Pope (1958–63) who, by convening the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), set in motion the process of ‘aggiornamento’ – bringing the Catholic Church up to date to meet the demands of the twentieth century.
Roncalli was born in the Lombardy region of Italy, the son of a tenant farmer. After attending a seminary in Bergamo, he went to Rome in 1900 and four years later was ordained as a priest. He subsequently received a doctorate in canon law and became secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo. In 1920 he worked in the Vatican and, five years later, was appointed apostolic visitor to Bulgaria. After occupying a similar position in Greece and Turkey (1935–45) Roncalli was given the much more prestigious job of papal nuncio to newly liberated France. Here he skilfully performed the delicate task of reconciliation between the state and those bishops who were alleged to have collaborated with the Vichy government. Made a cardinal in 1953, Roncalli was then appointed Archbishop of Venice.
When, at the age of seventy-seven, Roncalli succeeded Pius XII as Pope John XXIII, he was considered an ‘interim pope’. Therefore, many were surprised when the following year (1959) he announced his plans for the Second Vatican Council, ninety-four years after the first. He presided over the first session in October 1962, when 2300 bishops gathered to discuss the modernization of the Church, especially how power could be devolved to the bishops and their congregations. ‘Vatican II’ continued under Pope John's successor, Paul VI, who implemented many of its proposals. Pope John XXIII's major encyclical, Pacem in Terris (‘Peace on Earth’), urged the need for peaceful coexistence, especially between communist east and capitalist west. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 prompted a personal appeal for restraint from the pope. In his short reign, during which he met representatives of many other religions and faiths, John XXIII became respected throughout the world.