Bishop Robinson: 'John XXIII was one of the greatest'

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

A student in Rome throughout John XXIII's pontificate, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson met the Pope two days after his election, when Cardinal Gilroy took Sydney students with him for his Papal visit.

- By Geoffrey Robinson, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Emeritus.

I remember this new Pope as exuberant and constantly moving about, so that his brand new white skull cap kept slipping off his bald head and, as the youngest person present, I had the job of picking it up and handing it back to him. I was a blond, fresh-faced youth and the first Papal words ever addressed to me (no doubt infallible) were 'Ah, no beard.'

I remember that first exhilarating month when he left the Vatican more often than the Pope before him, Pius XII, had in nineteen years. I remember him visiting the major prison in Rome and, rather than delivering a profound discourse on the morality of prison life, telling the prisoners of an uncle of his who had done time for sheep stealing.

There are three reasons why I consider him one of the greatest Popes in all of history. The first is that for him the Gospel truly meant what the word itself means, 'good news.'

This good news filled him with joy, and he constantly radiated a true Christian joy to all around him. He decried the 'prophets of doom,' he wanted to dialogue with the world rather than to condemn it.

The second reason is that, though he carried the office of Pope with great dignity and distinction, the greatness of the office was never allowed to obscure his humanity. Pope John XXIII and the boy and man Angelo Roncalli were never different people.

If you want a good priest, even a papal one, first find a good Christian, and if you want a good Christian, first find a good human being.

One builds on the other and, without the good human being, there is little hope of building a good priest. The wholeness and goodness of a most likeable human being shone through everything Pope John did.

The third reason is that he had the humility to know that he did not have all the answers to the problems facing the Church as it entered the new and difficult world of the 1960s. And so it was with his heart first and his head second that he instinctively turned to the collective wisdom of the whole Church and called a Council.

An integrated and whole human being, whose priesthood and papacy built on the firm foundation of his humanity, filled to overflowing with the joy of the good news of Jesus Christ and with the humility to turn to the collective wisdom of the whole Church - to me this will always be the basis of the Second Vatican Council. 

Read full article: Pope John XXIII and Vatican II (


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