The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul commemorates these saints' martyrdom in Rome and is observed on 29 June. The celebration is of ancient origin, the date selected being either the anniversary of their death or of the translation of their relics.
In the Catholic calendar of saints, it is one of the higher-ranking holy days during the liturgical year, a day on which newly-created metropolitan archbishops who have been named in the previous church year receive the primary symbol of their office, the pallium, from the Pope.
In recent decades, this feast has been of importance to the modern ecumenical movement as an occasion on which the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople have officiated at services designed to bring their two churches closer. This was especially the case during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, as reflected in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint.
In his homily for the feast day in 2008, Benedict XVI pointed to the distinctive but complementary characteristics - unity and universality - of Saints Peter and Paul's missions to Rome.
Saint Peter's journey to Rome, said Benedict, "comes especially under the word "one". For "his task was to create the unity of the catholica, the Church formed by Jews and pagans, the Church of all the peoples. And this is Peter's ongoing mission: to ensure that the Church is never identified with a single nation, with a single culture or with a single State but is always the Church of all; to ensure that she reunites humanity over and above every boundary and, in the midst of the divisions of this world, makes God's peace present, the reconciling power of His love."
In the case of Saint Paul, "Going to Rome was part of the universality of his mission as an envoy to all peoples. The way that led to Rome ... was an integral part of his duty to take the Gospel to all the peoples - to found the catholic or universal Church. For him, going to Rome was an expression of the catholicity of his mission. Rome had to make the faith visible to the whole world, it had to be the meeting place of the one faith."
Michael Gilchrist, Editor (email address available on request).