(Vatican Radio) There much common ground between Pope Francis and St. Pope John XXIII, who is known for his kindness, winning smile and simplicity, so much so that when he died he was mourned by Italians as "Papa Buono", or the “Good Pope”. As the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Pope John XXIII on October 11, he is much remembered for his endearing ways.
Pope John XXIII, was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to a poor humble family in Sotto il Monte, northern Italy, on 25 November 1881. He would eventually become one of the most influential popes in recent history. His most important decision during his less than 5-year papacy was to convoke Vatican Council II that dramatically reformed the Church, bringing it in line with modern times. He died on 3 June 1963 and was declared a saint on 27 April 2014.
Popes John XXII and Francis have much in common between them, especially in reflecting God’s “tenderness and mercy” noted Fr. Carlos Maria Galli, the dean of theology of the Catholic University of Argentina. In an interview to Vatican Radio on the occasion of the feast of St. John XXIII, he said that at the start of their pontificates, both the popes “proclaimed the love of God, rich in mercy.” In this regard, Fr. Galli particularly picked out three parallels.
During Christmas of 1958, John XXIII visited Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, where he met the inmates. Argentinian Pope Francis also did something similar soon after his election on March 13, 2013. On Holy Thursday, he visited a prison in Rome where he washed the feet of the inmates.
In 1962, before the start of Vatican Council II, Fr. Galli said, John XXIII urged all to use the “medicine of mercy” and abandon "stick of severity”. The same way, Pope Francis, in his first noon time “Angelus” message, proclaimed that “God is mercy” and called for the need to forgive.
Another parallel, that the Argentinian priest drew between the two popes was their vision of the Church. Before the start of Vatican II, John XXIII has said that the Church belongs to all, but especially to the poor. Similarly, when Pope Francis first addressed journalists after his election, he said he wanted that the Church be a "poor Church for the poor".
Both the Popes, Fr. Galli further noted, have put God’s merciful love at the centre of Christian life and the Church’s mission. The priest recalled that in a Christmas message in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, the then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future pope, held the statue of baby Jesus in his hands and proclaimed the incarnation of the Word as “God is mercy”.
John XXIII expressed God’s tenderness through his touches, embraces and kisses. Both the pontiffs wanted the Church to be a Mother Church that expresses the mercy of our God through little gestures.
While announcing the “Year of Mercy”, Pope Francis wrote that “Jesus is the face of the mercy of God”, that God is not just a name, He also has a face to be seen and contemplated. Hence, Pope Francis in line with the Gospel, Vatican II and John XXIII has challenged the people of God to be a Church of the tenderness and love of God in the 21st century.