Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. We celebrate it with special joy since Saint Peter is the patron saint of our beloved Cathedral and also of the Diocese of Scranton.
Veneration of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, has its roots in the very foundations of the Church. They are the solid rock on which the Church is built. They are at the origin of her faith and will forever remain her protectors and her guides. To them, Rome owes her true greatness, for it was under God's providential guidance that they were led to make the capital of the Empire, sanctified by their martyrdom, the center of the Christian world whence should radiate the preaching of the Gospel.
St. Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero, in A.D. 66 or 67. He was buried on the hill of the Vatican where recent excavations have revealed his tomb on the very site of the Basilica of St. Peter's. St. Paul was beheaded in the Via Ostia on the spot where now stands the basilica bearing his name. Through the centuries Christian people in the thousands have gone on pilgrimage to the tombs of these Apostles.
Peter's original name was Simon. Christ Himself gave him the name Cephas or Peter when they first met and later confirmed it. This name change was meant to show both Peter's rank as leader of the apostles and the outstanding trait of his character — Peter (in Hebrew Kephas) the Rock. Peter was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. Like his younger brother Andrew, he was a fisherman and dwelt at Capernaum. Peter's house often became the scene of miracles, since the Master would stay there whenever He was teaching in that locality. Together with his brothers John and Andrew, Peter belonged to the first of Jesus' disciples (John 1:40-50).
After the ascension, Peter always took the leading role, exercising the office of chief shepherd that Christ had entrusted to him. It is certain that Peter labored in Rome as an apostle, that he was the city's first bishop, and that he died there as a martyr, bound to a cross in 67 A.D. According to tradition he also was the first bishop of Antioch. He is the author of two letters, the first Christian encyclicals.
His burial place is Christendom's most famous shrine, an edifice around whose dome are inscribed the words: "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam mean et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum" ("You are 'Rock' and on this rock I will build my Church, to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Mt 16:18)
Grant, we pray, O Lord our God, that we may be sustained by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, that, as through them you gave your Church the foundations of her heavenly office, so through them you may help her to eternal salvation.