In his pre-Angelus remarks on the June 29 Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI gave his special greetings to an Eastern Orthodox delegation visiting Rome, and spoke about the importance of St. Peter's primacy among the Apostles.
“Witnessing the love and faithfulness of Saints Peter and Paul enlightens the pastors of the Church on how to lead men towards the truth, and educate them in the faith in Christ,” the Pope told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on the feast day. He emphasized that St. Peter, in particular, “represents the unity of the apostolic college” which ensures the oneness of Christ's Church.
The Pope, who is marking his 60th year as a priest on the feast day, indicated that St. Peter's primacy among the apostles was no mere human tradition. Rather, he noted, “Peter's primacy is divine preference,” like the priestly vocation itself.
Pope Benedict cited the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, a second-century bishop and theologian, who famously held that the Roman Church “must be the point of convergence of all other Churches, because it has always guarded the tradition that comes from the Apostles.”
This same bond of unity, he recalled, was expressed in the imposition of the pallium on 41 archbishops earlier in the day. The ceremonial vestment “expresses the communion with the Bishop of Rome in the mission to lead the people of God to salvation.”
Pope Benedict drew from both the Latin and Byzantine liturgical traditions in his discussion of the feast day. The Roman liturgy proclaims the blessedness of the city of Rome, which exceeds “every beauty of the world” by being “stained red by the precious blood” of Sts. Peter and Paul.
“As the hymns of the Eastern traditions say, the two great apostles are the wings of God’s knowledge, who traveled the earth till its limits, and rose to heaven,” he explained.
The Byzantine liturgy honors the two saints as “the 'hands' of the Gospel of grace, the 'feet' of the truth of the proclamation, the 'rivers' of wisdom, and the 'arms' of the Cross.”
Although Saints Peter and Paul are the patron saints of Rome, their shared feast receives a heavy emphasis in the Byzantine tradition. June 29 is a Holy Day of Obligation for Eastern Catholics, according to their code of canon law.
In recent times, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – whose church fell out of communion with Rome in 1054, and separated conclusively during the 1450s – has traditionally sent a delegation to Rome on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Roman Church sends its own representatives to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople on the feast of its patron, St. Andrew.
Before praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict offered his greetings to this year's group – along with a reminder that Christian unity is God's unambiguous will.
“I am happy to greet cordially the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is present today in Rome in accordance with an important custom, to venerate Saints Peter and Paul, and share with me hope for Christian unity as willed by the Lord,” he announced.