Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feast alert!

Heads up, there's a great feast coming!

On Nov. 18 the Church celebrates the dedication of two of the four major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter's and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Any tourist can appreciate the beauty and the historical importance of these ancient churches. But to Catholic pilgrims they mean so much more. For recent archeological research has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt what tradition always held: That the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century erected the predecessors of these churches over the tombs of the apostles for whom they are named.

Anyone -- you need no special pull -- can arrange for what is called a Scavi Tour beneath St. Peter's Basilica to see the bones of the saint. To summarize a long and complicated history, the bones were discovered in the middle of the last century hidden in a box on which had been scratched the simple words "Peter Within." Forensic analysis of the remains produced no reason to disbelieve the label.

The bones of St. Peter lie immediately below the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. I have seen them twice and found the experience equally emotional both times.

A short subway ride away, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a sarcophagus holding the remains of the Apostle to the Gentiles is partially visible just below the main altar. A lighted glass case holds what tradition says are the chains that held St. Paul imprisoned in Rome.

There are also two new features of the basilica dating only to the recent Year of St. Paul -- a special door, like a Holy Year door, and an eternal flame lit by bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict, and the archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, at the beginning of the Year of St. Paul.

Medallion-shaped paintings of all the popes from St. Peter to Benedict XVI line the walls of the basilica near the top. St. Paul (since above in the statue in front of the basilica) was crucial to the growth of the early Church, but it was founded on St. Peter. How fitting that these saints share a feast day, and so do their churches in Rome.

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