06/07/2006, 00.00
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Pope: may all Christians recognize true meaning of Peter's primacy

Benedict XVI talked about the primacy intended by Jesus and recognized by the apostles. He said a spontaneous prayer so that "entrusted to poor human beings, the primacy may be always exercised in its original sense as desired by the Lord, that it may be recognized by our brothers not yet in full communion with us."

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The foundation of the primacy of Peter in the desire manifested by Jesus and recognition by the Twelve, and spontaneous prayers so that "poor human beings" entrusted with the primacy will know how exercise it according to the will of Jesus, and so it may be recognized also by Christians who are not in full communion with Rome. This was the thrust of the words of Benedict XVI in today's general audience.

Thus, Christian unity, indicated by Benedict XVI himself as being one of the fundamental objectives of his pontificate, accompanied his reflection on the "primacy", described as a "constitutive element" of the Church, which has always posed one of the main – if not the main – obstacles to Christian unity unity. In this regard, John Paul II, in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (1995), affirmed the openness of the Catholic Church to discussing not the primacy but concrete ways of exercising it. Today, Benedict XVI underlined that the task entrusted to Peter, is "to strengthen his brothers". Off the cuff, he said: "This is the primacy given for all times: Peter must be the guardian of communion with Christ, lead to communion with Christ… with the charity of Christ, even to lead to the realization of this charity in everyday life."

In his reflection, Benedict XVI today highlighted different aspects of the "primacy": its institution by Christ, the awareness of Peter and recognition by the Twelve.

On this spring day, Benedict XVI addressed at least 40,000 people who packed into the square and brightened it up with colourful flags, hats, handkerchiefs, and even a few umbrellas to offer protection from the sun, already rather warm at times. The pope drew attention to the narrative of John about the first meeting of Jesus with Simon, brother of Andrew, saying "it records a singular fact: Jesus 'looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter)' (Jn1:42). Jesus did not usually change the names of his disciples", in fact, "He never gave a new name to any of his disciples. However he did so with Simon, and that name, translated in Greek as Petros, would crop up several times in the Gospels and would end up by replacing his original name. This fact takes on particular significance when one recalls that in the Old Testament, changing a name was usually a prelude to entrusting one with a mission (cfr Jn 17:5; 32:28ff). In fact, the intention of Christ to attribute special importance to Peter within the Apostolic College emerges in many instances: in Capernaum, the Teacher went to lodge in Peter's house (Mk 1:29); when the crowd flocked to the banks of the lake of Gennesaret, Jesus chose Peter's boat from the two moored there (Lk 5:3); when in particular circumstances, Jesus took three disciples to accompany him, only Peter is always recalled as the first of the group: the same happened in the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus (cfr Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51); in the Transfiguration (cfr Mk 9:2; Mt 17:1; Lk 9:28), during the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (cfr Mk 14:33; Mt 16:37). And again: it was Peter who was approached by the tax collectors at the Temple and the Teacher paid for himself and for Peter alone (cfr Mt 17: 24-27); it was Peter whose feet He washed first at the Last Supper (cfr Jn 13:6) and it was only for him that He prayed so that his faith would not fail and that he may in turn strengthen his brothers (cfr Lk 22: 30-31)".

"Peter himself is, after all, aware of his unique position: it is he who often, in the name also of the rest, speaks out, asking for an explanation for some difficult parable (Mt 15:15) or the exact meaning of a precept (Mt 18:21) or the formal promise of reward (Mt 19:27)."

Benedict XVI dwelt upon the "profession of faith which, again in the name of the Twelve, he made near Caesarea Philippi. To Jesus who asked: 'Who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God' (Mt 16: 15-16). Jesus replies by making a solemn statement that defines, once and for all, the role of Peter in the Church: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' (Mt 16:18-19). The three metaphors Jesus refers to are in themselves very clear: Peter will be the rock, the foundation on which the Church will stand; He will have the keys of the Kingdom of heaven to open or close as he sees fit; and finally, he will be able to bind or dissolve in the sense that he will be able to establish or prohibit as he holds necessary for the life of the Church, which is, and remains, of Christ".

"This position of pre-eminence that Jesus meant to confer upon Peter is apparent also after the resurrection: Jesus charged the women to take the news to Peter, as distinct from the other Apostles (cfr Mk 16:7); it is to him and to John that Mary Magdalen rushes to inform them about the overturned stone at the entrance to the sepulchre (cfr Jn 20:2) and John allows Peter to go ahead when the two reach the empty tomb (cfr Jn 20:4-6); Peter would be the first among the Apostles to testify to an apparition of the Risen Lord (cfr Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5). His role, decisively emphasized (cfr Jn 20:3-10), marks the continuity between his pre-eminence among the apostolic group and the pre-eminence he would continue to enjoy in the community born from the paschal events, as attested in the Book of the Acts (cfr 1:15-26; 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:1-11.29; 8:14-17; 10; etc.). His behaviour is considered so decisive that it is the focus of observations and even of criticism (cfr At 11:1-18; Gal 2:11-14). Peter occupies a leadership role in the Council of Jerusalem (cfr At 15 and Gal 2:1-10) and it is precisely because of his being a witness to the authentic faith that Paul himself recognized in him a certain quality of "first" (cfr 1 Cor 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:7ff; etc.). Further, the fact that all the key texts referring to Peter can be traced back to the context of the Last Supper, when Christ confers upon Peter the ministry of strengthening his brothers (cfr Lk 22:31ff), reveals how the Church born from the paschal memory celebrated in the Eucharist, finds one of its constitutive elements in the ministry entrusted to Peter."

At the end of his reflection, Benedict XVI prayed, off the cuff, that the "primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings, may be always exercised in its original sense as desired by the Lord, so that it may be recognized still more in its true meaning by our brothers as yet not in full communion with us."

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