Finding Peter

Jared Staudt

On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis displayed St. Peter’s bones publicly for the first time. This momentous occasion culminated the incredible 70-year process of discovery and authentication of the relics. The bones now thought to belong to the Apostle Peter were caught up in tumultuous conflict between two archeologists: accidentally discovered, placed in storage for roughly twenty years, received a short period of authentication and veneration under Paul VI, were returned to storage for decades after Paul’s death, until Pope Benedict XVI began a process to reconsider their authenticity.

On June 29, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Apostles who centered the Church in Rome through their ministry and martyrdom there. The Church in Rome, including two of its major basilicas, was “built on the foundation of the apostles” (Ephesians 2:20), preserving their authority and celebrating the sacraments over their tombs. After excavating under the altar of St. Paul’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI authenticated the bones discovered there as Paul’s in 2009. Those lucky enough to have taken the Scavi Tour under St. Peter’s Basilica have entered into the ancient necropolis over which Constantine built his grand basilica. This area remained largely untouched until the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939, when a worker fell into one of the ancient tombs while preparing for Pius’ burial.

The remarkable and tortuous tale of the discovery of Peter’s bones has been told before, particularly by John Walsh’s The Bones of St. Peter (Sophia, 2011 reprint). Bestselling author John O’Neill felt compelled to tell the story again, despite overwhelming health obstacles, to add some important unknown details. His new book, The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search (OSV, 2018), not only continues the narrative into the pontificate of Francis, describing the ping pong of Vatican archeological politics in the fight over Peter’s bones, but also brings the narrative to the United States.

The uniqueness of O’Neill’s account derives from the previously unknown support of Houston’s oil tycoon George Strake, who financed not only the excavation to find Peter, but many other crucial projects of the Holy See. O’Neill claims that Strake also financed the Holy See’s efforts to rescue Jews and Allied prisoners during World War II and to counter the rise of Communism afterwards, financing new parishes and schools throughout Italy. Strake made his immense fortune by discovering a large oil reserve outside of Houston and determined to give away as much of it as he could before he died. Not only did he finance extraordinary projects for the Holy Father, but he also endowed the Pius XII Memorial Library at St. Louis University to honor the Pope who began the excavation and to preserve an extensive microfilm collection of the treasures of the Vatican Library.

We find a group of three priests central to the narrative, infelicitously dubbed the “Three Amigos” by O’Neill, who worked to support the excavation under St. Peter’s. This threesome included Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Paul VI, and two American priests, Walter Carroll and Joseph McGeough (who later became an Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio). It would have been more tactful to stick to his terminology of “the three Americans” to refer to the incredible work supported by Strake with Carroll and McGeough as intermediaries to the Holy See (105). One remarkable tidbit comes from the future Paul VI’s quiet visit to Colorado to visit Strake at his Glen Eyrie estate outside of Colorado Springs (109).

O’Neill also paints the picture of Margherita Guarducci, the archeological hero of the story, who took over the excavations under St. Peter’s after the mishaps of the initial team (led by her rival Father Ferrua). She used her expertise in epigraphy, the interpretation of ancient inscriptions, to crack the code leading to the correct location of St. Peter’s bones, after other bones had mistakenly been attributed to the Apostle (111). The initial excavation had overlooked the importance of the Graffiti Wall, which contained the inscription, “Peter is here,” in favor of the more centrally located Trophy of Gaius. The bones identified by Guarducci had been buried previously under the Trophy, but relocated, probably for safety, and forensic tests revealed them to be from a man in his 60s of robust build, draped in purple imperial style cloth from the first centuries AD, and with his feet severed in a sign of crucifixion.

The Fisherman’s Tomb helps to complete the story of how we found St. Peter under the basilica built in his honor. The book contains some small inaccuracies, repetitiveness, and overreaching analogies that deflect from its central focus, but nonetheless provides an important narrative. It can help us to discover the centrality of the Apostle Peter for his upcoming feast day and may inspire us to make our own pilgrimage to find and venerate his relics.

COMING UP: Haven’t signed to get the late-term abortion ban on the ballot? Now’s your chance

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If you haven’t had a chance to sign the petition to get Initiative 120 on the ballot this year, this weekend will present many opportunities to do so.

Initiative 120 is a ballot initiative that seeks to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks through birth, with the only exception being if the mother’s life is at risk.

See below for a full list of locations throughout Colorado so sign petitions for Initiative 120.

Sign the Petition | Drop off Notarized Packets | Notary on Site

Aurora – Queen of Peace Catholic Church
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
13120 E Kentucky Ave, Aurora 80012
In the Narthex

Broomfield – Nativity of our Lord Catholic Church
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
900 W Midway Blvd, Broomfield 80020
Reception Desk Lower Level

Denver – Catholic Charities Office
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
4704 N. Harlan St, Denver 80212 Suite 550

Lakewood – Colorado Christian University
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
8787 W. Alameda Ave, Lakewood 80226
Beckman Center – See Map
Enter campus off Garrison, go east on Cedar

Lone Tree – Panera Bread Atrium
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
9233 Park Meadows Dr, Lone Tree 80124

Windsor – Coffee House 29
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
1039 Main St #K, Windsor 80550
Behind McDonald’s

CO Springs So Central – Pikes Peak Citizens for Life
9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
707 N Nevada Ave #R, Colorado Springs 80903

CO Springs North – Colorado Christian University Satellite
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
1125 Kelly Johnson Blvd. Suite 105 Co Springs 80921

Castle Rock – Calvary Chapel
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
1100 Caprice Dr, Castle Rock 80109
In the Lobby

Grand Junction – The Pregnancy Center
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
930 Main Street, Grand Junction 81501
970-241-7474

Saturday, 2/15 Signing Only Events**

Colorado Springs – David C Cook Foundation
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
4050 Lee Vance Dr. Colorado Springs 80918 Upper/east parking lot
720-899-0897

Greeley – Centerplace Shopping Center
1:30 – 3:30 PM
2700 47th Ave, Greeley 80634
Enter off 47th Ave – Look for the sign east of the bank in the parking lot

** No notary at these locations

Sunday, 2/16 Signing Event**

Glenwood Springs – New Creation Church
8:30, 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM Services
44761 US-6, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
217-891-6116

Ongoing Opportunities to Sign

Aurora – Iglesia Rey de Reyes Church
Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Saturdays 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
380 S Potomac Street #110 Aurora, 80012
720-899-0897

Boulder – Boulder County GOP Office
Weekdays (M-F) 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
619 Ken Pratt Blvd, Longmont 80501

Greeley – Farmers Insurance
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Saturdays 9:00 AM – noon
2990 W 29th St. #1, Greeley 80631

Loveland – Loveland Glass
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
630 W 1st Street, Loveland 80537

Windsor – Guardian Self Storage
Mondays and Thursdays 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Through February 15th
760 E. Garden Dr., Windsor 80550

Colorado Springs – Eddington Eye Care
Weekdays (M-F) 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Exception, Thursdays, open 10-6)
6130 Barnes Rd. Suite 128, Colorado Springs 80922

Castle Rock – Calvary Chapel
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Wednesdays 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM
1100 Caprice Dr. Castle Rock 80109 (Reception Desk)

Ft. Collins – Larimer County GOP Office
Weekdays (M-F) 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
4020 S College Ave #11, Fort Collins 80525

Woodland Park – Charis Bible College
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
800 Gospel Truth Way, Woodland Park 80863

Estes Park – Ponderosa Realty
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
1751 N Lake Ave. Suite 104, Estes Park 80517

Pueblo – A Caring Pregnancy Center
Weekdays (M-Th) 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
500 Colorado Ave, Pueblo 81004

Montrose – Life Choices Family Resource Center
Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Wednesdays 10:00 AM – 7 PM
155 Merchant Drive, Montrose 81403
970-249-4302

Pueblo West – Majestic Baptist Church
Sundays 9:30 – 11:30 AM
494 E Hemlock Dr, Pueblo West 81007

Julesburg – Benson Ag Land Realty
Weekdays (M-F) 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
200 W 4th Street, Julesburg 80737

Denver – La Prensa de Colorado Newspaper
Monday – Thursday from 12:00 PM to 6:30 PM or by appointment
7290 Samuel Drive, #105 Denver 80221
303-287-4105