Francis writes to the Ecumenical Patriarch on the meaning of the gift of relics of St. Peter. It is "a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another". "The joining of the relics of the two brother Apostles can also serve as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness".
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The gift of some relics of St. Peter that Pope Francis made to the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew is "a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another" Francis writes in a letter to the Patriarch.
The relics of St. Peter, writes the Pope, will thus join those of his brother Andrew, patron of the Patriarchate. "The joining of the relics of the two brother Apostles can also serve as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission in the service of a human family that today is tempted to build a purely secular future, a future without God”.
Francis then recalls the story of the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle. "Your Holiness knows well that the uninterrupted tradition of the Roman Church has always testified that the Apostle Peter, after his martyrdom in the Circus of Nero, was buried in the adjoining necropolis of the Vatican Hill. His tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful from every part of the Christian world. Later, the Emperor Constantine erected the Vatican Basilica dedicated to Saint Peter over the site of the tomb of the Apostle".
" In June 1939, immediately following his election, my predecessor Pope Pius XII decided to undertake excavations beneath the Vatican Basilica. The works led first to the discovery of the exact burial place of the Apostle and later, in 1952, to the discovery, under the high altar of the Basilica, of a funerary niche attached to a red wall dated to the year 150 and covered with precious graffiti, including one of fundamental importance which reads, in Greek, Πετρος ευι. This contained bones that can quite reasonably be considered those of the Apostle Peter. From those relics, now enshrined in the necropolis under Saint Peter's Basilica, Pope Saint Paul VI had nine fragments removed for the private chapel of the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace."
It is precisely those nine fragments, which had been placed in a reliquary, to be sent to Bartholomew through the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (in the photo) led by Archbishop Job of Telmessos, who participated in the patronal feast of the Church of Rome on the 29 last June.
"This gesture - writes Francis - is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace. Pursuing this journey calls above all for spiritual conversion and renewed fidelity to the Lord who requires on our part greater commitment and new, courageous steps. Difficulties and disagreements, now and in the future, must not distract us from our duty and responsibility as Christians, and particularly as Pastors of the Church, before God and history".