SPIRITUAL HEAD OF 500,000,000
Holiness Pope John XXIII, who late on Tuesday afternoon became spiritual head of the world's 500,000,000 Catholics, succeeds to the See of Peter at the age of 76.
He became. too. the second Cardinal Patriarch of Venice within 55 years to succeed to the illustrious titles awarded to the Vicar of Christ: Successor of St. Peter Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch a the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Rome Province. and Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City.
And in reference to the last of his titles it might be noted that he is the first Pope to be,elected in modern times without the presence in Rome of a King of Italy.
Like the last Venetian Patriarch who went into the Conclave as Cardinal and came out as Supreme Pontiff, Pope St. Pius X, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli comes front a poor family.
He was born in 1881, one of 10 children, of a farm worker at the village of Sotto il Monte ("underneath the mountain") in the diocese of Bergamo, 40 miles east of
One of his sisters and two brothers are still living.
The family had lived in the village for some 500 years—ever since an ancestor Martino Roncalli built himself a fine house there and. although not listed as a nobleman, painted a coat of arms on the wall of his house, a tower on a red and white striped background. That was the coat of arms which Cardinal Roncalli adopted when he was elevated to the Sacred College in 1953. He added to it the winged lion of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.
Sotto il Monte is a cluster of farmhouses linked by paths rather titan a regular village. An ancient bell-tower and a chapel stand on the top of the hill at the end of a poplar-lined road. They were flanked in the new Pope's youth by the 10th century church of St. John which was torn down 50 years ago to make way for a new church.
Young Roncalli entered the junior seminary at Bergamo when he was II years old. He graduated in theology in Rome in 1904 at the age of 22 and was ordained the same year, saying his first Mass in St. Peter's.
From 1905 to 1914 he was secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo. In addition he taught ecclesiastical history, apologetics and petrology.
While at Bergamo he also spent time at Milan's Ambrosian Library delving into ancient hooks. The librarian there who soon became a close friend was Mgr. Achille Ratti, who in 1922 was to become Pope Pius XI.
It was at the Ambrosian Library that Fr. Roncalli discovered 40 big dusty handwritten volumes describing an apostolic visitation of the diocese of Bergamo by St, Charles Borrorneo in the -16th century.
The account fascinated hint so much that he has never stopped historical research on the subject. I he result has been five big volumes considered as a model of historical research on a single subject.
During the First World War he served first with the Medical Corps of the Italian Army and later as a chaplain at military hospitals.
In 1921 he came to Rome again, where Pope Benedict XV appointed him to a post with the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide. The Pope entrusted him with the reactivation pf papal mission activities—a task which was in no way easy but which Mgr. Roncalli carried out quickly and successfully.
In 1925 came the start of a diplomatic career which was to last 27 years; the start of a life which the Cardinal himself called that of "a traveller of God". In that year Pope Pius XI, his librarian friend of Milan days, appointed him Apostolic Visitor to Sofia in Bulgaria.
Before this he was named titular archbishop of Areopolis and consecrated by Cardinal Tacchi, Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Church.
The archbishop diplomat developed more and more into an indispensable Balkan specialist. After 10 years in Bulgaria he went to Istanbul as Apostolic Delegate and at the same time looked after the concerns of Catholics in Greece.
It was in December, 1944, that he was chosen by the late Pope Pius XII for one of the most difficult assignments of his career as Papal Nuncio in Paris, where he succeeded such famous papal diplomats as Cardinal Maglione and Cardinal Valeri.
From 1952 onwards he was also the permanent observer of the Holy See at UNESCO. At the closing session of the sixth UNESCO Congress in 1951, he declared: "As the representative of the cultural organisation that is the oldest of all and the most widely spread in the world, which was called into existence by the first order 'Go ye and teach all nations' it is natural for me to recall the great principal, the great foundation: God, the Lord of all sciences This mighty system was founded by Him and draws its strength from Him."
Archbishop Roncalli was still in Paris when Pope Pius XII named him Cardinal in the consistory of January 12, 1953. According to the traditional procedure for Nuncios. the Cardinal's red hat was presented to him by the French President, M. Auriol.
M. Aurtol, a Socialist, has remained a close friend of Cardinal Roncalli and never failed to call on him when he visited Venice in recent years.
Three days after his elevation to the Sacred College. the new Car