SUNDAY, JANUARY 25: Less than one month after commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Christian Church honors a man who participated in the stoning of the martyr before dramatically changing his life: Saul, celebrated today in the Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Originally named Saul and born in Tarsus, the future apostle at first persecuted Christians. Though he never met the living Jesus, Saul was struck by a blazing light one day on his way to Damascus, and in a few moments, he became a follower of Christ. (Read more from Catholic Culture.) Saul spent the rest of his life preaching as a Christian, for Jesus Christ.
SATURDAY, JUNE 29: Fireworks explode over Rome, city shops and offices close their doors as the Eternal City celebrates its patron saints: Today is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. One of the earliest celebrations of the Christian Church, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul memorializes their martyrdom in Rome and praises their crucial roles in the early Church.
Of all the disciples, Jesus proclaimed only to Peter: “Blessed are you … And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” The world’s billion Catholics regard that passage of the Bible as validating the traditional Catholic claim that Peter became Christianity’s first Pope and Rome’s first bishop. Of course, historians debate the exact nature of Peter’s role in early Christianity and the world’s millions of Protestants don’t read that passage of the Bible in the same light.
Nevertheless, this is a important holiday around the Vatican. Each year on June 29, the Pope presents the special vestment known as a pallium to newly created metropolitan archbishops in a ceremony meant to illustrate the union between the successor of St. Peter and the leaders of local churches.
Just days ago in Vatican City, Pope Francis met with key members of the Sts. Peter and Paul Association. In a message of gratitude, Pope Francis thanked those who assist pilgrims at St. Peter’s Basilica and multiple charities across Rome. “It is beautiful to be part of an association like yours,” attested Pope Francis. “Above all charity … is a distinctive sign of the Christian.”
ST. PAUL: MAJOR FORCE IN FOUNDING CHRISTIANITY
Catholics and Protestants agree that St. Paul was a major force in establishing Christianity as a world religion. Paul wrote many of the books in the New Testament of the Bible. He tirelessly carried the Christian message across the Middle East and into Europe, advising churches around the Mediterranean region. (Read more about this Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul at American Catholic or the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.)
Note: Both the Eastern and Western Christian Churches recognize the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul today. For those following the Julian calendar, June 29 falls on the Gregorian date of July 12.
INTERFAITH NEWS: POPE FRANCIS & JEWISH LEADERS
While most news reports out of the Vatican, this week, center on the annual festivities for Sts. Peter and Paul—and the honors bestowed on Catholic bishops with the pallium—Pope Francis also made interfaith news this week. On June 24, he held his first formal meeting with Jewish leaders through the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations.
New York Jewish Week reported favorably on the meeting. A column on the meeting from the American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi Noam Marans included this background: “As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was exemplary in developing relationships with the local Jewish community, reaching out in solidarity in the wake of the 1994 terrorist bombing of AMIA, the Jewish community center, in which 85 were killed and hundreds were wounded. He regularly visited local synagogues and met with rabbis, and established a permanent Holocaust memorial and commemorations at Buenos Aires’ cathedral. His one book, ‘On Heaven and Earth,’ was co-authored with Rabbi Avraham Skorka, a record of their televised dialogue on diverse issues.”
Read Francis’s entire declaration for the occasion at the Vatican website, including these lines: “Humanity needs our joint witness in favor of respect for the dignity of man and woman created in the image and likeness of God, and in favour of peace which is above all God’s gift.”
After the meeting, Rabbi David Rosen wrote: “Pope Francis is a very good friend of the Jewish People and we rejoice in the fact that he will continue to advance the path of his predecessors in deepening the Catholic-Jewish relationship even further.”