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Close to the Chest

My first "encounter" with John XXIII was during my Junior Year abroad at Louvain. Albert Dondeyne, prominent Belgian theologian, came rushing into the theology class I was taking at Louvain, breathless and flushed, to announce that "we had a Pope." But he couldn't remember the new Pope's name!

My relationship with the Pope picked up when I arrived in Rome in 1962 to begin theological studies. I was present at his famous "Discorso della Luna" the night of the opening of the Council when John said even the moon was shining brightly upon the joyful gathering of the faithful in Saint Peter's Square. He then told the mothers and fathers to go home and give their children an embrace and tell them it was from the Pope.

I was also present on the much sadder day a scant eight months later when the funeral procession bearing the Pope's body solemnly made its mournful way through that same Square.

During my years in Rome I came to know distant cousins with whom I became quite close. They lived at the periphery of Rome and were quite poor. Their loyalty was with the very strong PCI: the Italian Communist Party, and they had a visceral antipathy to Pius XII. But they were great fans of John XXIII.

When I was ordained in 1965 they gave me a gold medal of John which I have worn around my neck for almost forty-nine years. It was always good to have il Papa buono close to my chest; but tomorrow the medal will take on even more meaning.

San Giovanni Papa, prega per noi.

 

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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Will he be added to the litany of the saints next Easter vigil?

I keep Pope John's "Journal of a Soul" handy. I've read it cover to cover, but it's often salubrious to simply open at random and read. One of my favorite entries is a Christmas letter he typed by hand--he enjoyed typing and having a cigarette--to his family, telling them how the cares of the papacy kept him away, that he wished to avoid seeming to play favorites by promoting member of his own family (as other popes had done), but that he nonetheless thought of them constantly, especially the children, "such a wealth of children," he said. 

I rejoice tha the Church acknowledges that this good man and "pope of everybody" is our friend in heaven.

I rejoice tha the Church acknowledges that this good man and "pope of everybody" is our friend in heaven.

Verily, Truly, Amen.

Found this to be interesting in terms of memories of John XXIII from a David Gibson column:

"Cardinal Sean O’Malley was a seminarian in the early 1960s when John XXIII asked priests to volunteer to serve in Latin America. That prompted O’Malley, then a young Capuchin Franciscan, to learn Spanish and to begin a lifelong outreach to Hispanics. O’Malley’s visceral commitment to overhauling immigration laws, among other things, is attributable to the impact of the man widely known as “Good Pope John.”

"O'Malley was a young priest in Mexico when JPII attended the 1979 Puebla Conference for South/Latin American bishops - a first.  O'Malley was asked to go to Puebla and support this conference and JPII's presence. What he saw was extraordinary.

"It was the pope’s first trip after his election, and at the time Mexico had a whole series of anti-clerical laws. Technically it was illegal to wear religious clothing, so when I arrived I had to wear my brother-in-law’s clothes because all I had was a habit. But when the pope got there the president of the country said, “I will pay the fines for anybody who gets in trouble!”

When John Paul landed, they played bells in every church. I was in Puebla, were they have a church on every corner. Then he took an open car from Mexico City to Puebla, which is a distance of 60 or 70 miles. The crowd extended out on both sides of the street all along his route. People were camping out along the way. When he got to Puebla, the Indians had come in from the villages and had filled up the sidewalks so much that you had to walk in the middle of the streets."

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