacy of an elderly pope who would leave a limited legacy.

Instead, the 1962-1965 meeting of church leaders from around the world brought the 2,000-year institution into the modern era, spawning major changes such as allowing Mass in local languages and strengthening the role of laity in the everyday life of the church.

The council also encouraged efforts to improve relations among Christians, a path likewise pursued by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It also revolutionized the church’s relationship with Jews, including the step to remove the phrase “perfidious Jews” from the liturgy.


—April 11, 1963: Issues plea for world peace weeks before his death, aiming the appeal at Cold War leaders, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. His “Peace on Earth” encyclical establishes human rights as the foundation of peace.

Encyclical soundbites:

—“Peace on Earth — which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after — can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.”

—“Thus all over the world men are either the citizens of an independent state, or are shortly to become so; nor is any nation nowadays content to submit to foreign domination. The longstanding inferiority complex of certain classes because of their economic and social status, sex, or position in the State, and the corresponding superiority complex of other classes, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.”

—”... it follows that in human society one man’s natural right gives rise to a corresponding duty in other men; the duty, that is, of recognizing and respecting that right. Every basic human right draws its authoritative force from the natural law, which confers it and attaches to it its respective duty. Hence, to claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down with the other.”


—June 3, 1963: Dies of stomach cancer

—Sept. 3, 2000: Beatified in a ceremony led by Pope John Paul II.

—April 27, 2014: To be canonized in a dual ceremony with John Paul presided over by Pope Francis.


Follow Frances D’Emilio at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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