October 11th is the feast day of Saint John XXIII,
In the fall of 1962, when I was studying in Rome. Bishop Quentin Olwell, a Passionist from Brooklyn, was made bishop of Cotabato in the Philippines and was visiting Pope John XXIII on his first “ad limina” visit.
Fr. Theodore Foley, then assistant to the Passionist superior general, came to my room and said. “Get a briefcase; we’re going over to the Vatican. We’ll be Bishop Olwell’s secretaries for the day. Sometime they let you in to see the pope.”
And that’s what happened. At the end of the bishop’s visit, they invited us into the pope’s library. He received the bishop’s “secretaries” quite genially, we shook his hands and got our picture taken with him.
I remember he asked me where I was from. I told him the United States. Then he said to me “Be like St. Gabriel,” a young Italian Passionist student who died at 24, close to my age then.
Pope John was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” that year, I think, but my mother, who always carried this picture in her purse and would show it to anyone she could, would say; “This is my Joe, with the pope.”
Today, I am in Rome again, at the 47th General Chapter of my community, and during this time we will be visiting Pope Francis at the Vatican. What will he say to us? Pope John, now Saint John XXIII, inspired the Second Vatican Council, which is still “in session”, in my opinion. A revolutionary event that’ s still unfolding.
I hope it will unfold in the meeting I’m part of these days.