Saints Peter and Paul witness to the power of God’s forgiveness, pope says

20190629 Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul Daniel Ibanez 5 Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29, 2019. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis said Saturday that Saints Peter and Paul are both witnesses to the transformative power of God's forgiveness through which all Christians can experience a new beginning of peace and joy.

"Only when we experience God's forgiveness do we truly experience rebirth. From there we start over, from forgiveness; there we rediscover who we really are: in the confession of our sins," Pope Francis said in his homily for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29.

"Peter denied the Lord, while Paul persecuted the Church of God," Francis said. "Jesus called them by name and changed their lives."

Pope Francis said that the Lord's forgiveness was the secret that enabled Saints Peter and Paul to persevere in their mission despite their weaknesses.

"Having met Jesus and experienced his forgiveness, the Apostles bore witness to him by living a new life: they no longer held back, but gave themselves over completely," he said. "They were no longer content with half-measures, but embraced the only measure possible for those who follow Jesus: that of boundless love."

"Both understood that holiness does not consist in exalting but rather in humbling oneself," he explained.

"Throughout life, they preserved this humility, to the very end. Peter died crucified upside down, since he did not consider himself worthy to imitate his Lord. Paul was always fond of his name, which means 'little,' and left behind his birth name, Saul, the name of the first king of his people," he said.

"Witness arises from an encounter with the living Jesus," Pope Francis said, noting that St. Paul repeats the name "Christ" almost 400 times in his letters.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the patrons of Rome. During this Mass, the pope blessed "the pallium," the white wool vestment to be given to each new metropolitan archbishop, including American Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, this year.

Adorned with six black silk crosses, the pallium dates back to at least the fifth century.

Metropolitan archbishops wear the pallium as a symbol of authority and of unity with the Holy See. It serves as a sign of the metropolitan archbishop's jurisdiction in his own diocese, as well as the other particular dioceses within his ecclesiastical province.

"The pallium recalls the sheep that the shepherd is called to bear on his shoulders. It is a sign that the shepherds do not live for themselves but for the sheep," Pope Francis said.

"It is a sign that, in order to possess life, we have to lose it, give it away," he added.

In his homily, Pope Francis stressed the importance of "a personal encounter with Jesus."

"We may be curious about Jesus, or interested in Church matters or religious news. We may open computer sites and the papers, and talk about holy things, but this remains at the level of what people are saying," he said.

"Jesus does not care about polls, past history or statistics. He is not looking for religion editors, much less 'front page' or 'statistical' Christians. He is looking for witnesses who say to him each day: 'Lord, you are my life,'" Francis said.

Pope Francis said, "In the presence of these witnesses, let us ask: 'Do I renew daily my own encounter with Jesus?'"

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"Let us ask for the grace not to be lukewarm Christians living by half measures, allowing our love to grow cold," he said. "Let us rediscover who we truly are through a daily relationship with Jesus and through the power of his forgiveness."

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