Table of Contents

Personal Context

  • Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (25/Nov/1881) in Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy

  • 4th oldest of 13 siblings

  • Family worked as sharecroppers (a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops)

  • Recieved First Communion and Confirmation at 8

  • Enrolled into the Secular Franciscan Order on March 1 1896

  • Completed a doctorate in Canon Law and was ordained a priest in August 1904

  • Appointed secretary of the Bishop of Bergamo (1905)

  • Drafted as a sargeant and chaplain in the Regio Esercito Italiano (Royal Italian Army) during WWI

    • Discharged in early 1919
  • Appointed Italian President of the Society for the Propogation of the Faith - 1921

  • Appointed Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria - 1925

  • Appointed Apostolic Delegate to Turkey - 1934

  • Mother died 20/02/1939

  • Made head of the Vatican Jewish Agency in Geneva (1939)

  • 22 December 1944 - appointed Apostolic Nuncio to France

  • 4:30 PM - 28/10/1958 - Elected Pope with 38 votes

  • Took the Regnal Name John, first in over 500 years

External: Efforts During the Holocaust

Roncalli made various efforts during the Holocaust in World War II to save refugees, mostly Jewish people, from the Nazis. Among his efforts were:

  • Delivery of “immigration certificates” to Palestine through the Nunciature diplomatic courier.
  • Rescue of Jews by means of certificates of “baptism of convenience” sent by Monsignor Roncalli to priests in Europe.
  • Children managed to leave Slovakia due to his interventions.
  • Jewish refugees whose names were included on a list submitted by Rabbi Markus of Istanbul to Nuncio Roncalli.
  • Jews held at Jasenovac concentration camp, near Stara Gradiška, were liberated as a result of his intervention.
  • Bulgarian Jews who left Bulgaria, a result of his request to King Boris III of Bulgaria.
  • Romanian Jews from Transnistria left Romania as a result of his intervention.
  • Italian Jews helped by the Vatican as a result of his interventions.
  • Orphaned children of Transnistria on board a refugee ship that weighed anchor from Constanța to Istanbul, and later arriving in Palestine as a result of his interventions.
  • Jews held at the Sereď concentration camp who were spared from being deported to German death camps as a result of his intervention.
  • Hungarian Jews who saved themselves through their conversions to Christianity through the baptismal certificates sent by Nuncio Roncalli to the Hungarian Nuncio, Monsignor Angelo Rota.

Source: Wikipedia

Vatican II

  • The second Vatican Council was founded in 1962, and took place in the Vatican City

  • It was ended in 1965 by Pope Paul VI

  • The council picked up on the work of the first Vatican Council, which was interrupted by the Franco-German war

  • The council dealt with issues of:

    • Interfaith dialogue, especially in the aftermath of the anti-Semitic movement during the Second World War
    • Adaptation of the Church to be applicable to modern society
    • Globalisation of the Church: as Catholicism spread, a lower percentage of Catholics spoke Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Romanian)
    • this is why Latin is no longer used in general mass)
  • Purpose was not to make new laws, but instead redefined principles in education, the media, etc.

  • Included over 22000 bishops from 160 countries

  • Vatican 2 was ecumenical: included protestant and orthodox leaders to reunify Christianity

  • The media was allowed to observe the council (first time ever), showing the internal discord of the church

Contribution of Pope John XXIII through Vatican 2

  • Liturgy:

    • Liturgies were no longer required to be in Latin

    • Lay-people were participants rather than observers

    • For example, sections of the Mass were converted to a call-and-response structure, such as:

      • Mystery of the Faith,
      • the Nicence Creed,
      • Sign of Peace
  • Interfaith dialogue:

    • Nostra aetate: “In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger”
    • The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Judaism and Islam)
  • Ecumenism:

    • Unitatis redintegratio: calls for the reunion of Christendom
    • Anyone who has been baptised is Christian, “and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church”


  • Sacrosanctum Concilium:

    • December 4 1963
    • Pope Paul VI
    • Aimed to achieve greater lay participation in the Catholic Church’s liturgy
  • Unitatis redintegratio

    • Pope Paul VI
    • 21 november 1964
    • Aim: “The restoration of unity among all Christians”
  • Differences between old mass and new:

    • No singing in old mass
    • Only 1 altarperson
    • Call & response is between the altar person and the priest
    • Congregation is virtually silent
    • Mass is in Latin
    • Modern mass is facing the people
    • Communion is received in mouth, while kneeling

Interfaith Dialogue

  • Decretum de Judaeis (Decree on the Jews)

    • Jewish people were to be considered guardians of the Old Testament and the prophets of Jesus
    • The Bible states that the Jewish were God’s favoured people, and that Jesus was Jewish
    • The Good Friday prayers declaring Jewish people to be “perfidious” (deceitful)
    • The concept that “the Jews” were responsible for the death of Christ was declared incorrect, since most early Christians still considered themselves Jewish, and Christ was Jewish as well
    • “The bulk of Jews should be acquitted of any formal guilt because they followed their leaders out of ignorance.” Cardinal Meyer
    • Bible reference: “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Acts 3:17
  • Apostolistic Delegate in Hungary

    • Roncalli forwarded a request for the Vatican to inquire whether other neutral countries could grant asylum to Jews, to inform the German government that the Palestine Jewish Agency had 5,000 immigration certificates available and to ask Vatican Radio to broadcast that helping Jews was an act of mercy approved by the Church.
    • In 1944, Roncalli used diplomatic couriers, papal representatives and the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion to transport and issue baptismal certificates, immigration certificates and visas, many of them forged, to Hungarian Jews.

Anti-Semitism and Christian-Jewish Relations

  • John XXIII made an official statement that Jews collectively were not responsible for the death of Jesus

    “The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures” - Nostra Aetate

  • Prior to Vatican 2, anti-semitic themes existed within Christianity, which meant that Jewish people were held responsible for the death of Jesus

  • However, after John XXIII inspired Vatican 2, and after Pope Paul VI published Nostra Aetate, it was claimed that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures”

  • This broke down barriers between Christians and Jewish people, and enabled interfaith dialogue between the two religions


  • Representatives of Orthodox and Protestantism were invited to the Vatican Council

  • Invited members of all faiths to his Pentecost homily in 1944 at the Apostolic Delegate to Turkey

    “To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity. Such is the meaning of Christ’s prayer: Ut unum sint.”


  • An encyclical is a written document issued by the Pope to all archbishops, bishops, patriarchs and primates of the Roman Catholic Church
  • Encyclicals are translated and distributed to individual churches and laypeople by local bishops
  • Encyclicals are used to address contextual issues, such as social movements and wars
  • Encyclicals are the second-highest ranking document issued by popes (Apostolic Constitutions are the only level higher)

Pacem In Terris

  • “Peace on Earth” (Latin)
  • Issued by Pope John XXIII on 11/04/1963
  • Focused on the rights of individuals and the state, as well as international relations
  • Emphasised human dignity and equality
  • Mentioned issues such as Womens’ rights, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, and the United Nations, all 3 of which were endorsed
Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma
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UNSW Student, site owner and developer.