He was not overly photogenic, but what a man! What a Pope! In 1958, the world was informed that a successor to the awesome Pope Pius XII had been chosen. There was his picture- short,very heavy, and virtually unknown. Who was Angelo Roncalli? We may not have known who he was in 1958, but we soon learned. He became Pope John XXIII, a quiet, prayerful man, in his late 70′s, who was to effectively teach both the whole world and the Church his ideas and his vision that went far beyond the bounds of Roman Catholicism, and deeply touched the hearts of men and women across the world.
The first and most dramatic single thing he did was to call the first Vatican Council. The surprise announcement shocked and stunned Vatican officials. The last world council was held in 1870, and there had only been nineteen in 2000 years. What would happen when all the bishops got together under one roof? The council would be an extraordinary event that has had tremendous effect on the day to day life of the Church. Not all of his hopes have been realized, but I for one think we will yet see its fulfillment. For me personally, one of the most important things that this Pope accomplished was to write two extraordinary documents, and send them not just to the bishops, or just the Catholics, but to the whole human family. The first was Pacem in terris, and I will come back to this in a few days with more details, but for now I want to relate it to earlier papal documents that reflected the social theology of Roman Catholicism.
Let’s go back to 1891. Pope Leo XIII wrote the first of the great social encyclicals, and his document reflects where the economic systems were at that time. Therefore, it concentrates on the relationship between workers and owners, envisioning a world of small shops and factories.
Forty years later, (and that’s the name of the second document quadrajessimo ano) and Pope Pius XI challenged a much more complicated economic world, and challenged governments and industry-wide corporations to be concerned about and to treat fairly, the working people scattered across the planet. In 1963, this beloved pope from the Italian alps had worldwide vision, and although he solidly supported the teachings and values of the two earlier encyclicals, he reached out to embrace truly worldwide structures. Pope John XXIII reached the United Nations, to international cartels and was teaching about the reality of a one world economy, twenty years before the term was popular!
To summarize, in 1891, Pope Leo XII stressed local economic challenges. Pius Xi, in 1931 moved to the national sphere. Pope John XXIII framed this issue throughout the world in an international context. My life has been dramatically affected by these three documents, and I am happy to say that the world and the effectiveness of the Church within the world is enhanced because of them.