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Gerard O’ConnellJune 29, 2023
Deacons carry palliums from the crypt above the tomb of St. Peter to be blessed by Pope Francis during Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 29, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

In his homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, Pope Francis called on the 32 new archbishops present whom he had appointed over the past year, including George Leo Thomas of Las Vegas and Frank Leo of Toronto, to follow the example of Sts. Peter and Paul, whose feast the church celebrates today, “two apostles in love with the Lord, two pillars of the faith of the church.”

“Be apostles like Peter and Paul. Be disciples in following [like Peter] and apostles in preaching [like Paul]. Bring the beauty of the Gospel everywhere, together with all the people of God,” he said.

Francis began the celebration by blessing the palliums, which he said are “a sign of communion” of the archbishops “with the church of Rome.” The palliums are the white woolen bands, about two inches wide, with pendants 12 inches long, that are worn over the chasuble by a pope or archbishop as a symbol of full episcopal authority.

Earlier, the palliums had been placed on the tomb of St. Peter under the high altar in the basilica and were brought to the pope at the start of the ceremony. Francis blessed them, but he did not place them on the shoulders of the new archbishops who concelebrated the Mass with him. Instead, the apostolic nuncios in their respective countries will do that at a special ceremony in the metropolitan cathedral of the archdiocese where the new archbishops will reside sometime in the coming months.

In his homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, Pope Francis called on the 32 new archbishops present to follow the example of Sts. Peter and Paul, whose feast the church celebrates today.

Pope Francis, who appeared to be recovering well from his operation for an incisional hernia on June 7, presided at the solemn Latin Mass attended by a congregation of 5,000 people, both religious and lay, from many countries and most continents, including 40 cardinals, 50 bishops, 450 priests and the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. The dignitaries present also included Callista Gingrich, the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and her husband, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is customary for the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, to send a delegation for this feast of the two apostles, the patrons of the church of Rome. This year, he sent Metropolitan Archbishop Job of Pisidia, whose see is in Antalya, Turkey. Francis warmly greeted the delegation in his homily, and at the Angelus after Mass, he sent warm greetings to “my dear brother Bartholomew.”

In his homily, Francis reminded those present that “we are celebrating Peter and Paul, two apostles in love with the Lord, two pillars of the faith of the church.” He recalled that in today’s Gospel, Jesus posed a fundamental question to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:16). The pope then asked: “This is the essential and most important question of all: Who is Jesus for me? Who is Jesus in my life?”

Francis went on to reflect briefly on how the two apostles answered that crucial question.

“Peter’s answer can be summed up in one word: follow,” he said (emphasis in original text). He recalled that in Caesarea Philippi, “Peter responded to Jesus’ question with a fine profession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). It is a precise “catechetical” answer.” But, the pope said, “that answer was itself the fruit of a journey. For only after the thrilling experience of following the Lord, walking with him and behind him for some time, did Peter arrive at the spiritual maturity that brought him, by grace, to so clear a profession of faith.”

Pope Francis: “Many other things can be postponed in life, but not following Jesus; where he is concerned, we cannot hesitate or come up with excuses.”

“Peter tells us that it is not enough to respond to the question—‘Who is Jesus for me?’—with a faultless doctrinal formula or a set of preconceived notions,” the pope said. “No. It is only by following the Lord that we come to know him each day, only by becoming his disciples and listening to his words that we become his friends and experience his transforming love.”

Recalling that Peter responded “immediately” to the call of Jesus, Francis said this tells us that “Many other things can be postponed in life, but not following Jesus; where he is concerned, we cannot hesitate or come up with excuses.”

Moreover, Francis said, Peter “invites us to be a ‘church that follows,’ a church that strives to be a disciple of the Lord, a lowly servant of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis next turned to St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and said, “If the word to describe Peter’s answer [to Jesus’ question] was follow, for Paul it is proclaim, to preach the Gospel.”

For Paul, too, he said, “everything began with grace, with the Lord’s prior initiative. On the road to Damascus, as he led a fierce persecution of Christians, barricaded in his religious convictions, the risen Jesus met him and blinded him by his light.” Paul thus “came to realize how blind he had been: caught up in the pride of his rigid observance, he discovered in Jesus the fulfillment of the mystery of salvation. In comparison with the sublime knowledge of Christ, he came to regard all his former human and religious securities as ‘rubbish’” (cf. Phil 3:7-8).

Pope Francis concluded by reminding his audience that Peter and Paul “answered that essential question in life—‘Who is Jesus for me?’—by following him as his disciples and by proclaiming the Gospel.”

Francis said, “Paul then devoted his life to traversing land and sea, cities and towns, heedless of privations and persecutions, for the sake of preaching Jesus Christ. If we look at Paul’s life, it almost seems that the more he preached the Gospel, the more he grew in the knowledge of Jesus. By preaching the Word to others, he was able to peer more deeply into the depths of God’s mystery.”

“Paul tells us that our answer to the question—‘Who is Jesus for me?’—is not a privatized piety that leaves us peaceful and unconcerned about bringing the Gospel to others. The apostle teaches us that we grow in faith and in knowledge of the mystery of Christ when we preach and bear witness to him before others.”

“A church needs to preach,” the pope said, “just as we need oxygen to breathe. A church cannot live without sharing with others the embrace of God’s love and the joy of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis concluded by reminding his audience that Peter and Paul “answered that essential question in life—‘Who is Jesus for me?’—by following him as his disciples and by proclaiming the Gospel.”

“It is good for us to grow as a church in the same way,” he said, “by following the Lord, constantly and humbly seeking him out. It is good for us to become a church that is also outgoing, finding joy not in the things of the world but in preaching the Gospel before the world and opening people’s hearts to the presence of God. Bringing the Lord Jesus everywhere, with humility and joy: in our city of Rome, in our families, in our relationships and our neighborhoods, in civil society, in the church, and political life, in the entire world, especially in those places where poverty, decay and marginalization are deeply rooted.”

Before leaving the basilica by the central aisle, Pope Francis and Metropolitan Job prayed together before the tomb of St. Peter and again before the dark bronze statue of St. Peter in the basilica, which was dressed in a red cope and ornate tiara for this special feast day.

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