Paul thus came to realize that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27), that we can do all things through him who strengthens us (cf. Phil 4:13), and that nothing can ever separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:35-39). For this reason, at the end of his life – as we heard in the second reading – Paul was able to say: “the Lord stood by me” and “he will rescue me from every evil attack” (2 Tim 4:17). Paul had a Passover experience: the Lord set him free.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Church looks to these two giants of faith and sees two Apostles who set free the power of the Gospel in our world, only because first they themselves had been set free by their encounter with Christ. Jesus did not judge them or humiliate them. Instead, he shared their life with affection and closeness. He supported them by his prayer, and even at times reproached them to make them change. To Peter, Jesus gently says: “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). And to Paul: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). He does the same with us: he assures us of his closeness by praying and interceding for us before the Father, and gently reproaching us whenever we go astray, so that we can find the strength to arise and resume the journey.

We too have been touched by the Lord; we too have been set free. Yet we need to be set free time and time again, for only a free Church is a credible Church. Like Peter, we are called to be set free from a sense of failure before our occasionally disastrous fishing. To be set free from the fear that paralyzes us, makes us seek refuge in our own securities, and robs us of the courage of prophecy. Like Paul, we are called to be set free from hypocritical outward show, free from the temptation to present ourselves with worldly power rather than with the weakness that makes space for God, free from a religiosity that makes us rigid and inflexible; free from dubious associations with power and from the fear of being misunderstood and attacked.

Peter and Paul bequeath to us the image of a Church entrusted to our hands, yet guided by the Lord with fidelity and tender love, for it is he who guides the Church. A Church that is weak, yet finds strength in the presence of God. The image of a Church set free and capable of offering the world the freedom that the world by itself cannot give: freedom from sin and death, from resignation, and from the sense of injustice and the loss of hope that dehumanizes the lives of the women and men of our time.

Let us ask, today in this celebration but afterwards as well: to what extent do our cities, our societies and our world need freedom? How many chains must be shattered and how many doors long shut must be opened! We can help bring this freedom, but only if we first let ourselves be set free by the newness of Jesus, and walk in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Today our brother Archbishops receive the pallium. This sign of unity with Peter recalls the mission of the shepherd who gives his life for the flock. It is in giving his life that the shepherd, himself set free, becomes a means of bringing freedom to his brothers and sisters. Today, too, we are joined by a Delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, sent for this occasion by our dear brother Bartholomew. Your welcome presence is a precious sign of unity on our journey of freedom from the distances that scandalously separate believers in Christ. Thank you for your presence.

We pray for you, for all Pastors, for the Church and for all of us: that, set free by Christ, we may be apostles of freedom throughout the world.