Letters of Pope John XXIII to His Family | EWTN

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letters of pope john xxiii to his family

archbishop loris francesco capovilla

the most rev. loris francesco capovilla, archbishop of chieti, will shortly publish the letters of pope john xxiii (1902-1962). he has graciously allowed the l’osservatore romano to publish his introduction to the two volumes that will appear later. in this introduction he explains the origin and nature of the work and its documentary importance. these letters are, so to speak, a ”family catechism” which, in these days of painful tension for the church, present a precious testimony of loyalty.


Four years have passed since the publication of the diary of a soul, of which countless editions and translations have spread throughout the world. With great simplicity, the diary reveals to the reader the intimate spiritual life of Pope John, the perfect limpidity of his soul, and the hidden source of the resplendent light that his pontificate shed on the Church and on all humanity. these humble magazine pages are probably unique in contemporary literature. they have found their way into countless families; they have become the spiritual nourishment of thousands of religious, priests and laity of all social conditions, of all degrees of asceticism and cultural levels. all have drawn comfort and strength from this itinerary of holiness and perfection. At the age of fourteen, Pope John began to trace, with absolute sincerity, the mysterious path along which, step by step, divine providence would guide him. We now know that he was being led to the very seat of Peter, to become the father and teacher of the universe…


Pope John’s letters will allow us to follow, one by one, all the stages of his life. This documentation presents us with a heritage of inestimable religious and human wealth. the two volumes contain all the letters he wrote to his family. they bring back sweet memories of the pope’s evangelical simplicity, which was to be the hallmark of a new era in the church, laden with hope and blessings and destined to nurture and influence countless disciples.

These letters should have been published in 1961, on the occasion of Pope John’s eightieth birthday, in an edition strictly limited to the Roncalli family and their relatives and friends. For this same birthday, the Pope had accepted, somewhat reluctantly, from the episcopate, the gift of a church and, in front of the faithful, a seminary for students from the “third world”. he gave his approval to the project of publishing his letters because he thought they would show the world the true Christian background of his family and also because he wanted his family in sotto il monte to share in something of the splendor of the pontificate of he. Pope John’s birthday was celebrated with the customary cappella papale on November 4, 1961, the third anniversary of his coronation. In his homily, he quoted the words of his predecessor, Leo the Great, spoken in similar circumstances: “I hope to use the time that has yet been granted me, only for my sanctification.” papajuan spoke with warmth and gratitude of his dear elderly parents, as if he wanted to place them, for veneration, together with the saints, in the niches of the basilica: my two parents lived more than eighty years; my paternal grandfather died at the age of 89 and I helped him until the end. His four brothers died at the age of 88, 87, 86, 85, like the patriarchs. they lived in peace “vixerunt in pace longaeva, sepulti in senectute bona.” (cf. gen. 15-15)…

until 1958, most of these letters were kept in camaitino, an old and dignified house in sotto il monte, which had been the home of the roncalli family centuries before. the house had been rented in view of the time when “angelino ” would live there again and wait for his last hour, among the scenes of his childhood. don angelo planned to rest there, at the foot of the altar of the church of san juan that he had consecrated in 1929.

when the packet of letters arrived at the pope in the vatican, he tried to read them quickly, but soon realized he had to dwell on them. he almost caressed the wrinkled yellow pages, and his eyes, which had beheld so much beauty and sadness around the western and eastern world, could not but rest again with deep emotion on this vision of his native town and hills, on the sweet faces and severe. he knew so well, and the humble people, all the workers of the land, industrious and virtuous in their hidden humble lives. he didn’t change anything in the letters, only some signs show that he read them.

He was not a man to deny anything he had said or written. in his family relationships and others, he faithfully observed the precept of Saint Paul to do the truth in charity “veritatem facientes in charitate “. Pope John was able to truly say of his letters: “You will not find in them a word against anyone, or a word that I may regret. How many names and facts from the past did I not remember when reading the letters, and I revived all the feelings that aroused in them: pity, faith, love, sympathy for the pain of some, and joy for the happiness of others.


At first glance, the letters did not appear to be of any particular interest, nor did they contain any useful historical data. the pope wrote most of them to people who had only been in elementary school for a couple of years. however these simple people enjoyed reading the bible, psalms, lives of saints and other devotional books. the letters cover a period of sixty years.

Due to pressing obligations in the pope’s service, I was unable to take the time to compile and edit the letters. he also wanted to compare them with other letters kept by different family members and also get their comments. consequently, I was not able to present my work to the pope on his birthday as I had hoped. since his death, I have always wanted to publish the letters. i will never be able to forget some of the last words that pope john addressed to me, asking me to continue the life relationship that he had maintained with his family for sixty years of his long life. “When I am no longer here,” the pope told me on his deathbed, “you will go to sotto il monte, right?, to see my loved ones. They are simple and humble people, but their friendship is true Thank you for having thought of them so many times and for taking care of the old man.”

I think the time has come for its publication. It will be a consolation for the Roncalli family and very edifying for the multitudes in the world who found in Pope John “an unexpected teacher”, and still turn to him for inspiration, scanning all his words as living memorials of his spirit. of love.


there are 727 letters. The first is dated in Rome, January 1901: Angelo Roncalli, a seminarian from his family; And the last one is also from Rome to his niece, Maria Letizia. the pope kept a copy of most of his letters. the same recipients carefully guarded all the letters they received from their illustrious relative and saved them from the destructive hands of so many children in their families. they are written “currenti calamo”, without any literary pretension. they express the thought and balanced judgment of the pope in simple words. there is always a background of advice, adapted to each one according to his life and work. but the letters are, above all, the expression of the warm bond of love that kept the seminarian first, and then the pope, close to his family. many words and phrases are in the Lombard dialect. angelo roncalli writes that he is very tired as he bangs his little typewriter late at night. some sentences are not finished, there are even grammatical errors, all of which show the spontaneous confidential tone of his letters and the crystalline quality of his soul. he is always comforting, helping and teaching.


The letters tell the story of a simple peasant family, their circumstances, difficulties and poverty; her fleeting joys and sorrows, her defects as well, but through her all the heritage of true Christian virtue jealously guarded and cultivated as her greatest wealth. They follow the itinerary of the priestly vocation of Pope John, in his passage from the halls of the Roman seminary to the threshold of the Second Vatican Council, always faithful, through so many contrasting events, to his demanding motto: “obedientia et pax.”

they reflect the most significant and important events of the sixty years of this century. one reads between the lines the intuitive perception of Pope John of “the signs of the times”. he foresees, for the world, future vicissitudes and frightful upheavals; it indicates, at the same time, the spiritual means to prevent them and to interpret the apparently inextricable meaning of the events of history.


evidently all the virtues of the poor were practiced in the Roncalli family. one by one they stand out and the Pope comments on them; but his letters are not a manual in which fatalism is taught to the poor. They are, rather, a hymn to the holiness of the poor, to their constant faith in the presence of God and to the unlimited interior resources of grace that God grants to those who live and work faithfully in accordance with his will. extols their sublime vocation to holiness and perfection as an invaluable contribution to the building of the kingdom of God in history and promises them the eternal reward of their daily hard work.


The Roncalli family was very poor and remained poor throughout Pope John’s life. “this is a great stress for me, but I do it willingly so that you can start the year without the bills for bread and oil, in the store, weighing you down” (November 6, 1937). and again to his sisters: “I feel that my life is necessary to help my family through these years of scarcity “. “The only thought that makes me happy when I think about the sacrifices I have to make, is that it is true charity: what I give you is, after all, only bread, oil, cheese, sugar and other foodstuffs, the basic necessities of life” (November 20, 1937). He wrote to his brother Joseph: “I am sure that there is no better charity for me to exercise than to help you who are, for me, the first poor; you are, in truth, the poor of the Lord whom he loves and blesses , because you always try to be faithful to him” (February 1, 1939).

When little angelo was born, the large roncalli family were sharecroppers and farmed eight acres of land, with four cows in the barn. it was only after forty years of hard work that battista roncalli, with his sons, three of them veterans of the 1914-18 war, and aided by a fortunate rise in the silkworm market, was able to risk buying, with a 58,000 lire mortgage on eight acres and columbera farm, the debt was still partially unpaid at the death of his two elderly parents and even at the time Pope John ascended the pontifical throne. throughout his priestly life, he wanted to share the heavy burden of his family. When don angelo turned 34, he joined the other members of his family and signed a petition to obtain a loan from the small bank of bergamo that would allow them to make the first down payment to count morlani and become owners, instead of sharecroppers . however, in terms of life, they were still as poor as before.

It was during these years that he wrote to his sisters: “Poverty has held me in its arms since my childhood and has never failed me, not even now that I am a bishop. We must not complain, because when we endure it With patience, poverty makes us like Jesus. We have never lacked what is necessary and we will never lack it. Riches, as you see around you, do not make men happy” (June 28, 1926).

His evangelical spirit knew how to use his poverty as a means of sanctification, and from it he became the source of his unalterable abandonment in the will of God. “The tranquility of my soul that I feel when resting in the arms of divine providence and holy obedience, I owe, in part, to having been born in the countryside and in a family poor in earthly goods, but rich in faith and in the fear of God and accustomed to the simple, daily and yearly things of nature.” (to his family, April 30, 1930). and again: “you know that my family is one of the great consolations of my life. I praise you before everyone I meet as a poor, simple, humble, good and God-fearing people.”

These letters are therefore an extraordinary testimony of the itinerary of poverty and suffering that God’s providence planned for Angelo Roncalli, from his field in Bergamo to Peter’s headquarters. In them, Pope John xxiii presents to the world a prophetic picture of the “Church of the poor” and a stupendous example of the service that the Church is called to fulfill in this new era of its history, facing a martyrdom torn world. by hunger and war, and thirsty for justice and peace. in them we feel the hope and the announcement of “a new world and a new earth”.

taken from: l’osservatore romano weekly edition in English 16 January 1969, page 9

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