THE BONES OF THE FISHERMAN (CONT’D)

THE BONES OF THE FISHERMAN (CONT’D)

This column is a follow-up to my July 3 column entitled, “THOSE 9 BONE FRAGMENTS THAT POPE MONTINI WANTED BY HIS SIDE,” a reference to the bone fragments of St. Peter, the first Pope, that have been in a reliquary in the papal chapel in the Apostolic Palace since Paul VI announced on June 26, 1968, “New, very thorough and very accurate inquiries were later carried out with the result that, comforted by the judgment of skillful, prudent and competent persons, we believe the following to be positive: that even the relics of St. Peter have been identified in a convincing manner for which we give praise to those who have committed themselves to very careful study with long and great effort.” (https://joansrome.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/)

In that column, I wrote that in the early years I was working at the Vatican, I had been told by a monsignor working in the Roman Curia and knowledgeable about archives, that those bone fragments were the only remains of our first Pope. I wrote that, if true, I could not believe the Holy Father had given them away!

Those were not, as I have since happily discovered, the only bone fragments of St. Peter. Others are in the scavi, the excavations decades ago that led to the discovery of Peter’s tomb and bones. What was so strange for me was that I have visited the scavi a number of times (though not in the past 10 or more years) and never remember hearing a guide telling us the saint’s bones were in a reliquary/container near his tomb. How could you forget something like that!

On July 6, Vatican news published an interview in Italian with Prof. Pietro Zander head of the Vatican necropolis office (the scavi), and head of the conservation and restoration of the artistic heritage of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the Vatican office charged with anything and everything that has to do with St. Peter’s Basilica such as building, repairing, restoring, administering, etc.

“On this box,” said Zander, referring to the reliquary that Francis gave to the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, “there is an inscription that states that it is part of the bones that were considered to have belonged to San Peter. The relics donated by the Holy Father, therefore, come from a more conspicuous group of bones that are still preserved in the compartment of the so-called ‘Muro G’ (Wall G), the graffiti wall that is located under the papal altar of the Vatican Basilica. Precisely in that place, June 26, 1968, Paul VI wanted to place as many as 19 transparent cases with bone fragments that belonged to the first Pope. Only nine fragments were then removed from this group which were taken to the private chapel of the papal apartment of the Apostolic Palace, to be available for the intentions and the will of the Holy Father.” (JFL photo)

It goes without saying that I hope to visit the scavi again and learn more about the remaining bone fragments.

I also wrote on July 3: “I think what breaks my heart is that the 9 bone fragments given to the Orthodox, prayerfully cared for over the years in a reliquary in the papal chapel, were whisked out of the Vatican without any pre-announcement, on what I dare call a papal whim. I am guessing Francis did pray over this surprise gesture, hoping it might cement relations with East and West, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

“I would have loved – and I believe millions would have kept me company – to have seen these relics up close and personal. To pray over them, to relish the closeness to St. Peter to whom Jesus gave the Keys of the Kingdom, Peter our first Pope, our first Holy Father, a man who spent three years on earth so close to Jesus, Son of the Father!

“Would it not have been a splendid gesture to have dedicated a period of several months to a public display of these relics before they were sent off to Istanbul?!”

In the days since June 29, I have read myriad news reports and opinion pieces on the papal gift to the Orthodox Church. Tons of questions cropped up in those reports and in many conversations with people as consternated as I was about the gift (when I thought they were the only bones of Peter): Did the Pope have the right to do this (seems he did, according to Canon 1190)? Why did he not give several of the fragments now in the scavi to Bartholomew instead? Will Orthodox patriarchs other than Bartholomew I of Constantinople want to receive bone fragments? Will legitimate requests for relics arrive from Catholics?

Many mourned the idea that no Pope in the future can pray before these relics in the papal chapel as did Paul VI, probably John Paul I, for sure John Paul II and Benedict XVI. After all, as Pope, they were all Successors of Peter, Prince of the Apostles.

Read on to hear what Pope Francis told the Orthodox delegation about that papal chapel.

Lifesitenews reported on the June 29 gift of 9 bone fragments of St. Peter from Pope Francis to the Orthodox Church and quoted remarks by Archbishop Job of Telmessos, who headed the official delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to the June 29 ceremony in St. Peter’s (https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-francis-gives-away-relics-of-st-peter).

Those remarks by the Orthodox archbishop were originally reported on the following website under the: ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE PERMANENT DELEGATION TO THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES https://www.ecupatria.org/2019/07/01/pope-francis-of-rome-gave-relics-of-saint-peter-to-the-church-of-constantinople/

Here is the essential part of that account:

“On 29 June, 2019, after the Papal Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter, His Holiness Pope Francis invited him (Job) to descend to the tomb of St. Peter under the main altar. They prayed together and the Pope then told him that he had ‘a gift for the Church of Constantinople’, not indicating what he intended, and invited him to accompany him to the Apostolic Palace. In the private chapel of the popes, he took the reliquary into his hands and handed it to Archbishop Job.

“When we entered the chapel,” said Archbishop Job, “Pope Francis explained to me that Pope Paul VI wanted to keep a part of the relics of St. Peter from the Vatican Basilica in his private chapel. Further, Pope Francis told him that during the prayer the previous evening he had this thought: ‘I no longer live in the Apostolic Palace, I never use this chapel, I never serve the Holy Mass here, and we have St. Peter’s relics in the basilica itself, so it will be better if they will be kept in Constantinople. This is my gift to the Church of Constantinople. Please take this reliquary and give it to my brother Patriarch Bartholomew. This gift is not from me, it is a gift from God’.”

“Archbishop Job admitted that this decision of Pope Francis was a surprise to everyone: ‘This is an extraordinary and unexpected event that we did not expect. The relics of the Holy Apostle Peter were always kept in Rome where they were the purpose of pilgrimages. The Orthodox Church has never asked for them since they never belonged to the Church of Constantinople. This time, we do not speak of a return of relics to their original place. This time, the relics are being presented as a gift. This prophetic gesture is another huge step on the path to concrete unity,’ stressed Archbishop Job of Telmessos.”

I have to be honest. I was stunned, to say the least, by the Pope’s words about the papal chapel in the Apostolic Palace, as if it too was a relic that could be discarded.

I’ve been to papal Masses in that chapel when St. John Paul celebrated the Eucharist. It is small, intimate, beautiful and conducive to being recollected and prayerful.

As I wrote for the book, “When Women Pray”: “On several occasions I was blessed to be at Mass in John Paul’s private chapel and I can only say I will not live long enough to ever again encounter a person who prayed like John Paul did. He was always at prayer when we entered the chapel and you felt instantly that he was unaware of our presence because he was totally aware of another Presence. I sensed something mystical as I watched him pray. I could almost hear the conversation he was having with God or, quite likely, his Blessed Mother whom he loved so much! Those images were seared into my soul!”

I only wish I’d known then about the reliquary!

THOSE 9 BONE FRAGMENTS THAT POPE MONTINI WANTED BY HIS SIDE

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As you may have seen on my Twitter account and Facebook page today, I wrote that I had asked Holy See Press Office interim director Alessandro Gisotti if the bone fragments of St. Peter that the Pope gave unexpectedly to the Orthodox Church on June 29, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles are, as I have been told, the ONLY relics we have of Peter, our first Pope. If not, I asked, what are the other relics and where are they? If yes, then I am horrified and speechless!

Alessandro got back to me almost immediately and said he was making inquiries. Not long after that, he sent me a link to a June 30 story that Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication since December 2018 and a close friend of Pope Francis’ for many years, wrote for the Italian online edition of vaticannews.va.

Here is an English translation of Tornielli’s article (and I comment on this matter at the end):

THOSE 9 BONE FRAGMENTS THAT POPE MONTINI WANTED BY HIS SIDE

The gift that Pope Francis, successor of the Apostle Peter, wanted to make without any warning to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, successor of the Apostle Andrew, is inextricably linked to the memory of St. Paul VI. It was he, Paul, who, on the 26th of June 1968, two days before solemnly concluding the Year of Faith, announced with surprise the discovery of the relics attributed to Peter during the Wednesday general audience.

It was Pius XII, in June 1939 who, immediately after his election, ordered the beginning of the excavations under the basilica of St. Peter* entrusting their direction to Monsignor Ludwig Kaas. The research had lasted ten years and led to the discovery of the apostle’s burial, but not of his relics. In his Christmas radio message of 1950, Pope Pacelli (Pius XII) was able to announce with joy and emotion: “Has the tomb of Saint Peter been truly found? To this question the final conclusion of the works and studies responds with a very clear ‘yes’.” * (JFL: the excavations were ordered by Pius XII to create the foundation for the tomb of his predecessor, Pius XI)

Thus, it appeared to correspond to the truth what was affirmed during the pontificate of Pope Zephyrinus (199-217) by the Roman priest Gaius who, addressing Proclus, a follower of the Montanist heresy, had written: “if you want to come to the Vatican, on the Via Ostiense, you will be able to see the trophies [that is, the tombs] of those … who founded this Church,” namely Peter and Paul.

In 1952 the excavation work was resumed with the additional help of archaeologist Margherita Guarducci. Under the papal altar of the basilica a funerary shrine had been found leaning against a contemporary wall, dating to about the year 150, called the “red wall” for its color and and for the particularly valuable and numerous superimposed graffiti that the scholar had decifered. All contain invocations to Peter, to which the names of Christ and Mary are sometimes joined. One of these graffiti is fundamental, dating back to the year 160, in which we read in Greek the words Petros enì, “Pietro is here.” This annotation therefore seems to indicate the precise place of the apostle’s burial.

In an area of the Vatican Grottoes, Professor Guarducci had found in a box the bones that had been collected in the niche identified as the tomb of Peter. “In 1964, I came to the certainty of identification; in 1965 I published for the first time the results achieved … the exceptional relics of Peter from a scientifically ascertained tomb and declared to be authentic by the most rigorous scientific examinations, show with absolute certainty that the church of Rome is founded really, not metaphorically, on Peter.”

The bones, after being analyzed, were found to belong to a single male person of robust build who died in old age. They were encrusted with earth and showed that they had been wrapped in a purple-colored woolen cloth woven with gold, a particularly precious burial. They represent fragments of all the bones of the body to the exclusion of even the slightest fragment of those of the feet. A significant detail, which brings to mind the circumstance of crucifixion upside down and the results caused on the body, namely the detachment of the feet, due to the prolonged exposure on the site of the torture.

That June 26, 1968, Paul VI announced: “New, very thorough and very accurate inquiries were later carried out with the result that, comforted by the judgment of skillful, prudent and competent persons, we believe the following to be positive: that even the relics of St. Peter have been identified in a convincing manner for which we give praise to those who have committed themselves to very careful study with long and great effort.”

“The research, verifications, discussions and polemics will not be exhausted with this,” continued Pope Montini. “But on our part, it seems only right to present to you and to the Church this happy announcement, obliged as we are to honor the sacred relics, supported by serious proof of their authenticity … and, in the present case, all the more solicitous and exultant we must be, when we have reason to believe that the few but sacrosanct mortal remains of the Prince of the Apostles have been traced.”

Margherita Guarducci recounted: “Paul VI was immovable, resisting any pressure, when it was a question of announcing a result of which he was perfectly convinced, that is, the identification not only of the tomb, but also of the mortal remains of the apostle Peter.” It must be said that another scholar, Jesuit Father Antonio Ferrua, who had excavated the tomb, will not agree with Guarducci’s conclusions.

Of those bones now preserved in the necropolis under St. Peter, Paul VI had nine fragments handed over to keep them in the private chapel of the papal apartment, inside a bronze box bearing this inscription: “Ex ossibus quae in Arcibasilicae Vaticanae hypogeo invents Beati Petri Apostoli esse putantur “(From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle).

The reliquary containing the nine bone fragments had been displayed open on the parvis of the Vatican Basilica beside the altar at the behest of Pope Francis on the occasion of the concluding Mass of the Year of Faith, celebrated on Sunday November 24, 2013.

 

With this gift, the relations between Rome and Constantinople are made even firmer, recalling a Pope – Paul VI – who was the protagonist of the fundamental steps on the ecumenical journey after the historic meeting in Jerusalem with the Patriarch Athenagoras. https://www.vaticannews.va/it/vaticano/news/2019-06/le-reliquie-di-san-pietro-volute-da-san-paolo-vi.html

JFL: I do have quite a number of questions about the relics of St. Peter. If there are still bone fragments in the area where he is buried in the Vatican’s pre-Constantine necropolis, let’s hear and see more about them.

I think what breaks my heart is that the 9 bone fragments given to the Orthodox, prayerfully cared for over the years in a reliquary in the papal chapel, were whisked out of the Vatican without any pre-announcement, on what I dare call a papal whim. I am guessing Francis did pray over this surprise gesture, hoping it might cement relations with East and West, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

I would have loved – and I believe millions would have kept me company – to have seen these relics up close and personal. To pray over them, to relish the closeness to St. Peter to whom Jesus gave the Keys of the Kingdom, Peter our first Pope, our first Holy Father, a man who spent three years on earth so close to Jesus, Son of the Father!

Would it not have been a splendid gesture to have dedicated a period of several months to a public display of these relics before they were sent off to Istanbul?!

The Vatican could put the magnificent reliquary in another kind of reliquary, an ultra secure but transparent container. Allow the faithful who could make such a pilgrimage come to Rome to be near to the relics of the first Pope. Have live television coverage for those who could not undertake such a trip – or a webcam with constant images.

I was honored to be at, and also part of, the November 24, 2013 Mass to close the Year of Faith. I was one of two journalists who received the first copies of Evangelii gaudium from the Pope’s hands. I felt doubly honored to know I was in the presence, for the first time ever, of the relics of St. Peter as the Vatican displayed them near the papal altar!

Here are a few photos I took that day: