John Paul II's Homily on Solemnity of Peter and Paul

«If We Want the Unity of Christ’s Disciples …»

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the homily John Paul II delivered on Tuesday, during Mass in St. Peter’s Square, on the solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul. On hand was Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

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1. «You are the Christ, the Son of the living God» (Matthew 16:16). Questioned by the Lord, Peter, also in the name of the other apostles, makes his profession of faith.

In it is affirmed the sure foundation of our path toward full communion. If, in fact, we want the unity of Christ’s disciples, we must start afresh from Christ. As with Peter, so are we asked to confess that He is the cornerstone, Head of the Church. In the encyclical letter «Ut Unum Sint» I wrote: «To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace that corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity» (No. 9).

2. «Ut unum sint!» From here arises our commitment to communion, in response to Christ’s ardent desire. It is not about a vague relationship of good neighborliness, but about the indissoluble bond of theological faith by which we are destined not to separation but to communion.

That which in the course of history has severed our bond of unity in Christ, we now live with sorrow. In this perspective, our meeting today is not just a gesture of courtesy, but a response to the Lord’s command. Christ is the Head of the Church and we want, together, to continue to do all that is humanly possible to overcome what still divides us and impedes us from communing in the same Body and Blood of the Lord.

3. With these sentiments I wish to express by heartfelt gratitude to you, Holiness, for your presence and for the reflections you proposed to us. I am also happy to celebrate with you the memory of Saints Peter and Paul, which this year falls on the 40th anniversary of the blessed meeting, which occurred in Jerusalem on January 5-6, 1964, between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I.

Holiness, I wish to thank you from my heart for having accepted my invitation to make visible and reaffirm today, with this meeting of ours, the spirit that animated those two singular pilgrims, who directed their steps toward one another, and decided to embrace for the first time, precisely in the place where the Church was born.

4. That meeting cannot be only a memory. It is a challenge for us! It indicates a path of reciprocal rediscovery and reconciliation. A path that is certainly not easy, or free of obstacles. In the moving gesture of our predecessors in Jerusalem, we can find the strength to overcome every misunderstanding and difficulty, to consecrate ourselves tirelessly to this commitment to unity.

The Church of Rome has journeyed with a firm will and great sincerity on the path of full reconciliation through initiatives which have revealed themselves, every now and again, possible and useful. Today I wish to express the hope that all Christians will intensify, each on his own part, the efforts so that the day will hasten in which the Lord’s desire will be fully realized: «That they may be one» (John 17:11,21). May our conscience not reproach us for having omitted the steps, neglected the opportunities, and not tried all the paths!

5. We know it well: the unity we seek is first of all a gift of God. We are aware, however, that the hastening of the hour of its full realization depends also on us , on our prayer, on our conversion to Christ.

Holiness, as for myself, I must confess that in the search for unity I have always let myself be guided, as by a sure compass, by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The encyclical letter «Ut Unum Sint,» made public a few days before the memorable visit of Your Holiness to Rome in 1995, reaffirmed precisely what the Council had enunciated in the decree on ecumenism, «Unitatis Redintegratio,» of which this year is celebrated the 40th anniversary of its promulgation.

On other occasions I have been able to stress, in solemn circumstances, and I request it also today, that the commitment assumed by the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council is irrevocable. We cannot give it up!

6. The rite of the imposition of the pallium on the new metropolitans contributes to complete the solemnity and joy of today’s celebration, to make it richer in spiritual and ecclesial content.

Dear brothers, the pallium, which you will receive today in the presence of the ecumenical patriarch, our brother in Christ, is a sign of the communion that unites you in a special way to the apostolic testimony of Peter and Paul. It links you to the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, called to carry out a peculiar ecclesial service in favor of the metropolitan Churches spread in several countries. I am pleased to accompany you with affection and prayer.

7. «You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!» How many times these words, which constitute Peter’s profession of faith, come up in my daily prayer! In the beautiful icon given by Patriarch Athenagoras I to Pope Paul VI on January 5, 1964, the two Holy Apostles, Peter the leader and Andrew the «Protoclito,» embrace in an eloquent language of love, beneath the glorious Christ. Andrew was the first to place himself in the following of the Lord, Peter was called to confirm his brothers in the faith.

His embrace under Christ’s gaze is an invitation to continue on the path undertaken toward the goal of unity that together we are trying to achieve.

May no difficulty stop us. Rather, let us go forward in hope, supported by the intercession of the apostles and by the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of Christ, Son of the living God.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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