…two blind men came after him crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!” When he got to the house, the blind men caught up with him. Jesus said to them, “Are you confident I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they told him. At that he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it shall be done to you…” Matthew 9:27-31
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, one of 13 children, was born in the Lombardy Region of Italy in 1881. His family was, like many in the region, sharecroppers. They tended cattle and worked in vineyards and cornfields. Angelo attended elementary school in his little rural town. A priest nearby tutored Angelo so that, at age 12, he could enter the local seminary. In 1901, he won a scholarship, allowing him to study in Rome under brilliant teachers.
He briefly interrupted his studies to serve in the Italian Army; afterwards, he returned to the seminary, attaining a doctorate in theology. He was ordained a priest in 1904. He then studied Canon Law and was appointed secretary to a bishop not far from his home. The bishop taught Fr. Roncalli to understand problems of the laboring class. The bishop’s last words to his secretary in 1914 were “Angelo, pray for peace.”
Italy was drawn into World War I in 1915, and Fr. Roncalli was recalled to duty in the army. There he served until the war was over as a chaplain and stretcher bearer.
His experience as a priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal caused him to grow in compassion for people from many areas and of many faiths. He worked in Rome, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. He ministered in post-war Paris. As Cardinal-Patriarch of Venice beginning in 1953, he was known for his pastoral care. Five years later Cardinal Roncalli was elected Pope and took the name John XXIII. He is probably best known for convoking Vatican Council II in 1960 which brought the Church into dialog with people of all faiths.
But there is something else about St. John XXIII deserving attention in the light of today’s Readings. He recognized that we can all be blind and need to call out to the Lord in faith to be healed, just as the two men did in today’s Gospel. He said, “We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognize in their faces the features of our privileged brethren… Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh…”
Monsignor Roncalli used his diplomatic influence to help Jews flee the Nazis during the Holocaust. He aided Jewish children in fleeing Slovakia; assisted in freeing the Jasenovac concentration camp; encouraged the king of Bulgaria to allow Jews to leave his country; negotiated an agreement that Jews could leave Romania; helped to save Jews from the Sered concentration camp from being deported to German death camps; and assisted orphaned Jewish children to reach Palestine. These are just a few of the many good works he did. He had faith, cried out to the Lord to be able to see the plight of his brothers and sisters in need around the world, and did what he could to help them.
St. Pope John XXIII is our sixth Ornament of Grace.
Observing the Beautiful Ornaments
Can you find any blindness within yourself, name it, and cry out to the Lord for healing?
How can you help others with your new vision?