A visit to Pope John XXIII’s birthplace

A statue of Pope John XXIII in his birthplace in Sotto il Monte

On Sunday, April 27, 2014 multitudes of pilgrims will descend upon the Vatican City for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, descendants to the throne of St. Peter who both shepherded the Catholic Church through the complexities of the modern era.

On this day, a small and once obscure town north of Italy will also be swarming with thousands of devotees: Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, a commune’ in the province of Bergamo in the Lombardia region named after its most famous citizen, who once belonged to a family of peasant farmers, would eventually become pope, and now, a saint.

The residence of Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino

Ten years ago, in July of 2004, I had the great blessing of visiting the birthplace of Pope John XXIII. His canonization stirred an impulse within me to dig up old photographs and journals from that trip, in the hope of getting reacquainted with a man who, though not as widely known as Pope John Paul II, made just as much contributions to the Church.

From farm boy to pope

One of the places that I saw was the humble farmhouse where Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli, grew up. The place has since been converted into a museum , the Casa Natale del Santo Papa Giovanni XXIII.

The farmhouse is painted a dusky shade of pink with wooden beams and staircase surrounding the porch. Planters are adorned with bright flowers in season. Inside the rooms are simple furnishings like wooden dressers and simple beddings that give a glimpse of the austere life of young Angelo.

Angelo was the fourth of 13 children, and though he grew up in poverty, his biographical notes stated that his family was wealthy in faith, love and trust in God.

The parish church named Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII

I also visited the summer residence that he used when he was already Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino. There are a lot of memorabilia including photographs which show John XXIII often smiling, a glimpse into his warmth and congeniality. One can also visit the Pope’s personal bedroom, his study and chapel.

Inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

A statue of Christ inside the parish church

In another room, pilgrims leave behind mementos such as medallions, paintings and pictures that are testaments to John XXIII’s intercession. There were those who were spared from death, those who survived near-fatal accidents like a car crash or falling off an electrical tower or from a tall building. There were photos of infants born of parents who thought they would never bear a child.

A fresco inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

I also visited the parish church named after the Pope, Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII. It is a lovely hillside Church, which is a solemn space for prayer as well as a place to admire for its frescoes.


While John XXIII worked in mysterious ways in the lives of many people, his enduring legacy is his work as head of the Catholic Church from 1958 to 1963. Bishop Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope in 1958 at the age of 77, and he took the name inspired by three personalities: his father, the patron of his birthplace, and of John, the evangelist of the charity.

He announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959, and when it opened in 1962, the Church took a big evolutionary step by seeking ways to unify Christian Churches, and create an atmosphere of dialogue with contemporary culture in the modern world.

John XXIII also appointed 37 new cardinals during his term, including a Filipino, Rufino Santos.

His 1963 encyclical “Pacem in terris” (Peace on Earth) spoke, not only to Catholics, but to all good willing people, a sign of reaching out to people in peace and solidarity, regardless of faith.

On Sunday, the saints in heaven shall welcome with open arms John XXIII, a man who has dutifully served his flock.

This article appeared on abs-cbnnews.com:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/04/25/14/visit-pope-john-xxiiis-birthplace





This way to Facebook

There’s a downside to giving my mother a new tablet device.  She’s now more addicted to social networking than I.  There’s this eager impulse to post and share photos as quickly as possible.  I also get the incessant questions on how to do this and that function.  Such is the handiwork of Facebook.

On February 4, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary.  Has it only been ten years?  Facebook is such a part of life now that many would find it hard to imagine a day without it.

In his personal Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote on the day of Facebook’s anniversary that he never thought that the social networking site would be as big as it is today.  He just cared more about wanting to connect people.

Zuckerberg said he’s even more excited about the next ten years.  “The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Big words for an enterprise that began in a Harvard dorm room.  Now Facebook’s headquarters sits on a sprawling property in Menlo Park, California.  It’s fondly called “campus” by Facebook denizens not just because of its size and feel but, in all likelihood, because of the mindset of the people working there.

I had the chance to visit this temple of social networking last fall along with other foreign journalists.  The street sign revealed the fact that we’ve reached Facebook’s famous digs:  It’s a big blue and white thumbs-up sign, now the universal symbol for “like,” and the street name reads “1 Hacker Way.”


Welcome to Facebook. The receiving area.


Welcome treats

The receiving area is modest, but there are treats on the reception counter: tiny boxes of assorted jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolate truffles.  Very whimsical.

But the main ‘treat’ is when you step out into the main campus bathed in the San Francisco, California sun.  It’s like stepping into Disney Land’s Main Street:  A complex of low-rise buildings with splashes of bright, primary colors here and there, the streets lined with trees and manicured lawns, and an assortment of enticing shops and establishments.


The Facebook campus



We were hoping that a Facebook executive (maybe even Zuckerberg himself) would sit down with us for an interview.  Many of us were raring to discuss issues on journalism in the social media world, and the business and economics of social networking, but we were disappointed when no face time was granted to us, and all we got was a walking tour.


One of Facebook’s dining outlets


FB burger shack



So what did we see in Facebook’s campus?  There are several dining outlets, all free for employees: a café, barbeque place, sushi restaurant, burger shack, American-style diner, pizzeria, coffee shop, and a very popular sweets shop where one can have a fill of cakes, cookies, ice cream and yoghurt with an assortment of mix-ins.


The sweets shop



And if, after all that, you still get hungry in the office, there are pantries packed with snacks, fruits and drinks that you can grab as you please.


The offices have lots of capricious touches all around, perhaps to encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: a graffiti wall, a phone booth with a Superman costume, various wall art, Ping Pong tables, treadmill machines, etc.




And as if the entertainment was not enough, there’s an arcade with video games where weekly ‘tournaments’ are held, an arts and crafts workshop, and many more.  With all the attractions (and distractions), I wonder how people there get any work done.


The video arcade center


I’m amazed (sometimes baffled) that Facebook, the single biggest social network in the world which has changed life as we know it, churns out its work from this veritable playground slash amusement park.

And yet when you listen to Zuckerberg, playtime is farthest from his mind.  “Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems… In the next decade, technology will enable us to create many more ways to capture and communicate new kinds of experiences,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Perhaps this is the key to Zuckerberg’s success: he sees the glass half full, he views the world with rose colored glasses, he sees opportunities when people see stumbling blocks.

And it seems there are stumbling blocks ahead.  A report from Reuters showed a number of people who are unsure of Facebook’s future.  “I don’t like Facebook anymore… it was a good way to get in contact with my friends, but now it seems like it just distracts me when I need to get work done,” one user said.

Another one had this to say: “I started using (Facebook) every day, and checking how many likes I got, and it made me feel like I was a superficial person.”

Still another said, “There’s a lot of unnecessary pages, too many ads, and then of course, all the stuff about your privacy being invaded, that’s not good either.”


The yellow brick road

There was another design element in Facebook’s campus that I almost forgot to mention:  It’s a yellow brick road much like in the “Wizard of Oz” which took Dorothy to the Emerald City where the Wizard resides.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor to Facebook, a social networking behemoth of seemingly infinite possibilities, straddling the road between real and imagined, fantasy and reality.