In this latest edition in the Crossroad "Lives and Legacies" series, journalist and theologian Christian Feldman profiles Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881-1963) who became the 262nd pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He will forever be remembered as the man who humanized the role and opened the door to the renewal of the church. He explained: "We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to tend a blooming garden full of life."
There is an anecdote that perfectly conveys the humble spirit of Pope John XXIII. On the evening when he announced the opening of the Ecumenical Council, the first one since 1869/70, he couldn't get to sleep. Finally, he called himself to order: "Angelo, why aren't you sleeping? Who's running the church, you or the Holy Spirit? So sleep." And he did.
Prior to his being elected pope, Angelo Roncalli served as a clerical diplomat (Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece), papal nuncio in Paris, and patriarch of Venice. This was all good training for dealing with social problems and the differences that keep people apart. While still an Archbishop, he noted: "Wherever I go I pay more attention to what we have in common than to what separates us."
Pope John XXIII began his mission by promising to be "a good shepherd." He brought a real revolution in the Apostolic Palace by getting rid of the three prescribed genuflections in private audiences and by his impromptu speeches with workers and gardeners on the streets of Rome. He was the first pope in history "to pay tribute to the part played by women in public life and to the growing awareness of their human dignity." Best of all with the convening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII set in motion a spirit of reform that took seriously the wild abandon of the Holy Spirit. In September of 2000, this son of Italian peasants was beatified.