Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2008
Pope launches year dedicated to St. Paul
Apostle can help in today's quest for Christian unity
By JOHN THAVIS
Catholic News Service
Joined by other Christian leaders, Pope Benedict opened the year of St. Paul and said the apostle's courageous witness to the faith should serve as a model for contemporary Christians.
"Paul is not a figure of the past that we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an apostle and a herald of Jesus Christ for us, too," the pope said at an evening prayer service June 28 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The liturgy had a strong ecumenical tone. Accompanied by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and representatives of Orthodox and Anglican churches, the pope lit the first candle from a large lamp that will burn in the basilica's portico throughout the coming year.
Then the pontiff led a procession through the "Pauline door" into the church, which was built near the site of St. Paul's martyrdom and holds his tomb.
It was the inaugural event of a jubilee year that will run until June 29, 2009, to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle's birth.
Seated near Patriarch Bartholomew, the pope said in a homily that the Pauline year should send a strong signal of Christian unity.
St. Paul understood the essential value of Christian unity because he understood the Church as the "body of Christ," the pope said. In St. Paul's time and in every age, repairing divisions is an urgent task.
"Who was this Paul?" the pope asked in his sermon.
He cited the saint's own self-description as a Jew who was educated in Jerusalem according to strict ancestral law, and who later became, through an encounter with Christ, the "teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth."
Paul speaks today
The apostle's vocation endures, the pope said.
"We are not gathered here to reflect on a past history that is irretrievably surpassed. Paul wants to speak to us - today," he said.
Earlier in the day, the pope and Patriarch Bartholomew met at the Vatican. In a speech, the pope said St. Paul's emphasis on unity applied not only to Christian churches, but also in a wider sense to a modern culture that is marked by persistent conflicts and divisions.
The contemporary man or woman is confused and in a sense "ensnared by a certain hedonistic and relativistic culture, which places in doubt the very existence of truth," the pope said.
Christian churches need to respond together to that challenge, and St. Paul's words and actions can help promote this kind of cooperation, he said.