July 13, 2007

Reflection / Dan Conway

Pauline year could stimulate Christians to adopt a missionary zeal

While in Rome to report on Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s reception of the pallium during the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, I had the privilege of attending Pope

Benedict XVI’s pontifical vespers service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls the night before.

During this beautifully sung liturgy, the Holy Father announced his intention to proclaim a special jubilee year dedicated to St. Paul.

At a time when the Church is especially conscious of the need to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ—to people who are both far away and close at hand—St. Paul’s words and example are a powerful witness to what it means to be a missionary Church.

According to Pope Benedict, “As in the Church’s beginning, today, too, Christ needs Apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St. Paul.”

The pope went on to say that there is no more urgent task facing the Church today than to inspire and send forth “modern Christians who will imitate the Apostle’s missionary energy and spirit of sacrifice.”

St. Paul’s personal testimony to the lordship of Jesus Christ had a transforming influence on the individuals and communities he served.

Because Paul let the Holy Spirit work through him, the infant Church was able to mature and grow far beyond the small band of disciples who were present in Jerusalem in the days following the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Largely because of Paul’s personal encounter with the Lord, which led to his radical conversion from a persecutor to an Apostle, the world as we know it has been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ and his saving message.

Paul’s preaching, his travels and letters to the nascent Churches of the apostolic age had a cataclysmic effect on the world as he knew it. During his lifetime, Christianity became a universal Church and a beacon of hope for all humanity.

As the pope said in his announcement, the missionary spirit that was St. Paul’s is needed in every age to renew the Church and transform the world, according to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict hopes that the Pauline year, which will run from June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009—to mark the approximate 2,000th anniversary of the saint’s birth—will stimulate modern Christians to adopt a new missionary zeal.

The Pauline year will feature numerous special liturgies and events in Rome, the pope said, but should also be celebrated in local churches and in the sanctuaries, religious orders and other institutions that have a special link to St. Paul.

In a special way, the Pauline year will be ecumenical, reflecting the saint’s commitment to the unity and harmony among all Christians, the pope said.

The Basilica of St. Paul, which is located “outside the walls” of the ancient city of Rome, is the site of the Apostle’s tomb. Recent excavations have unearthed a roughly cut marble sarcophagus that experts believe is the actual tomb of St. Paul, who was martyred nearby.

According to Pope Benedict, “during the Pauline year, particular care should be taken to welcome Catholics from various countries who may want to make penitential pilgrimages to the saint’s tomb.”

During his homily, the Holy Father observed that St. Paul’s success was not the result of a program of evangelization. Instead, the Apostle to the Gentiles’ effectiveness was the result of “his extraordinary personal involvement in announcing the Gospel and his total dedication to Christ, despite problems and persecutions,” the pope said.

The action of the Church is credible and effective only to the extent that Christians are willing to “pay personally for their faith in Christ, in every situation,” he said.

Where this commitment is lacking, the appeal of the Gospel will be weaker, he said.

“Paul lived and worked for Christ; he suffered and died for him. How current is his example today,” the pope said.

According to a long-standing tradition, Peter and Paul met near the site of basilica before they were martyred, and they hugged and blessed each other.

As the pope made clear, Paul and Peter were very different figures, with different charisms or gifts, and there were sometimes tensions between them.

But they shared a profound love for Christ, the pope said, and together they helped build up the Church and, in the process, showed the world a new way of being sisters and brothers in the one family of God.

It was a great privilege to be present in this magnificent Basilica, at the tomb of St. Paul, and to hear the successor of St. Peter proclaim this special jubilee year.

When the pope made his announcement, those present—including the representatives from other Christian churches—burst into spontaneous applause.

As the Holy Father observed, St. Paul was a source of unity for the young Churches of the apostolic era. May he also serve as a connecting link among Christians today so that, in spite of our tensions and differences, we may all be one as the Lord intends.

(Dan Conway is president of RSI Catholic Services Group.) †

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