'And I also say that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.' Matt Ch.16v18.
John O'Neill has written a brilliant account of the search for Peter's Tomb here. He tells this thriller with the deftness of a Conan Doyle or a Raymond Chandler, with the difference being, that this is not fiction but fact that is living history. It is all about Peter, that most lovable of Saints. What attracts successive generations of Roman Catholics to devotion to Peter is his genuine humanity. He was a great human being. People can relate to him. He was a man with a wife and family and worked hard as a fisherman to support them. He was not an academic but he had a very developed emotional intelligence that made him a leader that Christ could ultimately rely on. He had a genuine insight into his personality and behaviour and accepted himself warts and all. He could be brash and impulsive but he had the ability to genuine say sorry and come back from failure to success. No wonder then that Christ chose him as leader.
I won't go into any great detail of John O' Neill's thriller for fear revealing of too much and therefore spoiling your read. But two people deserve mention- The American George Strake and the Italian Margherita Guarducci. They are crucial to our story.
At a time when there is much talk about making America Great, whatever that means, we do have a great American Roman Catholic in George Strake. He had much in common with Peter. A personality matured in life by failure and success. He had also a very lifelong faith in the Roman Catholic Church and it's teaching. George Strake was gifted with a profound humility that made him realise that God was the source of his success. George went from rags to riches- from being broke to being a fabulously rich man. He was ever humble and was convinced that it was what you did with wealth was what mattered. When Pius X11 asked him for help in the search for Peter's Tomb..George stepped up with cheque book in hand and wanted no publicity..the rest is history.
Margherita Guarducci, to my mind, is one of the great Catholic Women of modern times. She was born in Florence in 1902 and graduated in 'archeology' at Bologna University in 1924 and was recognised by her teachers as a rare genius in her subject. This marvellous woman was to spend most of her life fighting for acceptance in male dominated subject and world. She was brought onto the team that was searching of Peter's Tomb and she was the one who eventually pointed the finger and said..."Peter is here." But and this is sad, she was the victim of appalling sexism and misogynist treatment especially from some Vatican persons during her career. Behaviour that to a lesser extent exists at he present time. John O'Neill does justice to this great woman and praises her Catholic faith, her tenacity, her genius and her quest for Peter's Tomb.
There is a beautiful photograph in this book of Pope Francis, during a Mass in St Peter's Square, holding the relics of the Apostle Peter and Francis is deep in meditation and prayer...It is a picture full of poignancy ...And I dare say....George and Margherita look down from above smiling. When I finished this book I must admit I felt a renewed esteem for my Roman Catholic Faith at a time when we have much questioning to do. But the "Bark of Peter" battles on even in very storming seas as John O'Neill's work reminds is.
The Fisherman's Tomb by John O' Neill. Published by Our Sunday Visitor (Publishing Division)
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