Saints Peter and Paul are the principle pillars of the Church founded by Christ.
Saint Peter was chosen by Christ to be his first Vicar on earth; he was endowed with powers ofthe keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:13-19) and charged with the role of Shepherd of Christ’s flock (Jn 21:15-17). In St. Peter and his sucessors, we have a visible sign of unity and communion in faith and charity. Divine grace led St. Peter to profess Christ’s divinity.
All Scripture is alive with Saint Peter; his name appears no fewer than 160 times in the New Testament. But it is after Pentecost that he stands out in the full grandeur of his office. He sees to the replacement of the fallen disciple; he admits the Jews by thousands into the fold and in the person of Cornelius, opens it to the Gentiles; he founds and for a time rules the Church at Antioch.
Ten years after the Ascension Saint Peter transferred his apostolic capital to Rome, going in person to the center of the majestic Roman Empire, where were gathered the glories and riches of the earth, along with all the powers of evil. From there he sent Saint Mark, his valued secretary, to establish the Church of Alexandria in Egypt. In Rome Saint Peter’s Chair was placed; there for twenty-five years he labored at building up the great Roman Church.
St. Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero, in about the year 64 AD. He was buried at the hill of the Vatican; recent excavations have revealed his tomb on the very site of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Saint Paul was chosen to form part of the apostolic college by Christ himself on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-16). Selected to bring Christ’s name to all peoples (Acts 9:15), he is the greatest missionary of all time, the advocate of pagans, the Apostle of the Gentiles.
Saint Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus, born in that city of Cilicia of Jewish parents, two or three years after the Saviour was born in Bethlehem of Judea. He studied in Jerusalem at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel, who later would be converted and listed among the Saints.
Saint Paul has left to the Church fourteen Epistles, which have been a fountainhead of doctrine, elucidating the most basic truths taught by Christ, and constituting the consolation and delight of her greatest Saints. His interior life, insofar as words can express it, lies open before us in these divine writings; it is the life of one who has died forever to himself, and risen again in Christ Jesus. Saint John Chrysostom, his imitator, wrote: “The heart of Paul is the Heart of Christ!” Nor will his labor cease while the race of man continues. Even now, like a chivalrous knight, he stands alive in our midst, and captivates each of his readers to the obedience of Christ.
St. Paul was beheaded in the Tre Fontane along the Via Ostiense and buried nearby, on the site where the basilica bearing his name now stands.