I am celebrating today’s optional memorial as I pray the Office. I have so many memories of these two basilicas in Rome, and have spent considerable time in each, especially St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
I had what I consider a conversion experience in St. Peter’s a couple of years ago, the details of which I will spare you. It was truly unexpected and but long-awaited.
I recall in the late 70s when I was living in Rome, only a half mile or so from St. Peter’s, going down to the piazza at night when I was preoccupied about things and just standing in the center of the square, near the obelisk, all alone and taking it in. Paul VI was pope then, and his apartment window was always lit, so I assumed he was awake like me. It was so calming to be there, at those times, having the space to myself. I remember being lector for a Mass in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. I have vivid memories of watching the election of two popes (John Paul I and John Paul II), the funeral Masses for two (Paul VI and John Paul I), midnight Masses at St. Peter’s, etc.
I was able to serve Mass for John Paul I at his installation, and greet him afterward. I am convinced that Papa Luciani, as we called him, was a saint. I have special devotion to him even today.
All these events link me tightly to that building and those people. The universality of the Church is completely evident there if you spend only a few hours during the day mingling with the pilgrims!
St. Paul Outside the Walls is a basilica in contrast to St. Peter’s. There you experience quiet, day or night. I found this ironic, given how I have always thought of St. Paul — loud, eloquent, fiery, preachy. Yet his basilica is a place of quiet, almost comtemplative in nature. You get the sense you are in the country rather than the rush of the city. Even if there are others in the building you feel alone and unrushed, calmed in a different way. And the mosaics are wonderful. St. Paul must have had a contemplative side to his ministry and life that are being reflected in this basilica.
So, I remember these basilicas today in this memorial, with a profound sense of gratitude. I look forward to my return, God willing, to pray at the tombs of the Apostles again some day.
Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us.