Thursday, October 11, 2007
John XXIII, the son of simple Italian peasants, never lost either the simplicity or the humility that were part of his origins. It was precisely these qualities, indeed, that made him so unique in his times. Unlike his predecessor and successor, he was not a scholar or a theologian (though he was a highly cultured man with a profound knowledge of history, a love for literature, art, and music, and a fluency in many languages); but he had an intuitive understanding of people and problems that enabled him to deal with them in way that scholars perhaps could not have done. It is no exaggeration but a literal truth to say that he loved everyone, and that this in turn caused everyone to love him.
In an age largely given over to secularism, he not only increased the prestige of the papacy but also restored the importance and relevance of religion to a degree that few would have thought possible. By concentrating on what unites men rather than on what divides them, he took the first steps toward the eventual unity of all Christians. When he was elected, many thought that his pontificate would be a transitional one, and in a sense this was true. The transition, however, was not merely from one pope to another, but also and especially from an old to a new era of religious history.