By Helen Morgan

Forty years have now passed since Pope John XXlll convened an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, the first in over ninety years. In summoning a general meeting of the patriarchs of the ecclesiastical establishment, the pope hoped to bring spiritual rebirth to the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition he wanted to foster greater unity with other branches of Christianity saying at the time: “I want to throw open the windows of the church and so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli was born on the 25th November, 1881; one of thirteen children born to Marianna Mazzola and Giovanni Battista Roncalli, Italian tenant farmers in the Bergamo region of Lombardy.

His peasant upbringing gave him a greater understanding of the common people than his predecessor Pius Xll. He surprised those in the Vatican who expected him to be a caretaker pope by calling the historic second Vatican Council. Known as Vatican ll it began in October 1962.

Ordained a priest in 1904, Roncalli worked as a professor, part-time historian, biographer and a diplomat. For the first 54 years of his religious career, he was known as a good-natured conformist, who obediently followed orders and his reputation had more to do with his rise within the church than his intellectual abilities.

As Papal Envoy to Turkey during World War ll, Roncalli saved thousands of Jewish lives by helping to arrange their escape to Palestine.

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