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The canonization of Pope John XXIII and the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II call for a fresh look at this remarkable man. Now highly regarded Vatican II historian Massimo Faggioli offers a rich and insightful portrait. His sources include the complete edition of the private diaries of the future John XXIII, published recently in ten volumes, much of which is unavailable in English. Faggioli's use of this treasure of personal notes of the future pope means this biography offers a more complete and nuanced understanding of Angelo Roncalli than is available anywhere else in English today. The result is both unforgettable and inspiring.
Massimo Faggioli is assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has written extensively on modern Church history and on Vatican II. He is the author of Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Paulist, 2012) and True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press 2012).
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Faggioli has delved deeply into his subject and come away with a sensitive understanding of St. John XXIII as a man of his times and as an icon owned, in a sense, by the wider world. Writing this book has obviously been a labor of love for its author-one of the finest historians of modern Catholicism and one of the sharpest interpreters of the Catholicism in the today's world.
James McCartin, Center on Religion and Culture, Fordham University
Professor Faggioli's readable account of the humble journey of Pope St. John XXIII shows what a gift to the church Roncalli was: A man of simple devotion to the liturgy and to Scripture, a man who heard and saw the signs of the times, a man whose style and substance paved the way for Pope Francis. Roncalli's motto was "obedience and peace." Faggioli shows how the saint's unwavering obedience brought him peace in very difficult circumstances and taught him that peace on earth is possible in obedient devotion to the reign of God.
Terrence W. Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology, Fordham University
John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy is healing balm for the soul. This fine book sets forth the surprising twists and turns of a son of an Italian farmer whose "north star" always was responding with compassion and obedience to the real needs of people. Even his 20 years in "exile" in diplomatic posts in Bulgaria and Turkey became nourishment for his spiritual life. Pope John's story can lead us into our own deep listening to the Spirit among us and to imitating his consequent response to jettison fear and spread Jesus' word of inclusive joyous mercy. This can be world changing action for our time too.
Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director NETWORK, Washington, DC
Faggioli covers the whole span of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli's long life, giving equal attention to each phase of his development. Though short, his book is not in the least superficial. Faggioli had access to much recently published material from the pope's diaries, and he has succeeded in producing a work that is at once appealing and learned. Not a word is wasted.
Paul Lakeland, Commonweal
This slim volume provides an accessible introduction to the remarkable life of Angelo Roncalli.
Massimo Faggioli's superb new biography is the best short introduction to John XXIII around. Concise, well-researched and beautifully written, it is the perfect invitation to come to know the remarkable saint who invited some fresh air into the Catholic church.
James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints
Faggioli has produced the first biography in English based largely on the recently completed edition of Roncalli's extensive diaries. He is able therefore to trace the external events in Roncalli's life in a newly reliable way but, more important, also to reveal the pope's internal journey from a naive peasant boy into one of the world's most respected and beloved leaders. He does this with keen insight and with an admirable economy of words. The book's title, Medicine of Mercy, captures the essence of Pope John's legacy, revivified today by Pope Francis.
John O'Malley, SJ, Georgetown University
Q&A with Massimo Faggioli, author of John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy
You used some interesting sources in preparing this book. Tell us about them.
The newly available sources used for this biography are the 6,000-plus pages of private journals of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) that have been published in Italian in the last ten years: journals that he kept from the time he was a seminarian right up to the last few days before his death. Other sources are the diplomatic reports and letters between Roncalli and the Roman Curia while he was a papal diplomat in Bulgaria. They have been declassified only recently, given the norms of the Vatican Secret Archives for the availability of the documents related to the twentieth century.
As a result of these sources, what will this book have that readers can’t get in other biographies of Pope John?
They offer a better sense of what happened in Roncalli's life between 1881 and 1958, when he was elected pope, and then in the beginning of his pontificate as well. The story is very similar to what happened to Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his life until his election as Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, and his first few months. They have much in common: coming from poor families and the emphasis on the poor church, a difficult period in their relationship with the Roman Curia and the institutional church, the election in advanced age after the pontificates of more institutional popes, the pastoral touch as bishops, etc.
Tell me about one of your favorite moments in the life of Angelo Roncalli.
When he was taking care of wounded soldiers in a field hospital during the First World War, he had the occasion to meet and serve Catholic soldiers, but also Protestant, atheist, and Muslim soldiers. It was an extraordinary experience for an average priest in the first half of the twentieth century. Also very interesting is when he was totally neglected and forgotten by the Roman Curia during his time in Bulgaria. At one point, in a letter to the Curia, he writes something like: “You have not given me instructions, nor have you replied to my letter and requests. At this point, I would welcome even a scolding if it came from you.”
John XXIII is much revered by many people. But he was human, too. What might you say would be among his weaknesses or shortcomings?
He knew that he was perceived as “too good” and occasionally as somewhat naive. But he learned from his experience, and as a bishop he was able to avoid situations when his availability could have been used and taken advantage of by others. But what is striking is that when he was young he aspired to spiritual perfection: a turning point in his spiritual life happens when he is around twenty years old. His spiritual life became less idealized and more concrete and merciful, with himself and others.
Certainly the calling of the Second Vatican Council was a decision that had huge consequences in the life of the church. Since that one looms so large, it might be easy to neglect others. What would you want us to remember, apart from the council, as a major contribution of John XXIII to Catholic life or teaching?
I think it was the rediscovery of the fact that the papacy is also a pastoral ministry—something we take for granted now. He did that because his view of the Church always included the priority of the pastoral dimension of theology. As Hannah Arendt said, John XXIII “represented” the idea that you can be a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, live your whole life in the church and for the church, and be a good Christian because of that. Roncalli was always good at “taking from” his adversaries or those skeptical of the church every possible piece of evidence to the contrary.