Jul 1, 2008
June 28 marked the beginning of the Year of St. Paul, as announced by Pope Benedict to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth. The Pauline year, which will be celebrated with various liturgical activities, pilgrimages, prayer meetings, and artistic and cultural tributes, will focus on examining the person and teachings of St. Paul, as well as encouraging pilgrimages to the saint’s tomb and other places he visited during his life. There will be a particular focus on evangelization and ecumenism - promoting unity among Christians. The Holy Father noted St. Paul’s efforts, as Apostle to the Gentiles, to bring the Gospel to all people and to work for the “unity and harmony of all Christians.” Looking at St. Paul’s life gives us a powerful example of how we should evangelize in our own lives.
St. Paul is well-known for his conversion story, which is told in Acts 9. Paul, who was known at the time as Saul, was a Pharisee who worked fervently to imprison the early Christians. As he was traveling the road to Damascus, he was suddenly knocked off his horse and blinded by a bright light as he heard the voice of Jesus asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This powerful experience led St. Paul to undergo a radical conversion. He embraced Christ and allowed his newfound faith to consume his entire life. He humbly admitted that he was wrong in his previous persecution of Christians and began to work alongside those whom he had been persecuting. Although some of the early Christian community was skeptical at first, Paul persevered in his service to Christ, eventually convincing them that his conversion was authentic.
Allowing Christ to encompass every aspect of his life, St. Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles. He made three long voyages, on which he evangelized and spread the Gospel across the known world. He helped establish and develop many of the early Christian communities, and his correspondences with them make up a large portion of New Testament epistles. Although he faced countless hardships and difficulties, he always trusted in God, and he even converted some of those who were trying to imprison him. He courageously stood his ground through multiple trials, remaining faithful to his goal of preaching the Gospel and working for the conversion of those around him, even as he was being led off to his martyrdom. This passionate enthusiasm to spread the message of Christ was the result of St. Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord. After having experienced the love of Jesus, he could do nothing other than spread the joyful message. As he proclaims in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)
Pope Benedict XVI notes the importance of the universality of St. Paul’s evangelizing, emphasizing that he went out and preached the Gospel to all people in various places across the known world. The Holy Father states, “From the first moment he understood that this is a reality that did not concern only the Jews or a certain group of men, but one that had a universal value and concerned everyone, because God is the God of everyone.” (Catechesis of the Holy Father, General Audience: Oct 25, 2006)