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

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


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.

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:


A year ago yesterday, Sunday, was November 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King and the end of the Year of Faith. That occasion was a very special moment in my life for a number of reasons but most especially because I received the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” – the Joy of Faith” – from the hands of the author, Pope Francis!


Over the years I have met and spoken to a number of Popes but for me, just being in the presence of a Pope, the Successor of Peter, our Holy Father, fills me with a great sense of awe. In 1961 I attended an audience with Pope John XXIII and in the years since I have met and spoken to Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on a previous occasion when he met the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums on October 19, 2013.

Receiving the Exhortation personally from the Pope was naturally an immensely personal moment and highlight for each of us, the 36 faithful, lay and religious, to whom the Holy Father gave his work.

A year ago was also unique for another reason. As I wrote then:

“Sunday, November 24, 2013, Feast of Christ the King and final day of the Year of Faith, the Vatican, in a momentous, historical, first-time-in-two-millennia occasion, offered the world a glimpse of relics – bone fragments – of St. Peter! Had nothing else happened yeterday morning, just being in the presence of these relics would have been worth the hours spent in St. Peter’s Square under gray, threatening skies and very cold temperatures. We had had a week of rain, so no rain was one of the big blessings of the morning.”

NOTE: Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 25, Pope Francis travels to the French city of Strasbourg where he is scheduled to address the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. He returns to Rome tomorrow afternoon. The last Pope to visit was St. John Paul II on October 8, 1988.


SATURDAY: Over the weekend, I posted several stories on my Facebook page ( about Pope Francis’ meeting Saturday in the Paul VI Hall with 7,000 participants in the 29th International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Workers. The conference was dedicated to autism and included persons affected by this disorder and their families. By all accounts of those present, it was an amazing meeting, especially for the parents of autistic children or relatives of adults living with autism. I was delighte by the responses to those postings.

I had a nephew who was diagnosed with an “autism-like” disability and was thus moved by this conference theme and by the Pope’s reaction to and embrace of – literally and figuratively – of autistic children. Christopher, my nephew, died November 30, 2001, of double pneumonia at the age of 20. He was a twin. His sister Andrea had no health problems and today is married with two little girls.

Pope Francis Saturday thanked the organizers of the conference for having chosen such a complex theme, “which appeals directly to the responsibility of governments and institutions, without forgetting, of course, Christian communities.” He also emphasized the need for common efforts to promote “acceptance, encounter and solidarity … to break through the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma that burdens people affected by autism spectrum disorders, and frequently also their families.”

The Holy Father “encouraged scholars and researchers in the arduous task of discovering therapies and support mechanisms in the treatment and above all the prevention of these disorders.” He concluded, “All this is to be done with the necessary attention to the rights of those affected, considering their needs and their potential, and always safeguarding the dignity of every person.”

Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis had an 80-minute private, previously unannounced meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano that papal spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, defined as “very cordial.”

SUNDAY, the feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis canonized four Italians – Amato Ronconi, Giovanni Antonio Farina, Nicola da Longobardi, and Ludovico da Casoria – and a priest and a nun from Kerala, India – Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Eufrasia Eluvathingal – during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. About 5,000 pilgrims came from India to witness the canonization of the nation’s second and third saints and, according to the blog of one priest accompanying some pilgrims, many of whom arrived at St. Peter’s Square at 5 a.m, even though Vatican did not open security check until 8 a.m.

He said, “The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom.  The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity.  In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters.

“Today,” said Francis, “the Church places before us the example of these new saints.  Each in his or her own way served the kingdom of God, of which they became heirs, precisely through works of generous devotion to God and their brothers and sisters.  They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour.  They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims.  Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God.  In fact, they sought and discovered love in a strong and personal relationship with God, from whence springs forth true love for one’s neighbour.  In the hour of judgement, therefore, they heard that tender invitation: ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’.”

MONDAY: At 9 this morning, the Holy Father met in St. Petetr’s Basilica with a group of faithful of the Syro-Malabar rite who had come to Rome for the canonization on Sunday of Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family, and Euphrasia Eluvathingal of the Sacred Heart. He thanked the Church in India, and specifically in Kerala, for “all its apostolic strength and for the witness of faith you have. Continue in this way! Kerala is a land that is very fertile in religious and priestly vocations. Carry on working in this way, with your witness.”

The Pope noted that !Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim ‘sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others’. For her part, Sister Euphrasia lived in profound union with God so much so that her life of holiness was an example and an encouragement to the people, who called her ‘Praying Mother’.”

At 9:30 Monday morning, Pope Francis presided at a three-hour meeting of the ranking officials of the Roman Curia, including the prefects of the 9 congregations and presidents of the 12 pontifical councils to further discuss proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, reminded journalists that these meetings are routinely held about every six months or so.  He said that the secretary of the so-called “C9” Council of Cardinals examining the issue of reform, Bishop Marcello Semeraro gave a brief presentation of the subjects under consideration.  Those present were then given time to contribute their opinions which will be taken into account in future meetings of the C9. The next scheduled meeting is December 9-11. Two officials could not be present, Cardinals Antonio Vegliò and Zenon Grocholewski.

Though no statement was made on the appointment today by the Pope of Cardinal Robert Sarah as the new prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, it is believed that the council he led up to today, “Cor Unum” will possibly be merged with another pontifical council (most likely Justice and Peace) as part of the curia reform.

 Monday afternoon Pope Francis had two appointments: an audience with Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, president of the Arab Republic of Egypt and entourage and, at 3 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica, he gave the final commendation and farewell at the end of the funeral of Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini who died Saturday at the age of 98. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College og Cardinals, presided the funeral Mass. Cardinal Angelini was born in Rome in 1916 – the last native of the city to be made a cardinal – and served the Church under seven different Popes.