Pope’s unexpected gift aimed to encourage Christian unity

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople receives the reliquary on June 30 in Istanbul, Turkey (CNS/Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)

Pope Francis said giving fragments of St Peter’s bones to the head of the Church founded by Peter’s brother, St Andrew, was meant to be a reminder and encouragement of the journey toward Christian unity. Source: The Tablet.

In a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis explained in detail the reasons he sent him a bronze reliquary containing nine bone fragments in late June. The unexpected gift had been presented to Archbishop Job of Telmessos, the patriarch’s representative, at the Vatican on June 29, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul.

Addressing the patriarch as “Your holiness, dear brother,” the Pope wrote that he wanted to give the bones, believed to be St Peter’s, to the patriarch and “the beloved church of Constantinople over which you preside with such devotion.”

“This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” he wrote. The letter, dated August 30, was released by the Vatican on Friday.

During a moment of prayer and reflection about “our mutual determination to advance together toward full communion,” the Pope said he thought about their predecessors’ historic meeting in Jerusalem more than 50 years ago and the gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St Paul VI – an icon depicting the brothers Peter and Andrew “embracing, united in faith and in love of their common Lord.”

The apostles Peter and Andrew are the respective patron saints of the churches of Rome and Constantinople, and Pope Francis said he felt “it would be highly significant” for some fragments of the relics of the Apostle Peter to be placed beside the relics of the Apostle Andrew.

The fragments came from a funerary niche discovered in 1952 under the high altar in St Peter’s Basilica. While bones remain in the niche, St Paul VI had nine fragments removed and placed in a special reliquary that was kept in his private chapel in the papal apartments.


Pope wanted apostles' relics united to encourage Christian unity (The Tablet)


Patriarch Bartholomew: The gift of the relics is a crucial step (Vatican News)

Pope Francis explains decision to give relics of St. Peter to Orthodox (CNA)

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