Pope John XXIII played a vital role in shaping Christianity as we know it today. He contributed socially, politically and liturgically and was a major influence in the establishment of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue between other churches and religions. He advocated Christian unity, social justice, human rights and the promotion of world peace, and his openness to all people led to him obtaining the name “Good Pope John”. The early life of Pope John XXIII shaped his morality and future ideas, and his travelling made him tolerant towards other people, cultures and beliefs.
He believed that “No one is excluded by love” and pursued this belief throughout is papacy, even visiting prisons in order to forgive those who had sinned, considering them all his children. He had a strong personal spirituality that was central to his character and he promoted obedience and peace in all that he did, becoming a role model for many. The will of God was central to his belief and Pope John XXIII defined himself as a man of action, not an authority figure, allowing Christians to connect and relate to him personally.
Pope John XXIII promoted the openness of the Catholic church, establishing the second Vatican Council which worked to modernise the liturgy and Catholic Church organisations. He changed the language of the mass from Latin to Vernacular, allowing adherents to develop a greater understanding and a more active role in their worship. The Council increased the role of the Laity and women in church, allowing them to participate in readings and also removed altar rails and made priests face the congregation, eliminating the physical barrier between the priest and the congregation.
His hospitality to Communists was highly controversial amongst the Catholic church, and showed how he believed strongly in developing ties in order to discuss human rights and encourage peace. During his Papacy, Pope John XXIII published several encyclicals promoting world peace(Pacem in Terris) and increasing the consciousness of one’s dignity and rights of workers, women and newly independent nations (Mater et Magisterum). Pacem in Terris was addressed to the whole world and received warmly by Christians and non-Christians alike.
It altered thinking about the Cold War and initiated the resurgence of Catholic social teaching. John Pope XXII’s main contribution to Christianity was for human kind rather than Catholics. He affirmed human rights as the basis of peace. He explicitly praised the Declaration of Human Rights which had been issued by the UN in 1948 and has helped to recapture the Christian sense of family. By initiating the Vatican II Council, John Pope XXIII contributed to sweeping changes and widespread reforms with the Catholic church which set in motion forces that were to affect Catholics, Christians and non-Christians alike.
His emphasis on world peace and creating a dialogue between Christian variants and other religions impacted Christianity’s development and expression, and created unity. He was respected and loved by many and after his death Pope John XXIII was honoured by many Protestants organisations as Christian reformer. “To the entire world Pope John has given what neither diplomacy nor science could give: a sense of unity to the human family. ” – Time Magazine, article on Pope John XXIII – Man of the Year.