THE going was rough for the newly elected pope whose motto was “Obedience and Peace” (Oboedientia et Pax). He shook the world with his encyclicals on peace. Opposition came strongly from within and without alike while reforming the Church which had become like a darkened and airless cathedral with all windows and doors closed.
But despite the challenges Pope John XXIII maintained a keen sense of humor.
Once a struggling artist came with his painting of the pope. John XXIII was far from having a movie actor’s looks. The portrait did not help. When the artist asked him to write something at the portrait’s edge, the pope obligingly took a pen and wrote, “Nolite timere, ego sum” (Fear not, it is I!)
On another occasion during a Rome’s high society-sponsored banquet, organizers mischievously placed the pope between two buxom ladies whose evening gowns with pronouncedly low-cut fronts left not much to the imagination.
At the banquet’s end, some journalists inquired, “Holy Father, how did you feel while seated between those two ladies?” His reply, “I felt like Christ crucified between two thieves!”
Once when a visiting foreign ambassador asked, “Your Holiness, how many of your Vatican people are working?” His answer, “About half!”
The Swiss guards, entrusted to protect him, were in constant anxiety when on some nights John XXIII would wear a black cassock and a light coat then roam through places in Rome. Returning to the Vatican late at night, his worried chamberlain, would say, “Holy Father, you should not go alone through the streets of Rome.” His reply, “How can I know my people if I am not with them.”
Truly, this saint made people laugh and smile.