On various occasions John XXIII told of his first meeting with Don Orione when, at the start of his service at the Holy See in the twenties, he was invited to seek his advice.
He went out by Porta San Giovanni to the San Fillipo Institute, and the caretaker told him he’d find Don Orione in the yard. In a corner, a group of boys were playing pitch-and-toss with an elderly priest. The latter looked round, left his friends for an instant and asked: «Monsignor, are you looking for someone?» «Yes, I want to speak to Don Orione», Monsignor Roncalli answered. «I’m Don Orione. Be patient a minute: I’ll finish the game, wash my hands and I’m with you».
These words, said with great politeness and a smiling look greatly struck the then young prelate, shortly arrived in Rome from his native Bergamo, who wrote in his diary that evening: «28 March 1921. Easter Monday. In the afternoon with Monsignor Guerinoni I visited the church and the parish works of Ognissanti, outside Porta San Giovanni; and spoke at length with Don Orione, of whom one can well say: contemptibilia mundi eligit Deus ut confundat fortia. What is foolish to the world, God has chosen that it may confound the strong (1Cor 1, 27)» (Messaggi di Don Orione, 102, pp. 46-48).
That respect and friendship never diminished. To Douglas Hyde, an English journalist who asked what was the quality that emerged from Don Orione, the then patriarch Roncalli replied: «Don Orione was the most charitable man I’ve ever known. His charity went beyond the normal limits. He was convinced that the world could be conquered by love» (ibid, p. 49).