Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul: Christian unity (and interfaith news)

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.”


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.


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.”

World marks 50 years since election of revolutionary Pope Paul VI

FRIDAY, JUNE 21: Fifty years ago today, in 1963, the world saw the election of a groundbreaking new pope: Paul VI. Though he was no stranger to the Vatican, having served its Secretariat of State for 32 years prior to his election, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini—who took the name Paul VI—broke Church history on several levels. The formerly frail child took the Catholic Church by storm, becoming the first pope to travel to six continents during his reign and changing the 400-year-old format of Mass. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared Paul VI to have been of heroic virtue, thus earning him the title “Venerable.”


A wealthy family welcomed Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897, and despite the baby’s frailness, the young child would go on to receive extensive education from the Jesuits and the seminary. (The Vatican has a full biography.) First ordained a priest in 1920, Montini advanced to Gregorian University and the University of Rome, finally placing an emphasis on studying canon law.

When World War II emerged, current events and danger to the pontiff took first priority, and Montini stepped up to organize several relief projects. Having won the affections of the bishop of Rome, Montini was appointed Archbishop of Milan, revitalized the diocese, won over the laboring class, promoted Catholic education and attracted international press for his efforts. (Wikipedia has details.) Upon the death of Pope John XXIII, Montini was elected the new pope on June 21, 1963. Montini chose the name “Paul” to indicate a renewed mission to spread the Word of Christ.


From the moment he was crowned, Pope Paul VI sought to make an impression. He delivered the allocution in nine languages, demonstrating his plan to reach out to new communities and peoples; he sold the papal tiara and distributed profits to the poor in several regions of the world; and while Vatican II had automatically closed with the death of John XXIII, the pope educated in canon law promised to re-convoke it. Throughout his reign, Pope Paul VI would keep his promise of reaching out internationally, beginning with his first papal visit being to the United Nations headquarters in New York. Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents and the first to set foot in the Holy Land since St. Peter left nearly 2,000 years earlier and went to Rome. The reopening of the Second Vatican Council in 1963 saw four priorities outlined: a better understanding of the Catholic Church, Church reforms, advancing the unity of Christianity and dialogue with the world. Vatican II successfully closed in 1965, and Pope Paul VI implemented its mandates until his death in 1978.