Peter, who was named Simon, was a fisherman from Galilee. Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means ‘Rock,’ because he was to become the rock upon which Christ would build His Church. Among the Twelve, Peter was the first to recognize the divinity of Christ and to publicly profess that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Chosen by Our Lord to shepherd His flock, he led the Apostles as the first Pope.
Peter and the apostles James and John were often taken aside by Our Lord and were witnesses to the more profound mysteries of Christ's divinity: His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, His agony in the Garden. Peter's triple denial of Our Lord during the night after the Last Supper filled him with intense sorrow.
Peter became head of the Church in Rome and was martyred in the year 64. He was crucified upside-down at his own request, because he claimed he was not worthy to die as his Lord. He was buried on Vatican hill, and St. Peter's Basilica is built over his tomb.
Paul is known as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Before receiving the name Paul, he was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee who zealously persecuted Christians in Jerusalem.
Saul was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians when he was surrounded by a light from heaven. He was blinded and fell from his horse. He then heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He answered: “Who are you, Lord?” Christ said: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Saul continued to Damascus, where he was baptized and his sight was restored. He took the name Paul and spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul was imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he was beheaded in the year 67. He is buried in Rome in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
In speaking of St. Peter and St. Paul, Augustine of Hippo said of them: “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”