06/29/2006, 00.00
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Pope: Primacy of Peter, service to the Church "buffeted by the wind of ideologies"

Benedict XVI drew attention to the ecumenical and service elements of the primacy. He made an appeal for peace in the Holy Land, for the release of hostages and for the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A man sharing in the infirm weakness of the Cross, but also in the strength of God, he whose faith Jesus himself prayed for and to whom the Risen Lord entrusted his flock. This is the Petrine Primacy as Benedict XVI described it today, by his own admission leaving aside the juridical, so to speak, aspect of sentences in the Gospels that indicate the "power" of the primacy, a traditional subject of disagreement between Christians. Instead he underlined the aspect of service to the faith and charity of the entire Church. A Church that "suffers" today, "shaken by the wind of ideologies" tending to sideline it, but that finds its defence in the prayer of Jesus for the faith of Peter.

An "ecumenical" slant on the day dedicated to the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, before a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was present, as always, for this occasion, and who Benedict XVI drew attention to, reading out the words in which he renewed "the ardent desire once expressed by Patriarch Athenagoras and Paul VI: to drink together from the same Chalice and to eat together the Bread that is the Lord himself". A greeting repeated, at the end of the Angelus prayer, when he prayed to Mary for the "gift of full unity".

The Angelus provided the opportunity for a new appeal by Benedict XVI for the Holy Land. The pope expressed concern about the new outbreak of violence and called for prayers "that all those kidnapped may be restored to their dear ones", and he exhorted Palestinian and Israeli leaders to, with the help of the international community, arrive at "a negotiated settlement of the conflict, which alone will assure the peace which their peoples aspire to".

First the solemn ceremony was held in the Basilica of St Peter, with the fisherman's lobster pot suspended over the entrance, the statue of the prince of the apostles covered in garments, and with 27 archbishops from around the world who came to receive the pallium, the scarf of white wool that indicates a particular, close bond with the pope, and the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate led by the Metropolitan Ioannis (Zizioulas), of Pergamon, chairman of the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The visit by the Orthodox is traditionally reciprocated by a delegation of the Catholic Church on 30 November, the feast of the apostle Andrew, considered to the "founder" of the Church of Constantinople. This year, the Catholic delegation will be, so to speak, led by the pope himself, who should be going to Turkey at that time.  

Benedict XVI dedicated his entire homily to the primacy of Peter and later, the reflection for the Angelus too, focusing on three Gospel passages that draw attention to him. At the end of the mass, in his words to the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square for the recital of the Angelus prayer, he recalled the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, and after apologizing for the delay due to the prolonged rite in the basilica, he said: "This is why the Bishop of Rome, Successor to the apostle Peter, undertakes a specific ministry in the service of the doctrinal and pastoral unity of the People of God scattered around the world."

During the mass, explaining the logic of the three Gospel passages, he said they "tackle the same task, but the diversity of situations and imagery used makes it clear for us what interested and interests the Lord." The first was the passage from Matthew in which "his specific task is conferred upon him through three images: that of the rock that becomes the foundation or cornerstone; that of the keys and of loosening and binding". At this time, continued the pope, "I do not intend to interpret once again these three images, which the Church, throughout the centuries, has constantly explained anew; rather, I would like to draw attention to the geographical and chronological context of these words. The promise was made near the source of the Jordan, at the border of Jewish land, on edge of the Pagan world. The moment in which the promise was made marks a decisive turning point in the journey of Jesus: now the Lord is walking toward Jerusalem, and for the first time, he tells his disciples that this journey towards the Holy City is a journey to the Cross." "Both things go together and determine the inner place of the Primacy, in fact, of the church in general: the Lord is continually on a journey towards the Cross, towards the lowliness of the suffering and killed servant of God, but at the same time, he is also headed for the vastness of the world, in which He goes before us as the Risen Lord, so that the light of his word and the presence of his love may shine in the world."

"The Church – and Christ in it – still suffers today. In the Church, Christ is relentlessly mocked and stricken over and again; there are always efforts to push it out of the world. The small boat of the Church is forever being buffeted by the wind of ideologies that penetrate it with their waters, seemingly condemning it to sink. And yet, right in the suffering Church, Christ is victorious. Notwithstanding everything, faith in Him is renewed in strength again and again. Still today, the Lord commands the waters and reveals himself as the Lord of the elements. He stays on his boat, the ship of the Church. Thus even in the ministry of Peter is revealed on the one hand the weakness of what comes from man, but together with the strength of God."

The second passage recalled by Benedict XVI was that from the Gospel of Luke which is about the Last Supper, when "Jesus, straight after the institution of the Sacrament, talked about the meaning of being disciples, the 'ministry', in the new community: he said it was a commitment of service, the same as He himself, who was among them as one who served. And then he turned to Peter. He said Satan had demanded to sift the disciples like wheat." Akin to the biblical narrative of Job, "this is what happens to the disciples of Jesus – in all times." However, "Jesus continues: 'I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail' (Lk 22:32). The prayer of Jesus is the limit posed on the power of evil. The prayers of Jesus are the protection of the Church. We can seek refuge under this protection, cling to it and be sure of it. But, as the Gospel tells us, Jesus prayed especially for Peter: 'that your faith may not fail'. There it is: don't ever allow this faith to become dumb, always reinvigorate it again, even in the face of the cross and all the contradictions of the world – this is the task of Peter. This is precisely why the Lord does not only pray for the personal faith of Peter but for his faith in the service of others. This is what He means when He says: 'and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers' (Lk22:32)."

"The Lord entrusts to Peter the responsibility for his brothers through the promise of his prayer."

The third reference to the Primacy that Benedict XVI referred to was from the Gospel of John (21:15-19). "The Lord rose and as the Risen Lord he entrusted his flock to Peter. Here too, the Cross and the Resurrection are intertwined. In his words to Peter, Jesus portends his journey towards the cross. In this Basilica, erected over the tomb of Peter – a pauper's grave – we see that the Lord, thus, through the Cross, always triumphs. His power is not a power according to the rules of this world. It is a power of goodness, of truth and love, which is stronger than death. Yes, his promise is true: the power of death, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church He built for Peter (cfr Mt 16:18), and that He, precisely in this way, continues to edify in person."

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