We meet again this year in this basilica on the occasion of the feast of Saint Petronilla, martyr who was given as patroness to the Frankish kings, following the support that Pepin the Short had given to the papacy, threatened by the Lombards. Since then his name has been associated with the French nation.
His original tomb was in the catacombs of Domitilla, where his name appears in a 4th-century fresco and then was transferred, in the 8th century, to the complex of the Constantinian basilica, inside a monument that had been an imperial mausoleum. became a chapel of the Frankish kings, then of the Capetian dynasty.
In the new basilica, the chapel of Saint Petronilla has been transferred to where we are, near the tomb of the Apostle Peter. The mosaic painting, which reproduces the original by Guercino, which is in the Capitoline Museum, represents the martyrdom of the saint, her burial and her apotheosis in Paradise, where she is welcomed by Christ. Under the altar is the urn which contains his relics. The whole is powerfully evocative; the altar is an integral part of the scene and gives it its full meaning: it is there that, in the celebration of the Mass, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ is represented, who opened access to heaven and made possible the communion of saints.
This chapel of Saint Petronilla is one of the many churches and other monuments and institutions that bear witness to the devotion of the French to the See of Peter throughout the centuries, and even today our presence is meant to be a sign of communion with the Successor of Peter not only personal, but which involves our nation.
This celebration is therefore an opportunity to pray for France, to ask the Lord to bless our country, its people and its leaders. Saint Paul already wrote to Timothy “I encourage, above all, to make requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving for all men, for heads of state and all those who exercise authority, in order that we may lead our lives in peace and quiet, in all godliness and dignity. This prayer is good and pleasing to God our Saviour”. Throughout history the Church has practiced this prayer, in France in particular on August 15, from the vow of Louis XIII, who consecrated to the Virgin Mary “our person, our State, our crown and our subjects”. , as the King wrote in his Ordinance of February 10, 1638. Today, like yesterday, it is good to pray to the Lord that our country may live in harmony, that all may come together in the search for the common good, justice and peace, show solidarity in adversity and open to collaboration with all to solve the problems facing humanity today.
Sixty years ago, on April 11, 1963, shortly after the first international crisis involving the use of nuclear weapons, Pope John XXIII, whose altar is a few steps from this chapel, addressed the Encyclical Pacem in Terris to the episcopate, to the clergy and to the faithful, but also, for the first time “to all men of good will”, urging the collaboration of all to ward off the scourge which threatened humanity. In an international context which is no less worrying, that of a piecemeal world war, to use an expression dear to Pope Francis, further complicated by the consequences of the pandemic, the Holy Father wrote a few days ago to Bishop of Hiroshima, on the occasion of the meeting of G7 Heads of State and Government: “The events of recent years have clearly shown that it is only together, in fraternity and solidarity, that our human family can attempt to heal wounds and build a just and peaceful world.
In fact, it has become ever more evident that in the multipolar world of the 21st century, the search for peace is closely linked to the need for security and to reflection on the most effective means of guaranteeing it. This reflection must necessarily take into account the fact that global security must be integral, capable of including issues such as access to food and water, respect for the environment, health assistance, sources of energy and the equitable distribution of the goods of this world. An integral concept of security can serve to anchor multilateralism and international cooperation between governmental and non-governmental actors, based on the deep interconnection between these issues, which makes it necessary to adopt, together, a responsible approach to multilateral cooperation. “.
Our country has a special place in the world not only through its history, but also through its commitment today in the international community; we pray that he will continue to play it according to the principles of the search for the universal common good and the promotion of the dignity of the human person, as John XXIII indicated in Pacem in Terris.
And we also pray for the Church which is in France, so that the Lord may bless her and keep her, comfort her in trial, give her strength and perseverance in her mission of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in society. society of today and to bear witness to the love that Christ has for each person, and to the value of all life.
The Virgin Mary, principal patroness of France, Saint Petronilla and the men and women saints of France intercede for us and for our country. Amen.