He was the early Christian Church’s most energetic persecutor who became its greatest missionary, an extraordinary figure who did more than anyone else to build the embryonic Church and spread the news that Jesus Christ had risen from death. To mark the second millenium of this astonishing persecutor-turned-saint’s birth, Pope Benedict has declared a special year of St Paul, inviting everyone to learn more about Jesus from the man who met him after he died on the Cross – and changed the world.
SomeonE should make a movie about him – his conversion is probably the most famous in history: the young Jewish religious zealot who regarded Christ as an imposter precisely because he had died on the Cross and who carried letters from Judaism’s highest authorities authorising him to see that sentences of execution were carried out against the first Christians, the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, the three days of blindness, the understandably deep suspicion of Christians when he claimed he was now one of them.
In one of the most memorable scenes from the Acts of the Apostles he is reported as being present to ensure that the first martyr, a young deacon called Stephen, was stoned to death by other Jews for the blasphemy of insisting Christ was the son of God. It was at Saul’s feet that the executioners laid their clothes to more easily throw the stones that would kill him.
And yet it is precisely the religious fervour with which he hunted down, arrested and persecuted the first Christians that turned him into the single greatest missionary force in the early Church, leading Paul (his new Christian name) on some of the most memorable journeys across huge distances for the rest of his life until his eventual execution in Rome in about 65-67AD.
What is believed to be his tomb has recently been rediscovered and excavated (see photos, Page 5) by archaeologists keen to discover more about Christianity’s earliest and greatest missionary.
Now, together with their brothers and sisters around the world Perth Catholics young and old have the chance to gain a rare favour, a plenary indulgence (basically the writing-off of all punishment for sin) by visiting specially nominated churches around the Archdiocese to celebrate the Year of St Paul.
The Pauline Year called by Pope Benedict XVI runs from June 28 this year to June 29, 2009 and has led Archbishop Barry Hickey to issue a special Pastoral Letter (see other article, this page) setting out pilgrimage destinations and the conditions for receiving the plenary indulgence.
After surviving shipwreck, snakebite, angry mobs bent on killing him for blasphemy and a host of other remarkable events Paul is believed to have been executed by being beheaded somewhere along Rome’s Appian Way.
Under house arrest for the last few years of his life, he wrote some of the most remarkable of his letters to the converts and newly-formed Christian communities he had established in his missionary travels. Reflecting the mind of an educated Jew fully conversant with Scripture and all the prophecies relating to Christ, Paul’s letter brought a level of sophistication to Christianity’s outreach to the world that still make them among the most popular of Christianity’s foundational documents; one passage on love is one of the most widely used during Christian weddings.
Archbishop Hickey has encouraged all to read Paul’s letters more extensively. “We listen to St Paul at Mass all the time, but are not often encouraged to go home and read the whole letter that the reading came from,” he told discovery.
He encouraged Perth Catholics to read the Acts of the Apostles – the account of the movement and growth of the early Church and the struggles the Apostles encountered as they spread the Word of God.