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Francis & John XXIII

Francis and John XXIII


A portrait of Pope John the XXIII

Chiara Santomiero - published on 04/07/13

Vatican II and Pacem in terris: Not just anniversaries to celebrate

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“Hello. Pope Francis speaking.” On Easter Monday afternoon, it was Bishop Loris Capovilla’s turn to receive a surprise telephone call from Pope Francis, in his studio in Ca’ Maitino in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo). The Pope wished personally to thank the former secretary to John XXIII for having sent him (through Cardinal Comastri) a brochure for the Year of Faith, dedicated to the “Easter of Resurrection in light of the Second Vatican Council”. The brochure read, in part: “With Pope Francis, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Pacem in Terris on April 11, 2013, and the passing of John XXIII on June 3, 2013”. In the diocese of Bergamo, the Year of Faith and the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council will be punctuated by several events tied to the remembrance of their own blessed John XXIII. As Ezio Bolis, director of the “Pope John XXIII” Foundation, recently explained to Aleteia, these events are being presented for the benefit of the entire Church.

The Year of Faith and John XXIII: how will the Foundation bring the two together?

Bolis: The local bishop, Francesco Beschi, wanted to open the Year of Faith in Sotto il Monte, the birthplace of John XXIII, by recalling the blessed Pope and the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which he called. Bishop Beschi entrusted to the task of organizing various ecclesial initiatives the Foundation, such as the diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the Year of Faith, along with several events tied to the figure of Pope John, which complement the work of promoting and deepening awareness of a person who is too quickly confined to the being called “the Good Pope”, a man whose spiritual and theological wealth even many theological experts and Church historians ignore or overlook.

What initiatives are being planned?

Bolis: On the anniversary of the April 11, 1963 promulgation of the encyclical Pacem in Terris, one of the ten copies signed by John XXIII will be republished and given to participants in the conference being held in the days that follow. In fact, on April 12 and 13 a conference is being planned in Bergamo, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII and the election of Paul VI. It will be entitled: “John XXIII and Paul VI: The Popes of Vatican II”. The event is being promoted in collaboration with the Paul VI Institute in Brescia, and is being sponsored by the Italian Bishops Conference. Its objective is to compare the contributions that the two popes made to the Council. Many common elements will certainly emerge, despite the difference in their styles.

Several talks will also be presented by scholars of international acclaim, including Cardinal Paul Poupard and Walter Kasper, who has spoken in great depth about what has been received through the Council and, on the other hand, the ways in which the Council – whose full implementation we still await – has been "betrayed”.

The Foundation also plans to publish a series of short texts, including unpublished writings of John XXIII written during the period when he was papal nuncio in Bulgaria, a book of memoires by Bishop Capovilla, a collection of 100 unpublished letters sent by many well known figures to Bishop Capovilla at the time of John XXIII’s last agony and death. The letters being included come from Italian politicians such as Fanfani and Andreotti, but also from Montini (then Cardinal of Milan) and international public figures such as frere Roger of the Taizé community. The letters clearly reflect John XXIII’s great popularity in the world, also among non-believers.

Why is it important to re-propose Pacem in terris 50 years after its promulgation?

Bolis: It is a text we can understand better now than fifty years ago, given the prophetic vision of the world it presents, which at the time was heading towards globalization. John XXIII wrote that no one country could either protect peace or avoid war, since we are all so closely interconnected. Today we are very aware that this is indeed the case. The international interplay of problems and solutions is what we have come to call “globalization”.  Of course, the context has changed profoundly – there are no longer two blocks and we no longer speak of the "Cold War" – but the challenges set forth in Pacem in Terris remain, beginning with the fact that there can be no talk of peace without development and, therefore, without justice. These are all subjects which subsequently have been taken up by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Is it true that there is a similarity between Pope Francis and John XXIII?

Bolis: There are certainly similarities between the two Popes in terms of manner and style. I think it is premature to say that there are also similarities in their teaching. Both are characterized by an accessible and popular way of speaking, in the “lofty” sense of the word. Both of them speak by way of signs: At the beginning of his pontificate, John XXIII went to visit prisoners at Regina Coeli, as well as young patients of the Bambino Gesù hospital. These gestures aroused great astonishment, as similarly happened with the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday that Francis wished to celebrate with young people who are detained at the Casal del Marmo.

Is it possible that Pope Francis will come to Sotto il Monte to celebrate the memory of his predecessor?

The diocese had invited Pope Benedict. I don’t know if Pope Francis will accept the invitation, but it would not surprise me if he did. Each day holds new surprises.

Pope Francis
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