Saint Paul the Apostle – giant of faith
St Paul from Tarsus, because of the 2000th anniversary of his birth, is the Man of the Year. Therefore, within the next 12 months until 29 June 2009, there will be many occasions to get to know the life and evangelization activities of the Apostle to the Nations who was the first to bring Christ to Europe and win for Christ numerous nations, founding Christian communities everywhere. It was St Paul that baptised Europe. We owe him the Christian face of the Old Continent.
‘Pauline Door’ opened
On 29 June 2008, during the solemn Vespers in the Roman Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, at the tomb of the Apostle to the Nations, Benedict XVI inaugurated the Year of St Paul. The participants of the ceremony included the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. The delegates of the sisterly Churches from Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus, Greece, who had created the geographical environment of the life of the Apostle to the Nations, came to Rome for the opening of the Year of St Paul. During the service the Pope opened the so-called ‘Pauline Door’ and lit ‘Pauline Flame’, which would remain lit in a niche in the portico of the Roman Basilica throughout the whole year. Similar olive lamps are burning in Tarsus, Ephesus and in Malta, the places that were important to the Apostle to the Nations.
On the road to Damascus
First, he was Saul – a Jew from Tarsus, a zealous disciple of the Pharisees who treated Christianity as a threat to the faith in one God. He persecuted Christians and even contributed to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. In the year 35 AD, on the way to Damascus, Saul changed into Paul, influenced by his meeting with Christ. Christ chose him to convert pagans and spread the kingdom of God on earth. He became the thirteenth Apostle.
During the opening ceremony of the Pauline Year Pope Benedict XVI referred to the fact that had happened near Damascus, the fact that had been the turning point in the life of St Paul. He referred to the Letter to Galatians in which the Apostle to the Nations left a very important personal confession of his faith. He opened his heart and showed what the deepest strength in his life was. ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me’ (Galatians 2:20).
‘All that Paul does starts from this center. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a totally personal way; it is awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous, but for love of him, of Paul, and that, risen, Christ still loves him, has given himself for him. His faith is having been captured by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that affects him in his innermost being and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an option about God or the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. So, this faith itself is love of Jesus Christ.’ After Paul had been called by Christ at the gates of Damascus he became a teacher and defender of Christian faith. He was devoted to proclaiming the Gospel until his martyr’s death in Rome in ca. 67 AD. Towards the end of his life he reached such perfection in following Christ that he could say, ‘yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). Benedict XVI focused on this mystical relationship between Paul and Christ, saying, ‘The task of proclamation and the call to suffering for Christ are inseparably together. The call to be teacher of the Gentiles is at the same time and intrinsically a call to suffering in communion with Christ, who has redeemed us through his passion.’
Apostle to the Nations wants to speak to us today
‘He did not look only to the past. He is, also for us, our teacher, apostle and herald of Jesus Christ’, said Benedict XVI in his homily during the Vespers of the inaugural ceremony of the Pauline Jubilee Year. He stressed that the words of the Apostle, in which he described himself as ‘teacher of the Gentiles in the faith and in the truth’ (2 Timothy 2:7), opened to the future, to all nations and all generations. ‘Therefore, we have come together not to reflect on a past history, irrevocably surpassed. Paul wants to speak with us today. That is why I wanted to convoke this special "Pauline year": to listen to him and to drink from him, as our teacher, in the faith and truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ.’ The Holy Father continued, ‘Not only do we ask ourselves, "Who was Paul?" Above all, we ask ourselves "Who is Paul?" "What is he saying to me?" At this hour of the beginning of the Pauline year that we are inaugurating…’
Today we can say that St Paul was the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity. During his missionary journeys he covered several dozen thousand kilometres proclaiming the Good News. In ca. 50 BC, in Philippi, a Macedonian town, he baptized Lydia, the first European, who was then called godmother of Europe, and he founded his first community of Christ’s followers. He covered almost the entire territory of the Roman Empire, reaching as far as Spain, to proclaim the Gospel. According to Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne Christian Europe would not have existed without St Paul. The Apostle to the Nations was a citizen of the whole world. He taught with zeal in publish places – in market squares, synagogues and even on the Areopagus in Athens as well as in private houses and prison. ‘If St Paul had lived in our times he certainly would have been a journalist’, once said Fr James Alberione of the Pauline Family. Contemporary saints should catch microphones to proclaim the message of truth, justice and peace with an eager spirit and a heart full of zeal.
Celebrations of the Pauline Year
The central place of the celebrations connected with the Year of St Paul is the Roman Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, with the grave of the Apostle to the Nations. Pilgrims can enter it through the ‘Pauline Door’. Pilgrims’ trails, following the footsteps of St Paul, have been prepared in eleven places in Rome, the Holy Land, Turkey and Malta. Because of the Pauline year believers can obtain a plenary indulgence in every diocese. The conditions are: participating with devotion in a liturgy or other public event dedicated to St. Paul – in any sacred place on the opening and closing days of the jubilee year. Moreover, every local bishop has defined the places and days on which believers can obtain a full indulgence for themselves or for the dead not more than one per day, fulfilling the customary conditions: going to confession, receiving Holy Communion and praying for the intentions of the Pope as well as having the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin. Those who will go to the Basilica of St Paul in Rome can obtain a plenary indulgence throughout the entire year. Many Polish dioceses have planned pilgrimages to Rome and other places connected with the life of St Paul. In Poland, throughout the whole year believers can obtain the special indulgence in the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Debowiec in the Diocese of Rzeszow (run by the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette) where there are the relics of St Paul the Apostle. You are to use abundantly the apostolic acceleration that began with the Year of the Apostle to the Nations, who won the whole world for Christ, and use the special graces, which this unique jubilee time gives to us.