Romulus and Remus may not be household names anywhere but in Italy, but to Romans, these twin boys are the numero uno reason– at least historically speaking – that the Eternal City exists at all. According to a cherished legend, they were abandoned at birth and suckled by a she-wolf until they were discovered and raised by a shepherd. The recent excavation of the Palatine Wall from the mid-eighth century B.C., said to have encircled a furrow that Romulus plowed, lends tentative support to the story that the twins founded Rome in 753. In a sorry twist, Romulus rose to power, not insignificantly, by killing his brother. Still, both are remembered as the founders of one of the world’s most influential empires.
The basilicas of Peter and Paul house the tombs of two very different founders of Rome – Christian Rome – “brothers” in the faith, formed by Christ the Shepherd and destined to sow the seeds of his kingdom all over the world. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but their real quarrel was with a culture hostile to the Gospel they lived and preached. It cost them their lives, as Jesus said it would. In a blessed twist, however, their sacrifice was so fruitful that we can’t imagine Christianity, or even the world, without them.
Rome has always considered herself the axis around which the Catholic world rotates. Understandably, that might be annoying to many outside of Rome, but it’s not far off the mark. Without the See of Peter and its bishop, the pope, who is the successor of Peter, the Catholic Church wouldn’t exist.
Yet the pope himself sees his ministry in the Peter-Paul duo. If we were to walk into the Anticamera, or entrance room, of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, we would see directly in front of us a large fresco of the two Apostles, flanked by two massive maps of the eastern and western hemispheres. The message is clear. Both Peter and Paul are icons of the papal ministry (and that of the Secretariat of State): Peter in his governance of the Church, Paul in his mission to the world.
From the earliest times, “the Church and the world have looked up to the two holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Upon entering Rome, the sacred River Tiber, as the Romans used to call it, salutes the tomb and the basilica of St. Peter on its right. Upon leaving Rome, it salutes the tomb and basilica of St. Paul on its left. The road leading the nations to Rome looks up to St. Peter, and the sea looks up to St. Paul. Land and sea, Christianity and humanity, all peoples have turned to Rome, and Rome, the image of the heavenly city, has been watched over by Sts. Peter and Paul….”
Prayer: I bless you, O Jesus Good Shepherd, because you crowned the lives of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul with the glory of martyrdom. And you, our guardians, obtain for me the grace to carry out the apostolate of prayer, good example, suffering and pastoral action and to attain the reward prepared for good apostles (Prayers of the Pauline Family, “Chaplet of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul,” n. 5).
Photos: Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP; Wikimedia Commons (Peter and Paul)