Clear, bright stars sparkled outside Angelo Roncalli’s window on Christmas Eve of 1902. As merrymakers reveled in the streets of Rome, his fellow seminarians lay asleep in their beds. The future pope, however, sat at his desk pondering the birth of Jesus. At age twenty-one, he had just completed a grueling year of military service in the Italian National Army, and now he wanted nothing more than to pray and get back into the rhythm of seminary life.
As he pictured himself in the scene at Bethlehem, he was filled with a sense of unworthiness. “I am a poor shepherd,” he wrote. “I...
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