Share the story of Pope John XXIII with your students, and then do one or more of these activities.
Keep a Journal
When he was 14, Angelo [Roncalli, the man who became Pope John XXIII] began keeping a diary. He wrote notes, good resolutions, prayers, and personal thoughts. After he died his writings were published as a book, Journal of a Soul. Have the students make a journal entry today addressing a concern or need they have or ideas they want to remember. Encourage them to consider keeping a journal as a regular practice. Promise them that it won’t be published until they are canonized.
Learn about Roman Numerals
It’s hard to ignore Roman numerals when you see this name: Pope John XXIII. Teach or review with the students the basics of reading and writing Roman numerals. Use the popes of the 20th century for practice. Be sure the students know that Pope John XXIII means that 22 popes before him took the name John. By contrast, Pope John Paul I was the first to choose that name. He did it as a sign that he wanted to continue the work and spirit of his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.
His experiences in early life prepared Angelo for his papacy. Share this example with the students.
When he was a young priest during World War I, Angelo Roncalli worked in a hospital as an orderly and a chaplain. He saw the horror and evil of war. Later he wrote his most famous encyclical, Peace on Earth, addressed to all people of good will.
Invite the students to make a list of experiences they have had of which they might make good use when they become adults.
For many years Angelo lived and worked in countries where the Eastern churches were influential. He became convinced of the importance of Christian unity and respectful dialog between Catholics and people of other religions. Have the students research the meaning of ecumenism and give short reports about other religions.