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The Kid Who Didn’t Know He’d be a Saint

12 October 2013 Comments Open

Pope John XXIII as a boy.Angelo was born in the foothills of the Italian Alps, near the lakes region just north of Milan. All the biographies describe his family as sharecroppers, which is a nice way of saying peasant farmers living on someone else’s land; agrarian reform was late in coming to the Apennine Peninsula.

He wrote about his father in his boyhood journal. “My father is a peasant who spends his days digging and hoeing… I am worth much less, for my father is at least simple and good, while I am full of malice.”

Angelo was tutored by a local priest so that he could enter the seminary in nearby Bergamo while still just a young boy. His studies were interrupted by a period of military service but he returned and was ordained in 1904. Luckily for all of us, he started his ministry as secretary to the bishop of Bergamo, who was very conscious of the struggles of working families.

Being conscious of real life problems served Angelo well in his unexpected mission of serving as apostolic visiter to Bulgaria and then as apostolic delegate in Istanbul. One can imagine how shocked Angelo was at being named nunico to Paris in 1944. It was in Paris that Angelo’s warmth and wit charmed the world’s diplomats, most especially as the Vatican’s first permanent observer at UNESCO.

Paris couldn’t tempt Angleo away from his humility and neither could Venice, where he journeyed next as Cardinal-Patriarch.

When he was first lifted up into the sedia gestatoria, the portable papal throne, as Pope John XXIII – his memory took him back to being carried on his father’s shoulders – so many years before. “The secret life is to let oneself be carried by God and so carry Him – to others.”

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