Pope Francis presided at the solemn Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s Square on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul—the patrons of the diocese of Rome, whose mortal remains are preserved in the two basilicas dedicated to them in this city. He concelebrated Mass with the 14 new cardinals from 11 nations whom he created yesterday, together with more than 100 other cardinal present in the city, and 27 of the 30 new metropolitan archbishops from 17 countries whom he has appointed over the past 12 months.
At the beginning of the solemn sung Mass, which he celebrated in Latin, he blessed the palliums—strips of lamb’s wool with black crosses woven into them that are worn by archbishops over their shoulders. They were brought from the tomb of Peter, where they had been placed the previous day.
The pallium is an ecclesiastical insignia that goes back to the fourth century and predates the crozier and miter. It symbolizes the bond between the pope and the archbishop, as well as the ecclesiastical jurisdiction given by the Roman pontiff to the metropolitan archbishops through the centuries.
Before 2015, the pope himself imposed the pallium on the shoulders of the new archbishops, but in that year Francis, seeking to decentralize the church, changed the practice. He decreed that they be placed on the new archbishops, usually by the apostolic nuncio or delegate, in their respective archdioceses so that the local church can participate in this rite.
On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which is also a holiday in Rome, the pope, wearing red vestments in memory of their martyrdom, recalled in his homily that the day’s Scripture readings “take us back to the Apostolic Tradition,” to that moment in history when Jesus asked his disciples who do people say he is, and who do they say he is, and Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Francis said, “it is good to think that the Father inspired this answer because Peter had seen how Jesus ‘anointed’ his people,” as he “walked from village to village with the sole aim of saving and helping those considered lost”—the dead, the sick, the wounded and the repentant. “He anointed with hope,” the pope said, “and by that anointing, every sinner—the downcast, the infirm, pagans, wherever they found themselves—could feel a beloved part of God’s family” because “by his actions, Jesus said in a very personal way: ‘You are mine.’”
He recalled that after Peter had made his profession of faith, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” At that point, he said, Peter reacted strongly to Jesus’ prediction regarding his passion and death and said, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” In this way, the pope said, Peter, who had just confessed his faith in Christ, “immediately becomes a stumbling stone…thinking that he is defending God’s rights, and without realizing it, becomes the Lord’s enemy,” and Jesus calls him “Satan.”
Francis went on to draw an important lesson for the church today from Peter’s reaction to Christ’s words and said, “to contemplate Peter’s life and his confession of faith also means learning to recognize the temptations that will accompany the life of every disciple.”
He told the cardinals and bishops present that “like Peter, we as a church will always be tempted to hear those ‘whisperings’ of the evil one, which will become a stumbling stone for the mission.” He explained, “I speak of ‘whispering’ because the devil seduces from hiding, lest his intentions be recognized” and, as St. Ignatius of Loyola noted in the Spiritual Exercises, “he behaves like a hypocrite, wishing to stay hidden and not be discovered.”
Then, in words reminiscent of his first homily to the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on the day after his election, Pope Francis reminded the high-ranking prelates seated on either side of him that “in Jesus, glory and the cross go together; they are inseparable. Once we turn our back on the cross, even though we may attain the heights of glory, we will be fooling ourselves, since it will not be God’s glory, but the snare of the enemy.”
He recalled that “often we feel the temptation to be Christians by keeping a prudent distance from the Lord’s wounds.” But, he reminded them, “Jesus touches human misery and he asks us to join him in touching the suffering flesh of others.”
He told his fellow bishops, “to proclaim our faith with our lips and our heart demands that we—like Peter—learn to recognize the ‘whisperings’ of the evil one. It demands learning to discern and recognize those personal and communitarian ‘pretexts’ that keep us far from real human dramas, that preserve us from contact with other people’s concrete existence and, in the end, from knowing the revolutionary power of God’s tender love.”
He reminded them again that “by not separating his glory from the cross, Jesus wants to liberate his disciples, his church, from empty forms of triumphalism: forms empty of love, service, compassion, empty of people. He wants to set his Church free from grand illusions that fail to sink their roots in the life of God’s faithful people or, still worse, believe that service to the Lord means turning aside from the dusty roads of history.”
At the end of Mass, Francis gave a small gift box, containing the pallium, to each new archbishop present. Five of them came from his homeland, Argentina, and included Victor Manuel Fernández, who has been a key theological advisor to the pope for more than 10 years and is now archbishop of La Plata. Five others come from Mexico, including the cardinal archbishop of Mexico City, Carlos Aguiar Retes.