First on the list of the twelve apostles is the name of Saint Peter, the first Pope. His name was originally Simon, but was changed to “Peter” when Christ designated him as the “Rock” on which the Church was to be built:
“And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).
Saint Peter was a fisherman, born at Bethsaida, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. From there, while he was casting a net into the water, Our Lord called him to become a fisher of men. Saint Peter is mentioned frequently in the Gospels, and much of his subsequent history is found in the Acts of the Apostles.
We admire his rugged faith when he spoke for his brethren on the occasion of the promise of the Blessed Eucharist:
“Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will all you also go away? And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that you are the Christ the Son of God.” (John 6:68-70).
A delightful picture of his impetuous love for Christ is painted by Saint John. They were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, when Saint John joyfully exclaimed: “It is the Lord!” Peter hesitated not a moment, but jumped from the boat and swam to the shore, to be the first to greet his Master. There, that day on the sands, Saint Peter made his threefold profession of love: “You know all things; You know that I love You.” (St. John 21; 4-17). Yes, even though he had denied Him, he does not fear to make that open declaration of love for his Master.
For twenty-five years Saint Peter lived in Rome as the first Pope. Under the persecution of Nero he was cast into the Mamertine Prison, whence after eight months he was led out to be martyred. On hearing that he was to be crucified, he asked that he might be crucified with his head downwards, for he was not worthy to suffer in the same way as his Divine Master.
His martyrdom is believed to have taken place on the 29th June, in the year 67.