By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service     2/19/2020

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Peter and professing the Creed there reminds bishops of the importance of God’s love and mercy and the need always to promote the unity of the church, said Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Presiding at Mass with his fellow bishops from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, the archbishop also gave thanks that all the bishops arrived on time for the start of their “ad limina” visits Feb. 10 after many of them were on flights rerouted because of storms over Ireland and England. 

Gathering before the tomb of the apostle highlights “the sense of unity we have as brothers in Christ,” said Archbishop Wester, the homilist and principal celebrant of the group’s Mass in the grotto of the Basilica of St. Peter. 

“As bishops, this is a great grace: to be able to pray together and to be able to express our unity with Francis,” the archbishop said. 

Pilgrims from the region, including a large group from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, joined the bishops for the Mass. 

Archbishop Wester said he and his group had Mass the day before at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in the Church of the Holy Spirit near the Vatican, and that power of divine mercy is seen clearly in the life of St. Peter, who denied Jesus and yet was forgiven and entrusted with the leadership of the church. 

“Peter saw the look of love in the face of Jesus; he saw the imprint of grace deep within his eyes. This was the look of mercy,” the archbishop said. 

At the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus foretold the denial by St. Peter and his subsequent repentance. He told Peter: “Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” 

“Peter took this encounter with the merciful Lord, and he used it to be strengthened so that he could be a source of unity in the church,” the archbishop said. “Peter knew the importance of unity.” 

Those who go on pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb — bishops and laity alike — are called to follow his example, Archbishop Wester said. “We, too, are called to encounter the living Christ and to gaze on his face of mercy and to allow this gaze to deepen our faith,” and then to return home “to strengthen our brothers and sisters.” 

Wearing red vestments in honor of St. Peter’s martyrdom, the archbishop said those who venerate his tomb must remember the suffering he endured out of love for Christ. 

“You and I are called to suffer as well as we seek to build up the church, as we seek to be instruments of unity and peace in the church,” he told his fellow bishops. “We know the challenges we face: polarization, personal attacks, changes that are difficult to accept.” 

Archbishop Wester said he thinks that is one reason why Pope Francis always asks people to pray for him and for the church.