“Before John XXIII, the Pope was perceived as one who made pronouncements from on high; John XXIII was the first Pope speaking off the cuff, and he paved the way for a new style,” said Cardinal Paul Poupard, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in an April 15 interview with CNA.
“And of course we all remember the spontaneous meetings John Paul II had, especially with young people.”
Cardinal Poupard worked at the Secretariat of State beginning in 1959, the second year of Angelo Roncalli’s papacy.
John Paul II appointed him head of the Secretariat for Non-Believers in 1980, and he was president of the Pontifical Council for Culture from 1988 to 2007.
Cardinal Poupard had the opportunity to spend time with both Popes, and saw that “during their meetings, both of them turned into, in a sense, who they had been before their election.”
He recalled his first meeting with John XXIII, when he, a 29-year-old priest of Paris, presented the Roman Pontiff with the book he published after his doctoral dissertation, about the appointments of bishops in France.
“The appointment of bishops! You wanted to work hard!,” John XXIII told Fr. Poupard, reminded of his own efforts in French bishop appointments.
Roncalli had been apostolic nuncio to France from 1944 to 1953.
“In the conversation, he turned into the apostolic nuncio again,” Cardinal Poupard reflected.
He then recounted that “when John Paul II spoke about the situation in Poland, he spoke such that he turned back to being the Bishop of Krakow, mentioning the Primate, Stefan Wyszynski.”
Cardinal Poupard said that “John XXIII was the first Pope ‘speaking off the cuff’”, and he also “introduced into the style of encyclicals, the reading of the signs of times.”
This style is peculiarly evident, he said, in Pacem in terris, John XXIII’s last encyclical and “his spiritual legacy, I would say, since he died some weeks after the encyclical had been issued.”
Cardinal Poupard explained that “every chapter of the encyclical starts with a statement dealing with an aspiration of men … to peace, to freedom, to dignity.”
This style of Pacem in terris was an inspiration for the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, which was something “new in the history of ecumenical councils.”
“Conciliar documents had always been based on God, on revelation … Gaudium et spes inaugurated a new way of addressing the world, an inductive method which began from the aspirations of the human being instead of a deductive method with a basis in revelation.”
He said John XXIII paved the way to a more spontaneous way of being Pope, upon which John Paul II built, citing in particular the Pole’s institution of World Youth Day.
John Paul II frequently engaged in conversation with the world through his trips to 129 countries, and his dialogue with other Christians and with the followers of other religions.
John XXIII and John Paul II, who will be canonized April 27, are “bound together” by their love for addressing the world in conversation, a cardinal who worked with them both has said.