Saturday, 18 November 2006

Hic Domus Dei Est

Every year we celebrate the dedications of the four major basilicas of Rome. In August we commemorate St Mary Major, one of the most venerable Marian churches of the world. A short time ago we kept the dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran, which is the Pope’s Cathedral and the mother church of Christendom.

Today we commemorate the dedication of the two other great Roman churches: the basilica of St Peter’s in the Vatican, one of the largest and most famous churches in the world and the scene of grand papal ceremonies; and the slightly less well-known St Paul’s outside the walls, not far from Tre Fontane (the spot where St Paul was beheaded). These two churches were originally built by the Emperor Constantine (though since rebuilt) and contain the mortal remains of the two apostles.

Peter, the rather bumbling fisherman, and Paul, the reformed persecutor of Christians, became the pillars of the Church. Peter was named the rock, despite his personal failures, and Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, despite his dark past. Peter and Paul are very different characters – indeed, at times they disagreed with each other over matters of Church policy – but they were both united in love of Christ, they both let grace triumph over their weaknesses and they both made the ultimate sacrifice. Both died a martyr’s death in Rome—Peter on a cross and Paul beneath the sword. Their combined gifts shaped the early Church and pilgrims have flocked to their tombs ever since their martyrdom.

Today we spiritually make a pilgrimage to Rome and honour these two Apostles. We also celebrate our communion with the Holy See and pray especially for the Successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict, who will soon make a risky journey to a hostile Turkey. We pray the Lord will strengthen and protect him, as he follows in the footsteps of the Apostles.

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