St. Cornelius was ordained as the Bishop of Rome in 251. The Bishop of Rome is what we now call the Pope, so you can see the significance of his position. His major contribution was to defend the faith against the Novatian schismatics, a group who denied the readmission of those who had lapsed in the faith by being made to perform a ritual sacrifice to pagan gods, under the threat of death by the Roman Emperor. St. Cyprian was a brother bishop who helped him in this struggle. Both men were subsequently martyred for the faith. Cornelius died in exile in 253, and Cyprian was beheaded in 258.
The focus of both men was to preserve church unity during a time when there was much oppression against the church. Cyprian wrote to Cornelius, “Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle (that is, St. Paul) praised in your community. He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons. Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of the brethren.”
The unity of the Church is one of the four marks of the Church, along with holy, catholic and apostolic. So preserving our unity should be one of our primary duties. That’s a challenge to us in these days of everyone wanting to do their own religious thing and following their own spiritual path. This was not how Christ intended it to be. What will our own efforts at unity look like today?