Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, in the province of Bergamo, on November 25th, 1881, first son of Marianna Mazzola and Giovanni Battista Roncalli. That same evening the newborn was baptized by the parish priest don Francesco Rebuzzini, with the name of Angelo Giuseppe. His godfather was his old great-uncle Zaverio Roncalli, the first of seven uncles from father Battista side, a very pious man, unmarried, who took on the task of religiously educate his many nephews and nieces. The pope-to-be Giovanni XXIII emotionally remembered and appreciated the cares and attentions of his old patriarch.
Since a very early age, he showed a sound disposition for the clerical life and, once completed his elementary school, he prepared to enter the diocesan seminar following supplemental lessons of Italian and Latin given to him by some priests of his area and attending the prestigious Celana boarding school. On november 7th, 1892, he entered the seminary in Bergamo, where he was admitted to the third high-school class. After a tricky beginning due to his inadequate preparation, he soon stood out both in his studies and his spiritual formation, so much that before he turned 14 the fathers superior admitted him to the tonsure. In the month of July, 1900, he profitably ended his second year in theological studies, the next January he was dispatched to Rome to attend the Roman seminar of Apollinare, where there were some scholarship for seminarists from Bergamo.
Despite the year-long break for military service given in Bergamo since November 30th, 1901, his seminar education was particularly fruitful.
On July 13th, 1904, when he was only 22 years old, he took his doctorate in theology.
With the most gratifying judgement of his superiors, on August 10th, 1904, he was ordained priest in the S. Maria in Monte Santo church in Rome; and the day after he celebrated mass in the St. Peter Basilica, when he reasserted his total devotion to Christ and his loyalty to the Church.
After a brief stay in his native town, in October he started his study of canon law in Rome, which he interrupted in 1905 when he was chosen as secretary of the new Bishop of Bergamo, Monsignor Giacomo Radini Tedeschi.
He spent ten intense years of work with the influential Bishop, who was very active and enterprising, contributing to transform the diocese of Bergamo in a model for the whole Italian Church.
Besides being a secretary, he worked as well in other tasks. Since 1906 he had been teaching many classes in seminary: ecclesiastic history, patrology and apologetics, since 1910 he had also been assigned to teach fundamental teology.
Despite a few breaks, he worked as teacher until 1914.
The study of history allowed him to formulate some studies of local history, among which the publication of the Acts of the Apostolic Visitation of St. Carlo in Bergamo (1575), a work he carried on for decades and ended on the eve of his election to papacy. He was also the editor in chief of the diocesan periodical "La Vita Diocesana" and since 1910 he had been aide to the Unione Donne Cattoliche.
The death before his time of Monsignor Radini in 1914 ended this exceptional pastoral experience, that - although marked with some suffering due to the accusation of modernism - the pope-to-be Giovanni XXIII always considered a fundamental point of reference in his performance of the tasks he was charged with. The outbreak of war in 1915 saw him trying his utmost for more than three years as a chaplain with the rank of sergeant, assisting the wounded in the military hospitals of Bergamo.
In July 1918 he generously accepted to place himself to service of soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, even though he was aware of risking his own life for the danger of infection.
In December 1920 he was unexpectedly invited by the Pope to be the chairman of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Italy - when Bergamo had just launched the experience of the House of the Student, an institution halfway between a lodging house and a boarding school - while at the same time he was working as spiritual director in seminary.
After much hesitation, he ended up accepting the chairmanship, cautiously beginning to work on a task that was very delicate for it had relationships with already existing missionary organisations. He embarked on a long voyage abroad to carry out the project of the Holy See aimed to bring to Rome the various institutions supporting the missions, and visited many Italian dioceses to collect funds and show the purpose of the Society he was chairman of.
In 1925 he was appointed Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria and started the diplomatic period serving the Holy See until 1952.
After the Episcopal ordination, held in Rome in San Carlo al Corso Church on March 19th, 1925, he left for Bulgaria with the task of looking after the severe needs of the little and devastated Catholic community.
The task was initially limited in time, but transformed soon in a ten-year-long stay, during which Roncalli laid the foundation of an Apostolic Delegation that he himself was appointed first representative in 1931.
It was not without difficulties that he managed to re-organize the Catholic Church there, establishing friendly relationships with the Government and the Bulgarian Royal House, despite the incident of the Orthodox wedding of King Boris with Princess Giovanna di Savoia, and he managed to establish the first ecumenical contacts with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
On November 27th, 1934 he was appointed Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece, countries that had no diplomatic relationship with the Vatican State. In Greece Roncalli's actions had no notable results, whereas relationships with the Turkish government became better and better due to the understanding and willingness showed by the Delegate in accepting the measures inspired by the policy of secularization pursued by such government. With tact and cleverness he organized various official meetings with the Constantinople Patriarch, the first after centuries of separation from the Catholic Church.
During the Second World War he maintained a precautionary attitude of neutrality that allowed him to conduct an effective action of assistance in favour of Hebrews, saved by the millions from extermination, and in favour of the Greek people, exhausted by famine.
With the personal decision of Pope Pius XII, he was unexpectedly promoted to the prestigious nunciature in Paris, where he promptly arrived on December 30th, 1944. There he confronted a particularly tangled situation. The provisional government was asking the removal of no less than thirty Bishops, accused of collaborationism with the Vichy Government.
The composure and competence of the new Nuncio succeeded to limit the number to only three removed Bishops. His human qualities asserted him in the diplomatic and politic world of Paris, where he started relationships of affable friendship with some of the leading exponent of the French Government. His diplomatic activity took the form of an explicit pastoral work through his many visitations to the French dioceses, including Algeria.
The excitement and Apostolic eagerness of the French Church, testified by the beginning of the experience of the workers-priests, found in Roncalli an attentive and wary observer, who thought that a long period of time was needed before reaching a definitive decision.
Consistent to his style of obedience, he immediately accepted the proposed reassignment to the Venice patriarchal see where he arrived on March 5th, 1953, soon after being nominated cardinal during the latest consistory of Pius XII.
His episcopate was characterized by his scrupulous way of fulfilling his tasks as Bishop - the pastoral visitation and the celebration of the diocesan synod. Commemorating the religious history of Venice suggested him some new pastoral initiatives, like the project of bringing the congregation near the Holy Scripture, following the teachings of the proto-patriarch St. Lorenzo Giustiniani, solemnly commemorated in 1956.
The election, on October 28th, 1958, of the 70 years old Cardinal Roncalli as successor of Pius XII lead many people to believe his papacy would have been transient.
But since the beginning John XXIII revealed a style mirroring his human and priestly personality matured through a significant series of experiences. Besides restoring the regular running of the curial bodies, he took care of giving a pastoral mark on his office, underlining its Episcopal nature as Bishop of Rome.
Persuaded that the good offices of the diocese were an essential part of the Papal Office, he multiplied his contacts with the congregation through visitation to parishes, hospitals and prisons.
Through the summons of the diocesan Synod he wanted to ensure the regular running of the diocesan institutions through the strengthening of the Vicarship and the normalization of the parish life.
John's biggest contribution is undoubtedly represented by the Second Vatican Council, announcing it in the St. Paul Basilica on April 25th, 1959. It was a personal decision, taken by the Pope after private consulting his most intimate friends and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tardini.
The purposes assigned to the Council Assembly, formulated in full during his opening speech on October 11th, 1962, were fresh: they would not be discussing new truths, but retell the traditional doctrine in a way more suited to the modern sensibility.
With an updating of the whole life of the Church in view, John XXIII invited to favour compassion and dialogue with the world rather than condemnation and opposition in a renewed awareness of the ecclesiastic mission embracing all Men. In this universal opening they could not leave out the various Christian Churches, which were invited to participate to the Council to begin a journey of reconciliation.
During the first phase it was soon manifest that John XXIII wanted a Council that could be a deliberative assembly, and he respected its decisions after all the voices had been allowed to express and confront themselves.
In the spring of 1963 he was awarded with the Premio "Balzan" for peace as evidence of his commitment in favour of peace with the publication of his encyclicals Mater et Magistra (1961) e Pacem in terris (1963) and his crucial intervention during the severe crisis of Cuba in the autumn of 1962.
The universal prestige and admiration was fully measured during the last weeks of his life, when the whole world gathered in anxious wait around the Pope's death-bed and received with pain the news of his demise on the evening of June 3rd, 1963.
On September 3rd, 2000, His Holiness John Paul II canonized him Blessed. Every year, on October 11th, as a memento of the opening day of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II (October 11th, 1962) the universal Church posthumously remembers Blessed John XXIII.