Vatican City (AsiaNews) - " Only by following Jesus does one arrive at this new brotherhood": this is how Benedict XVI summarizes the value of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, during the celebration that took place this morning in the St. Peter's Basilica. The emphasis on "brotherhood" has significance today because present at the ceremony were a delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the 44 new metropolitan archbishops to whom the pontiff has delivered the pallium, a sign of communion with the See of Peter. Adding an even more "ecumenical spirit", the Westminster Abbey choir (Anglican) also animated the liturgy, performing chants together with the Sistine Chapel choir.
"Christian tradition - explained the pope - has always considered Saint Peter and Saint Paul to be inseparable: indeed, together, they represent the whole Gospel of Christ. In Rome, their bond as brothers in the faith came to acquire a particular significance. Indeed, the Christian community of this City considered them a kind of counterbalance to the mythical Romulus and Remus, the two brothers held to be the founders of Rome".
"Peter and Paul - he continued - much as they differ from one another in human terms and notwithstanding the conflicts that arose in their relationship, illustrate a new way of being brothers, lived according to the Gospel, an authentic way made possible by the grace of Christ's Gospel working within them. "
"Only by following Jesus - explained the pope - does one arrive at this new brotherhood: this is the first and fundamental message that today's solemnity presents to each one of us, the importance of which is mirrored in the pursuit of full communion, so earnestly desired by the ecumenical Patriarch and the Bishop of Rome, as indeed by all Christians. "
Dialogue with the Orthodox (and also with the Anglicans) is currently stalled over the function of the ministry of the Pope (Petrine ministry).
Focusing then on today's Gospel (Matthew 16: 13-19), Benedict XVI highlighted the drama of Peter (and the papacy) " the acknowledgment of Jesus' identity" not "through flesh and blood", that is, through his human capacities, but through a particular revelation from God the Father". By contrast, immediately afterwards, as Jesus foretells his passion, death and resurrection, Simon Peter reacts on the basis of "flesh and blood": he "began to rebuke him, saying, this shall never happen to you ... " (16,22). And he in turn replied: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me ..." (16. 23). "
" Here we see - he said- the tension that exists between the gift that comes from the Lord and human capacities; and in this scene between Jesus and Simon Peter we see anticipated in some sense the drama of the history of the papacy itself, characterized by the joint presence of these two elements: on the one hand, because of the light and the strength that come from on high, the papacy constitutes the foundation of the Church during its pilgrimage through history; on the other hand, across the centuries, human weakness is also evident, which can only be transformed through openness to God's action."
Benedict XVI then explained the " non praevalebunt", that "the gates of hell shall not prevail". In the past the interpretation of this passage slid into the triumphalist rhetoric, much criticized by both Protestant and Orthodox. The Pope says with humility: " the promise that Jesus makes to Peter is even greater than those made to the prophets of old: they, indeed, were threatened only by human enemies, whereas Peter will have to be defended from the "gates of the underworld", from the destructive power of evil. Jeremiah receives a promise that affects him as a person and his prophetic ministry; Peter receives assurances concerning the future of the Church, the new community founded by Jesus Christ, which extends to all of history, far beyond the personal existence of Peter himself. "
Then comes the explanation of the "power of the keys", to "bind and loose": "The two images - that of the keys and that of binding and loosing - express similar meanings which reinforce one another. The expression "binding and loosing" forms part of rabbinical language and refers on the one hand to doctrinal decisions, and on the other hand to disciplinary power, that is, the faculty to impose and to lift excommunication. The parallelism "on earth ... in the heavens" guarantees that Peter's decisions in the exercise of this ecclesial function are valid in the eyes of God".
"In the light of these parallels, it appears clearly that the authority of loosing and binding consists in the power to remit sins. And this grace, which defuses the powers of chaos and evil, is at the heart of the Church's ministry. The Church is not a community of the perfect, but a community of sinners, obliged to recognize their need for God's love, their need to be purified through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus' sayings concerning the authority of Peter and the Apostles make it clear that God's power is love, the love that shines forth from Calvary. Hence we can also understand why, in the Gospel account, Peter's confession of faith is immediately followed by the first prediction of the Passion: through his death, Jesus conquered the powers of the underworld, with his blood he poured out over the world an immense flood of mercy, which cleanses the whole of humanity in its healing waters. "
Turning then to the figure of the Apostle Paul, Benedict XVI recalled that " the iconographic tradition represents Saint Paul with a sword, and we know that this was the instrument with which he was killed. Yet as we read the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, we discover that the image of the sword refers to his entire mission of evangelization. For example, when he felt death approaching, he wrote to Timothy: "I have fought the good fight" (2 Tim 4:7). This was certainly not the battle of a military commander but that of a herald of the Word of God, faithful to Christ and to his Church, to which he gave himself completely. And that is why the Lord gave him the crown of glory and placed him, together with Peter, as a pillar in the spiritual edifice of the Church. "
The Pope ended his homily with an appeal to communion among the metropolitan archbishops, but also the Orthodox delegation: " Dear Metropolitan Archbishops, the Pallium that I have conferred on you will always remind you that you have been constituted in and for the great mystery of communion that is the Church, the spiritual edifice built upon Christ as the cornerstone, while in its earthly and historical dimension, it is built on the rock of Peter. Inspired by this conviction, we know that together we are all cooperators of the truth, which as we know is one and "symphonic", and requires from each of us and from our communities a constant commitment to conversion to the one Lord in the grace of the one Spirit. May the Holy Mother of God guide and accompany us always along the path of faith and charity. Queen of Apostles, pray for us ".
Here is the list of archbishops who received the pallium: