Whenever Saint Peter, the first Pope of the Catholic Church, has a feast day, Saint Paul is always commemorated, and on all of Saint Paul’s feast days, Saint Peter is commemorated. Saint Peter’s special feasts are now four: the Chair of Saint Peter on February 22; the crucifixion of Saint Peter and the beheading of Saint Paul on June 29; the commemoration of Saint Paul and the commemoration of Saint Peter on June 30; and the Basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on November 18. The special feasts of Saint Paul are: the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25; the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29; the feast of Saint Paul and Saint Peter, June 30; the feast of the Basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, November 18.
Saint Peter the Apostle, the first Pope of the Catholic Church, was the son of a fisherman in Galilee, named Jona. He was born and lived in the town of Bethsaida. Saint Peter’s name was originally Simon, but Jesus changed it to Peter because of its meaning, which is rock. Saint Peter was the Rock upon which the Catholic Church was built. Saint Peter and his brother, Saint Andrew, were disciples of Saint John the Baptist. Both were fishermen. They saw Our Lord, heard His teachings, and gave up all to follow Him. The whole Gospel story is concerned, in one place or another, with Saint Peter, and with what he said and did and preached. One third of the book called the Acts of the Apostles is concerned with Saint Peter.
Two thirds of it relates to Saint Paul. Saint Peter wrote two Epistles in the New Testament. After staying in Jerusalem for three years, in the year 36 he went to Antioch, and was Bishop there. His presence at Antioch made it the primatial see of the Catholic Church for over six years. Saint Peter went to Rome in the year 42, the year that Saint James, the brother of Saint John, was beheaded by the Jews. Saint Peter ruled the Church at Rome for twenty-five years. His hostess in Rome was a beautiful noblewoman named Priscilla who, with her son who was a senator, Pudens, and his wife, Claudia — an English girl — and their four children, Praxedes, Pudentiana, Novatus and Timothy, made it possible for the Holy See to have a place in Rome where the truths of salvation could be dispensed, taught and regulated. Every mentioned member of this charitable family — so holy did their lives become under Saint Peter’s influence — is honored in the Catholic Church as a saint.
Saint Peter was the first Pope. There has been no Pope named Peter since his time. There was a Pope in the thirteenth century who is now called Saint Peter Celestine, but this was only because after he resigned from the papacy he was given back his baptismal name, which was Peter. His name as Pope was Celestine.
Saint Peter, the first Pope, was crucified on June 29 in the year 67, in the same year and on the same day on which Saint Paul was beheaded. At his own request, Saint Peter was crucified upside down. Saint Peter’s name occurs everywhere in the prayers of the Church, at Mass, in the holy Office, in the litanies and invocations.
The feast of the Finding of the Chains of Saint Peter, which has been celebrated for hundreds of years on August 1, makes us remember the chains that bound him when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. He escaped from these chains by a miracle. And these chains, when joined to the chains that bound him when he was imprisoned in Rome, were found to make a perfect link of chains. This was a miracle.
The feast of the Basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is on November 18. The Basilica of Saint Peter is the great church of the Roman Pontiff in Rome, call simply Saint Peter’s, and, because of the hill on which it is placed, it is also called the Vatican.
Since Saint Peter’s death, there have been two hundred and sixty-seven Popes. Saint Peter was the first Pope. Pope Francis is the two hundred and sixty-eighth Pope.