September 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 2

Parade Of Popes


As of this writing, there have been 263 Bishops of Rome. The Italian word for father - papa - lends itself to serve as the most common title of these men: Pope. Each month you will be introduced to one of these Successors of Peter. Let us begin with the most appropriate man of all, Peter himself.

Photo of the VaticanPeter (died circa 64) - The Apostle Simon is commissioned by Jesus to be the "Rock" upon whom the Church is to be built. Jesus bestows the name Peter - from the Aramaic term for rock - on Simon. Consistently, Peter was chosen by Christ to be among the small number of apostles who witnessed the particularly meaningful events through which Christ revealed His divine mission. Peter's strongest and weakest moments as a follower of Christ find expression in the gospels. Of all of the Apostles, incidents involving Peter receive the greatest attention.

Although leadership in the early Church often was practiced collegially, the primacy and the special status of Peter is a point beyond question. Upon him, Jesus bestowed the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. He is always mentioned first in any list of the Apostles. In the ancient world, this is a very significant fact. By the year 200, he was accepted commonly to be the first Bishop of Rome.

Peter's ministry of leadership, as illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles, has become a paradigm for all future Popes. Among the many titles given to the Pope, my favorite is Servant of the Servants of God. I should think that Peter would favor it too. The witness of Peter to the Church in Rome and the magnitude of his courageous martyrdom for the faith there have cast it as the Eternal City.

As a tribute to the supremacy of Peter, no other Pope has taken his name. There is no Peter II.

Habemus papam.

Acknowledgment: (adapted from) Lives of the Popes, Richard P. McBrien, HarperSanfrancisco.