Autographed Photo of Saint John XXIII in a Silver Presentation Frame
Pope St. John XXIII: Signed Blessing in a Silver Presentation Frame

The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. The presentation frame was featured on the second episode of the series, Popes of the 20th Century. The DVD is available from EWTN.

Here is Father’s Commentary:

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 course, Pope Francis will canonize both of them in April 2014.

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.