Being in Rome for the recent canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II brought back many memories for me, especially about “the Good Pope John” as the Italians (and the world) referred to him. Several years ago I was in St. Peter’s Basilica and wanted to pray at St. John’s tomb, which had been moved from the crypt below the papal altar to the Altar of St. Jerome in the main body of the Basilica. There were only a handful of people in the Basilica, so I went to a security guard and asked him where Pope John was. He nodded and escorted me to the spot. As he turned to leave, he said, “Deacon, please pray for me and my family to the Good Pope John.”
I was only eight when St. John was elected and I was thirteen, and in high school seminary, when he died. His papacy was to have a lasting effect on my own development and interests. Always interested in the workings and teachings of the Second Vatican Council, I eventually earned my doctorate with a specialization in Ecclesiology precisely because of St. John and the Council.
Anyway, I recently came across some old videos of St. John, including some scenes of him visiting sick children in the hospital on his first Christmas as pope (1958). Behind the images is the audio of his conversation with the children and I was moved by his comments. It was wonderful to hear them in his own voice and not simply in a written text. If I can find a version of this video that is not copyrighted I will provide a link to it; for now, here’s my quick translation of the talk; his simplicity, spirituality and joy are all in evidence.
“Do you know that when the pope prays the rosary, it is possible for him to remember the whole world? For example, do you know at what point he remembers all the children? Not just the Catholic children or the non-Catholic children but each and every living child? When he gets to the Third Mystery, when Jesus is born, when he appears as a child, and the union between Divinity and humanity, between heaven and earth begins, I say those ten Ave Marias for all the children born in the 24 hours before I began to recite my rosary. So, here’s a secret: every child as soon as it is born receives a prayer from the pope because I believe there is nothing as sweet in the family as the innocence of a child. I believe it is right that that child be remembered by someone who represents the union of two souls: that of humanity with that of God, by someone who always bears this in mind. ”
So simple. So beautiful. So powerful.
St. John XXIII, pray for us.