FACT OF FAITH

ST. PETER’S BONES

by Fr. Larry Rice, CSP

Although lost for centuries, the tomb of St. Peter, Apostle and the first pope, was found when a team working beneath St. Peter’s Basilica between 1939 and 1949 discovered an extensive complex of mausoleums from the second and third centuries. In addition to this Roman necropolis, the present basilica was also built on top of the ruins of the Constantinian basilica, which was, itself, apparently constructed such that its main altar is directly above the tomb of St. Peter. Today, it is possible to tour these excavations. Small groups are led underground through the ancient Roman burial places, past the Constantinian basilica’s remains, and _ nally to the tomb that most scholars believe contains the remains of St. Peter. Nicknamed the “Scavi” tour for the Italian word for excavations, reservations must be requested months in advance from the Vatican Excavations Office. To contact the office, go to the Vatican website (www.vatican.va) and search on the word “Scavi.”

For those who are not traveling to Rome or are unable to secure a ticket for the tour, you can take a guided virtual tour by accessing a link on the Vatican Excavations Office’s webpage. A visit to St. Peter’s Tomb and the Vatican Necropolis delivers a striking contrast: Above one’s head is the largest church in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica, a stunningly beautiful and triumphant monument to the papacy. And below, providing its foundations, literally and figuratively, is the burial place of a simple fisherman, who left his nets to follow Jesus, eventually dying a martyr’s death at the nearby Roman circus. To see these two things together is an essentially Catholic experience, a reminder of both the origins humble of our faith, and the marvels God has accomplished through his Church.

“While no pope has ever declared St. Peter’s bones to be authentic, Pope Paul VI said in 1968 that the ‘relics’ of St. Peter had been ‘identi_ ed in a way which we can hold to be convincing.’” (CNS) The first exposition for public veneration of the bones of St. Peter occurred during the closing Mass for the Year of Faith on November 24, 2013, in St. Peter’s Square. During the Mass, Pope Francis, the 265th successor of Peter, held a reliquary containing eight bone fragments, each two to three centimeters long, for several minutes in silent prayer while choirs sang the Nicene Creed in Latin. (CNS)

Fr. Rice is Vocations Director for the Paulist Fathers. Additional Source: Carol Glatz, “Pope Venerates Apostle’s Relics, Urges People Focus on Christ,” Catholic News Service (CNS), November 

Fortnight Reflection

Because all human beings possess equal dignity, value, and worth, the government is to ensure that this equality is maintained both for the good of the individual and for the good of society as a whole. This equality specifically should not be violated on religious grounds. Each religious body and the members of that body have equal rights to religious liberty. This equality demands that there be no discrimination based upon one's religious beliefs.

The Council Fathers now stress that, based upon this equality among its citizens, no government is permitted to impose in any way "the profession or repudiation of any religion." Such an imposition is a violation of the right to be true to one's conscience. Because of the freedom of conscience, the government is also not permitted to deny a person the right to join or leave a religious body. The government has no right to stipulate what a person can or cannot believe.

If the above is true, then the Council states that it is all the more wrong when "force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion." This not only applies to governments but also to religious bodies themselves. No religious body is permitted to harass or seek to eliminate another religious group.

Within our contemporary world, where is religious equality denied or religious discrimination tolerated? Are there instances where one religion violates the rights of other religions?

Prayer For Independence Day

God, source of all freedom, this day is bright with the memory of those who declared that life and liberty are your gift to every human being. Help us to continue a good work begun long ago. Make our vision clear and our will strong: that only in human solidarity will we nd liberty, and justice only in the honor that belongs to every life on earth. Turn our hearts toward the family of nations: to understand the ways of others, to offer friendship, and to nd safety only in the common good of all.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

   
Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved