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The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church--The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II Hardcover – September 25, 2012
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“You cannot understand contemporary Catholicism without understanding Pope John XXIII. Greg Tobin’s new marvelous book is a terrific introduction to the pope who changed the church, and to the man whose spiritual wisdom may change your life.” (James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything)
“The story of Good Pope John is always worth telling but all the more so in the current climate of retreat from his vision of aggiornamento. Greg Tobin tells it very well. As we wait for better days, this story will help to keep hope alive.” (Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College and author of Will There Be Faith and What Makes us Catholic)
“[Pope John XXIII] impressed the world with the friendliness... which radiated the remarkable goodness of his soul. . . . Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart!” (Pope John Paul II, upon the beatification of Pope John XXIII)
“In 1958 John XXIII set in train a series of events which have since moved that huge old galleon, the Roman Catholic Church, back into the mainstream of world history and have profoundly altered the silhouette it presents to mankind.” (Life magazine)
“This is the best single volume on John XXIII and the events he set in motion 50 years ago, transforming the church and the world.” (David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict)
“A beautiful and enlightening book about a humble priest who became one of the most powerful and beloved pontiffs in the history of Catholicism.” (Mary Higgins Clark, author of The Lost Years)
“A sincere, adoring look at the life and legacy of the humanist pope who helped modernize the Catholic Church with the convening of Vatican II.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“In his newest book, The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church, Tobin delved into the life of the man who became the catalyst for... changes: Pope John XXIII.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Tobin’s well-rounded, comprehensive biography offers an authoritative portrait of an inspiring, courageous man who radiated ‘an aura of humility, humor and sanctity’ even in the face of opposition.” (Shelf Awareness)
“Both biography and Vatican II overview, this book offers new generations . . . a fresh look at a world figure who balanced continuity with change and opened dialogs with believers and nonbelievers alike. Recommended.” (Library Journal)
“The Good Pope is both a well-written and thoughtful biography of Pope John XXIII, and a helpful study of the events, personalities and issues of the Second Vatican Council.” (CatholicPhilly.com)
From the Back Cover
On November 23, 1958, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the son of peasant Italian farmers, became Pope John XXIII. Widely expected to be a transitional pope, John surprised the Church hierarchy and the world by convoking an ambitious ecumenical council—the first such council in more than a century—to bring the Catholic Church into the modern era. "I want to throw open the windows of the Church," he said, "so that we can see out and the people can see in." Broken into four sessions and held over four years, the Second Vatican Council ("a new Pentecost," according to John) breathed new life into the Church and its pastoral mission, knocking down the centuries-old wall between the Church hierarchy and the laity and repositioning the Church as a universal instrument of hope, justice, and compassion for people of all faiths.
Fifty years after he convened the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII remains one of the most beloved and remarkable fi gures in the history of the Catholic Church. Affectionately known as Il Buono Papa, or the Good Pope, John is remembered today by Catholics and non-Catholics alike as an enduring symbol of peace, ecumenicalism, and Christian spirituality. In The Good Pope, Greg Tobin recounts John's remarkable story, from his impoverished childhood in Bergamo, Italy, and his successful tenure as a papal ambassador in war-torn Europe to his surprise ascendancy to the throne of St. Peter. In the process, he traces John's legacy as the spiritual father of the modern Church and explains why the Good Pope and his great council are as vital, vibrant, and important to Catholicism as ever before. Meticulously researched and engaging, The Good Pope captures the heart, soul, and spirit of the man who ushered in a new era of religion in the twentieth century.
Top Customer Reviews
From the very beginning his parents were committed to the faith as they waited all day at the church for the priest to return so Angelo (Pope John) could be baptized. "There was no question of returning later" as hard life in the country had taught them tomorrow may never come, at least for some. It is a great message for all those who procrastinate the truly important, like living a more righteous life.
The general theme of the man (and the book) was one of ecumenicism, that respect for others and worrying about the weightier matters in life would do more to further the work of God, or at a minimum, peace in this world. Too often in life, especially in politics, religion, sports, etc., people become severely partisan. So much so their entire focus becomes how the other side is wrong. They sacrifice understanding why they believe what they do in order to understand all the ways others are not right. They build walls to separate themselves from others and eventually lose the ability to work with those different from themselves.
While stationed in Turkey Atatürk banned all religious displays including clothing. Angelo Roncalli said "What does it matter whether we wear the soutane or trousers as long as we proclaim the word of God." It demonstrates how people get fixated on some outward appearance rather than what is on the inside. Several parables come to mind that teach this same principle, from the mote in the eye to the Good Samaritan. Roncalli was a man who believed the bible when it said we were to love all men.
He also demonstrated good humor about his situation from describing his father, "There are three ways of ruining oneself - women, gambling, and farming. My father chose the most boring." His description of his circumstances to a friend "Without having taken a vow of poverty I am practicing it." When asked about how many people worked in the Vatican "About half of them." It all goes to show a man who did not take himself too seriously while at the same time holding the office which he held with the greatest respect. This ability to get down literally in the trenches (served as a priest in WWI) with those he was called to minister served him well as his responsibilities increased.
The message of the bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is love for all men, respect of others and their sincere desires to be good people. Through the daily actions of his life he tried to live this principle to its fullest, and worked to change those who would co-opt the scriptures to abuse their fellow men. When criticized for working with the Russians to secure the release of a imprisoned Bishop, or even the peaceful end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he said "We must not condemn them (Russians) because we don't like their political system." It is a sad world when a lot of us condemn others for much less.
A Side Note: I do find it interesting how the JFK church/state separation is much touted as a criticism of Mitt Romney and his Mormonism, but JFK, the Russians, and Pope John XXIII were very involved together to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. The aforementioned "complete" separation obviously had some cracks no one seems to interested in discussing nowadays. Plus, don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the involvement at all, I just find it fascinating.
I found almost the entire book delightful and full of interesting quotes and stories that served to uplift my own worldview. All of us could be a little nicer in life and while I am sure Pope John XXIII would be the first to agree he was far from perfect, at times in his life he did a pretty good job of doing his best.
Unfortunately I did find one section of the book that was out of tune with the rest, that was like hitting a jarring speed bump on the highway when all else had been fine. At one point the author's own biases bled through and took me out of the narrative completely. I won't get into the several issues the author brought up because at the end of the day they are things of personal opinion and have nothing to do with Pope John XXIII. But when you are purporting to write a biography and you begin a sentence with "It might be mere semantics and revisionism to ask how John himself might comment on the contemporary issue of ..." and then go ahead and spout your personal opinions and state that the Pope would have clearly agreed with me - you have gone wrong.
This process of co-opting the Pope to make divisive statements of contemporary issues was just plain disgraceful. It ruined the flow of the book and it honestly took at least fifty more pages to get back into the life story again. Furthermore it made me suspicious of the rest of the text that the author might be forcing his opinion in and I just wasn't noticing. At the end those ten or so pages really brought down an otherwise excellent life story of a great man who, as it seemed to me, deserved better.
I was born after the death of Pope John XXIII. My generation vividly recalls the impact our own saintly pope, John Paul II, had in reaching out to non-Catholics and his stance against Communism. But this era of ecumenism is actually a continuation of the Papacy of John XXIII.
In The Good Pope, author Greg Tobin examines the life of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, from his early years as a peasant farm boy, to his priesthood, where he was sent to study Canon Law, and eventually sent abroad to “backwater” countries where Catholicism was by far the minority. As the story develops, we see this young priest shine in the area of diplomacy – reaching out to all of God’s children, not just the Catholics. His rise to the Papacy seems quite improbable, but yet, he was, in the end, the perfect man for the job. In a time when the world experienced a split between capitalism and communism, and at the same time, our world was becoming smaller with the advent of new technologies, change was in the air. As Pope, John XXIII, called for a new ecumenical council – Vatican II. As Tobin asserts:
“This pope still matters because he stood with his feet planted firmly in the swiftly flowing river of history and, like the legendary Saint Christopher, helped his people move safely from one bank to the other without being swept away by raging currents beneath. Thus he ‘saved’ the Church he loved so much, preserving its core doctrines intact, through force of will and personal diplomacy as manifested in a humble, indeed earthly spirituality that contradicted most expectations by his peers.”
As the 50th anniversary of Vatican II approaches, now is an excellent time to study the life of Pope John XXIII. Tobin’s book is a good first look at this man, who was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000. I appreciated Roncalli’s astuteness in his stance against Italian fascism – the Mussolini government tried to court it’s Catholic population by promoting Catholicism in the schools and returning crucifixes to public buildings. But Roncalli bravely spoke out and said “His (Mussolini’s) goals may perhaps be good and correct, but the means he takes to realize them are wicked.” In hindsight, of course, we know he was correct. But at the time, there were many Catholics who felt the end justified the means.
I enjoyed reading about Good Pope John’s reaching out to Nikita Kruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At a time when the western world frowned upon diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, the Pope understood that peace would not be achieved by closed doors. By allowing messages back and forth between the Kremlin, John XXIII achieved the release of Orthodox Archbishop Slipyi, held prisoner in the Gulag for seventeen years. In fact, this Pope consecrated his life for the conversion of Russia to the Catholic Church.
In addition to his chapters on Vatican II, Tobin devotes time to John’s eighth and final encyclical, Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth), which was written while the Pope was suffering with stomach cancer, just months prior to his death in 1963. He writes that it was well received by everyone – capitalists, socialists, communists, and non-Christians, and was one more important contribution to the world from his Papacy. For a man with less than five years in the seat of St. Peter, Pope John XXIII made an impact on the world that is still felt today.
Another book worth reading about another pope who would have done so much for the Church is "In God's Name" - I can't remember the author, but is the story of John Paul 1, who died mysteriously after only 33 days in office.