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The Good Pope

August 2nd, 2012by Dan Thomas

The phrase “the good pope” is one that most likely means different things to different generations. To Gen X and millenials, it calls to mind Pope John Paul II; to those of us of an earlier generation Pope John XXIII is the one described by the phrase. Recently, I received the book to review entitled The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint & the Remaking of the Church—The Story of John XXIII & Vatican II by Greg Tobin. It was a reminder to me of the excitement many of us felt about this son of peasants who changed the Church and the world spectacularly.

When I was growing up the Pope was a distant figure whose name we knew as Pius XII, but little else. When John XXIII came to the papacy, we experienced a person whose entire demeanor was outgoing, involved with the world, and unafraid to get deal with the issues and people (even those who were the “enemies” of the Church) of the society of that time. He appeared friendly, caring, and concerned for all those he met. The above-mentioned book has him talking to the Soviet ambassador of France and attempting not to alienate him when John first arrived at nuncio to France. He even wanted to meet those from other Christians’ churches!

He actually joked about his weight and being a poor peasant. One of the stories in the book tells of him leading new cardinals to a part of the irrigation system, which would surprise them with a spray of water. When asked how many people actually worked at the Vatican, his answer was “About half of them.”

John actually left the Vatican to visit prisoners, those in hospitals, and was, throughout all his diplomatic assignments, in touch with the ordinary people. One of his great gifts was openness to all ideas, experiences and people. His was a welcoming stance that respected those whom were different as persons with gifts. He never compromised his own or the Catholic Church’s beliefs, but was always willing to listen with care and concern.

One of the attitudes that I see in persons in the Church today is defensiveness and an unwillingness to listen to different views. The example of John XXIII teaches me that I need to respond as he did as difficult as that is to achieve.

Photo Credit: Public Domain
Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas is a retired Director of Religious Education, living in Dayton Ohio. His education includes graduation from Chaminade HS and the University of Dayton (MA in Pastoral Ministry). He is married with two adult sons and is a parishioner at St. Helen, Dayton.