January 25, 1959: Pope John XXIII Stuns the World with the Announcement of the Second Vatican Council Scheduled to Commence in October 1962
There have been only twenty-one ecumenical councils in the history of the Catholic Church. During this time of the recent canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, some very interesting information regarding it can be found in Witness to Hope, the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel. On pp. 153-154, in speaking of the Council and John Paul’s relation to it, he makes the following comments.
Virtually every council was steeped in conflict and was followed by controversy. Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who succeeded John XXIII as Paul VI, stated, This holy old boy doesn’t realize what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up. Montini was someone who ‘worried an issue’. In this case, he was prescient.
Pope John XXIII wanted his Council to be pastoral rather than dogmatic. He faced progressive bishops and the theological life that was still overshadowed by the Modernist crisis of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some believed the Roman Curia had become intellectually ossified.
In his opening address, John XXIII said the Church had used too much medicine of condemnation and too little mercy. John Paul II believed that particular telling of the story missed the crucial point of the Council and was only one interpretation of it. He believed and spoke often about the ‘debt’ he owed to Vatican II, calling it a ‘seminary of the Holy Spirit’. And he proceeded in his diocese of Krakow to initiate one of the most extensive implementations of any diocese in the world. He called it a profound spiritual experience–an act of love amid the hatreds of the age. George Weigel stated that anyone interested in understanding Wojtyla as bishop and as Pope must make the effort to get inside Vatican II as he, a son of the Council, experienced it.
We remember Saint John XXIII in a special way today as the convener of this great Council. In a special way we honor Saint John Paul II who, as a bishop participating in this Council, contributed in such significant ways to the many documents issued from it. We offer our gratitude to these two Holy Fathers who were canonized together in April 2014.
And we honor the most recently beatified Holy Father, Blessed Paul VI, who, after the death of John XXIII in 1963, brought the II Vatican Council to its conclusion.
Here is a link to the Papal Artifacts’ pages where all items belonging to or associated with these pontiffs are featured:
A Commentary on the Presentation Frame Featured Here
The term, ‘presentation frame’, is used by collectors to describe a framed photo signed by a personality–whether a pope or a head of state–when it is a gift from that person. So the frame itself is actually important, and in this case, this silver frame has the coat of arms of Pope John XXIII at the top, which shows that it came right from him directly. So it’s a great black and white portrait of him, and he signed it with his name in 1960.
Viewing this photo reminds us that each priest and bishop, and each Holy Father has a unique personality. And John XXIII really had a unique personality. He was referred to as ‘Good Pope John,’ and he was a very jovial guy. He was quite large and his personality shone through every inch of his body. He was such a happy man, and people felt good around him. He was always joking. When he was first elected, (and we’ve seen this on film) the story is that when he appeared as the newly elected pope, he told the people to go home and kiss their children for him.
Also, he had the famous answer to the question, “How many people work in the Vatican?” And he answered, “Oh, about half of them!” And so we can see his personality was bigger than life. His body was bigger than life. He was just a happy, joy-filled man. And we often saw that personality manifested.
People oftentimes referred to him as a very grandfatherly individual, that he had a Grandpa-like quality, both in his genuineness and in his joy. One of the stories that floats around Rome is that he snuck out of the Vatican sometimes and would suddenly appear at one of the colleges or universities or hospitals or a religious order. He’d just show up at the door, for supper, maybe. In a black cassock! He would leave the Vatican as a simple priest. And of course, this was to the horror of the Swiss Guard.
He’s not the only pope to have done this. Several others have as well. But John XXIII seems to have the most urban legends around his leave-taking from the Vatican for a dinner or any number of things.
There is still a great devotion to Blessed John XXIII who was beatified by Pope John Paul II—and, of cou
John XXIII was beatified with Pope Pius IX. Even today in St. Peter’s Basilica, you can see Pope John’s body. At first he was buried in the crypt. For his beatification they exhumed the body and then put him in the altar of the ‘Death of St. Jerome,’ his favorite altar.
I have been able to say Mass over his body several times. In fact, I said Mass there the year he was beatified.
It’s a great experience to see the Holy Father, the Good Pope John, with your own eyes. When you’re at his altar, there is always someone praying there.