On Christmas Day, 1933, Bishop Angelo Roncalli was preparing to leave Bulgaria after 10 years, to become Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. This passage is from his farewell sermon that day.
In accordance with an old tradition of Catholic Ireland, all the houses put a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve, as an indication to Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary, in search of a refuge on that holy night, that inside the house round the fire and the well-stocked table, a family is waiting for them.
Wherever I may be, though it be at the ends of the earth, if a Bulgarian away from his country comes past my house, he will find in my window the lighted candle. He has only to knock on my door; it will be opened to him, whether he be Catholic or Orthodox: friend of Bulgaria, that will be enough. He can come in and I shall extend to him a very warm welcome.
How good it will be to welcome family and friends this Christmas! Let your little light shine!
With our best wishes to all our readers for a Happy Christmas and a hopeful and healthy New Year, 2022. Will Turnstone and the Agnellus Team.
In 1927 then-Bishop Angelo Roncalli was Pope Pius XI’s representative in the predominantly Orthodox kingdom of Bulgaria. As there were very few Catholics in the country, it was largely his responsibility to organise and unite the Church, scattered as it was in small groups in far-flung districts, travelling often on poor roads, beset with bandits. Roncalli was often lonely and in danger; he was regarded with suspicion when he first arrived. He wrote to a priest friend:
It is not that the reasons for my troubled mind last year have ceased to exist; no, they are all still there, almost as powerful as before. But I found a reason for life and a reason for suffering; and so I live and suffer willingly…
From the outset of my episcopacy I have recited one of the prayers of the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and I still say it. Well, one morning when I was suffering more than usual, I became aware that my state indicated precisely that my prayer had been granted.
Receive, O Lord, my whole liberty,
receive my memory, my intelligence,
and all my will.
All that I have and possess
was given to me by you,
I give it back to you entirely.
Do with it as you will.
Give me only thy love with thy grace
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.
From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p77.
Remembrance Day, and there are wars still on God’s earth.
During most of the Second World War, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII was the pope’s representative in Istanbul, serving the Church in Turkey and Greece from a city where representatives of both sides could meet in secret. He had many diplomatic contacts and helped save many Jewish people from the death camps. He deplored the conflict and the currents of thought that engendered it and fed off it.
The world is poisoned with morbid nationalism, built up on the basis of race and blood, in contradiction to the Gospel. In this matter especially, which is of burning topical interest, ‘deliver me from men of blood, O God.’ … Jesus our Saviour died for all nations, without distinction of race or blood, and became the first brother of the new human family, built on him and his Gospel…
The Holy Church which I represent is the mother of nations, all nations. Everyone with whom I come into contact must admire in the Pope’s representative that respect for the nationality of others, expressed with graciousness and mild judgements, which inspires universal trust. Great caution then, respectful silence, and courtesy on all occasions. It will be wise for me to insist on this line of conduct being followed by all my entourage, at home and outside. We are all more or less tainted with nationalism. The Apostolic Delegate must be, and must be seen to be, free from this contagion. May God help me.
May God help us to show respect and courtesy to all those we meet, and encourage others to do likewise. May he give us the peace the world cannot give!
1 John Paul XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London Geoffrey Chapman.
When the future Pope John XXIII was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he and other priests and religious were restricted in the ministries they could live out. This reflection from his retreat in 1939 shows that he was undeterred; a missionary witnessing by his life rather than by preaching to the local people.
Every evening from the window of my room, here in the residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosphorus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam1 which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.
I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.
Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men’2, before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes! Very little is left in this land of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Debris, sand, seeds… We must do as the fishermen of the Bosphorus do, work night and day with our torches lit, each in his own little boat, at the orders of our spiritual leaders: that is our grave and solemn duty.
1Bairam: Turkish name for festival; Eid fell in November in 1939, as did Archbishop Roncalli’s annual retreat.
I was reminded of this photograph of Porthmadog harbour, a world away from the Bosphorus.
follow this link to a report on the Apostleship of the Sea’s Mass in Southwark. As Archbishop Roncalli reminded himself, the Church was founded upon boatmen; we owe it to them to support the often forgotten seafarers of today.
John XXIII ‘Journal of a Soul’, Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p234.
Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris1emphasized that relationships between nations must be based on the same values that guide those of communities and individuals: truth, justice, active solidarity and freedom. Catholic social teaching stresses that peace is not simply the absence of war, but is based on the dignity of the person, thus requiring a political order based on justice and charity. The right of conscientious objection is affirmed when civil authorities mandate actions which are contrary to the fundamental rights of the person and the teachings of the Gospel.
But Vatican II also emphasized the crucial role of the laity in the Church, and these past fifty years have seen a growth and flourishing of lay leadership all around the world. Many Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith, but not all parishes offer opportunities to do so. Therefore, lay Catholics need to evangelize their priests and parishes in social justice terms as well as the other way around. Catholics don’t need to wait for the go-ahead from their pastors to engage in works of peace and social justice. That way, the Church’s social teachings won’t be a secret any more.
To the majority of people in the world, Jesus is an honoured historical figure who was the founder of Christianity—but that is about as far as it goes. Many have no idea that his most wonderful life had an unsurpassed effect on the history of humankind. In fact, without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, life on planet earth would be incomprehensibly different from what it is today.
Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury
Yet another discovery when I was looking for something else!
The web led me to an article by Peter Hebblethwaite1 in which he touches on Saint John XXIII Roncalli and today’s feast of the Assumption. The Assumption is not to do with a high and remote Madonna, but a flesh and blood woman who lived on this earth and died, as we all must. It is about hope.
Roncalli’s meditation on the Assumption was deeply Christological. Mary is clearly with us. She is the first of disciples and a leader in faith, and so she can be of some use to us. Roncalli concludes his meditation:
The mystery of the Assumption brings home the thought of death,
of our death,
and it diffuses within us a mood of peaceful abandonment;
it familiarizes us with and reconciles us to the idea
that the Lord will be present in our death agony,
to gather up into his hands our immortal soul.
~ John XXIII wrote that when he had only another eighteen months to live.
This morning we went to the fourth sanctuary in this Rieti Valley, that of La Foresta, a place where Francis often came. In fact he came so much that the people used to come out of Rieti to see him and one autumn, they ate all the grapes from the vineyard of the parish priest. He was upset because that was his wine supply for the year. But Francis promised him that he would have as much wine as usual and maybe more if he did not grumble or give out to the people but shared what he had with them. The priest did this and Francis’ promise came true.
La Foresta is run by the group of young men called Mondo X, a movement started by one of the friars, now 85 but still very much with his hand on the tiller. His belief was that the Franciscan Rule offered immense potential for healing and gradually over the years it has become a way of life for young people in trouble, whether with drugs, alcohol, sex or whatever, They live a very simple life, growing all their own food as far as possible, and the ‘programme’ is basically that sharing and fraternity are healing. They have a lot of sharing, and a lot of work and also pray together. When a young person comes, they commit themselves for three years and after that they can either leave to a more ordinary life or if they wish stay as long as they want. The basic philosophy is that as they create beauty outside in their environment, they also create beauty within themselves and that beauty is healing. To the visitor, the place is certainly beautiful and well cared for. As always, we asked if one of them would come and explain their lives to the pilgrims, which they did. It is a good example of Franciscan principles in action today. They also said that the whole place was badly shaken during the earthquake and that they all slept out in the garden for ten days until the quakes stopped and the place was considered safe to return to.
So after Mass in the pre-Francis chapel of San Fabiano, and the talk from the young man, the pilgrims had a quick historical visit and then some time on their own. We returned to the Villa Cabrini for an early lunch and just after 2 we were on the road to Assisi. By half past four we were unloading all the cases from the coach onto the pavement. Marcello who runs the taxi firm and his son Massimo were waiting and put everything into taxis as you can’t take a coach into the city of Assisi, the streets are too narrow. As it was we had to turn back at one point and come into Assisi from a different angle than usual as the bus was five centimetres too high to go under an arch. So we turned back and went another way which was much nicer since we went along the valley towards the Porziuncola with some beautiful views of Assisi up on its hill.
Once the baggage was loaded Murray and I started walking the pilgrims through the town, encouraging the inveterate photo takers and shoppers that they have 15 days to come back! Finally we got all of them to Casa Papa Giovanni and the rooms allocated and luggage off to the right room. Fortunately there seem among our 13 a number of strong ones who are very happy to carry cases and help the less strong. So in no time all was sorted. They then had space until 5 when we all met and they all were given maps and told various bits and pieces of info which I suspect most forget and then have to rediscover from themselves. Hopefully they will remember things like that the house is locked at 10.30!! After that Murray took them on an introductory tour of the city and I joined later, and took them on to S Chiara to pay our respects to the Lady. I was very touched that Sr Fidelis, the extern sister who was on duty in the church, remembered me and greeted me very warmly. I promised to arrange for the two Poor Clares in the group to visit the Protomonastery.
Sr Fidelis has reason to remember me because annually she gives us the coins which pilgrims and tourists have put in their candle box, as the banks won’t accept the foreign coins. So we exchange them for paper money euros and then talk the pilgrim into carrying the coins home. Fortunately there is a nice FMDM on the pilgrimage so she will help me with the sterling, as last year my case weighed a ton with a big bag of coppers and 10p bits!
Soon after that we had supper, pretty noisy as there is a group of USA college students. At one of the Catholic schools in USA they do a senior programme in Franciscan studies at the end of which they bring the students to Assisi for a week or so. They are a very impressive bunch of young people and all the teachers in our own group are impressed by how well behaved they seem to be. But the dining room was full and the noise level high!
So that brings that day to an end, more anon! Tomorrow we go the the reputed birthplace of Francis and in the afternoon climb up to the Rocca and have a peace service. Love to one and all and please keep praying. I am remembering everyone everywhere, often in a large sort of way like that but God has you all sorted out OK as do Francis and Clare for sure.