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Issue 11 – Trinity 2022


Ubi Petrus

On the papacy.


I remember walking through the dark, haunting catacombs underneath Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, hands brushing against stonework older than the Church as we made our way towards the place where the bones of the first Prince of the Apostles himself lay. I was on a college trip, and we were not nearly mature enough to avoid joking about Indiana Jones movies as we walked through the ruined houses of the dead. The guide explained Roman burial practices, the history of the basilica, and the harrowing process of excavating beneath one of the world’s largest churches as we shuffled past mausoleums unearthed beneath that glorious basilica. And then, unceremoniously, we were there. There was nothing spectacular to mark the grave of the Church’s first pope. The guide explained that genetic testing of the remains and graffiti on the wall next to the bones confirmed that this was the place, and those were the bones. I remember simply staring at the bottom of the wall, where you could just slightly catch a glimpse of the pit underneath, where the bones lay. I don’t remember any particular feeling at the time. But since then, there is a groundedness to talking about the faith and the papacy. I can’t just talk about ideas. Word play, agendas, ecclesial politics—all of it comes after the knowledge that I have seen the bones of the first pope, and that it is all real.

At my ordination Mass, my archbishop announced that I would be the parochial vicar at a parish named after Saint Peter. This Saint Peter’s, in Huber Heights, Ohio, was much less dramatic than the basilica in the Vatican. It is hundreds of years newer, much plainer, and really has nothing in its architecture to strike the kind of awe that the Pope’s church does. But the fact that it is newer has been a blessing. Because the excavation under the basilica began shortly before my Saint Peter’s was built, the bones had been found in time for the regnant archbishop of Cincinnati, Karl Joseph Alter, to request a relic. And so, when I kiss the altar at my little parish in suburban Ohio, merely a few sheets of linen and a bit of glass casing separate me from the bones of the same man who, tradition tells us, himself put together the first seeds of the words that would grow to become the Roman Canon I pray. Even amidst the blandness of suburban, American Catholicism, in a church built only a decade or two before I was born, the piercing reality and the weight of centuries begins and ends my experience of the Mass.

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About the author

Ambrose Dobrozsi

Father Ambrose Dobrozsi is a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This piece originally appeared in the Trinity 2022 issue of The Lamp magazine.