Our diocese has produced a special leaflet on St Paul to mark the celebration of the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul during the Pauline Year.The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25th) will be celebrated on Sunday this year with special papal permission in honour of the Pauline Year (28 June 2008 – 29 June 2009)

Normally this feast would not be observed when it falls on a Sunday.

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Pauline Year – a pilgrimage of the heart

The 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul is not just a celebration of a past event, says Benedict XVI. The Pauline Jubilee Year — which the Holy Father launched on June 28, 2008, and which will run through June 29, 2009 — is more than a recollection.

“Paul is not, for us, a figure of the past,” the Pope affirmed. “Through his letters, he still speaks to us today. And one who enters in dialogue with him is moved by him toward Christ crucified and risen.” The Pauline year, he continued “is a year of pilgrimage, not only in the external sense of a journey to the Pauline sites, but rather also, and above all, a pilgrimage of the heart, together with Paul, toward Jesus Christ.”

Paul the apostle to the Gentiles

St. Paul first appears in the Acts of the Apostles under the name of Saul. Saul was raised in the Jewish faith as a Pharisee trained in the strict observance of God’s Law. Saul was upset by the early Christian Church, believing that the early Christians had broken away from their Jewish traditions. He actively persecuted the Church in Jerusalem.

On the road to Damascus Saul had an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ (Acts of the Apostles 9:1-19, Galatians 1: 13-14). Saul was shaken and blinded by the experience. When a Christian named Ananias came and baptized Saul, his blindness went away. Saul, whose name now became Paul, went to Jerusalem to consult with Peter (Galatians 1: 18). After his first missionary journeys, Paul was called by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He spent the rest of his life journeying on his missions, establishing local churches, and writing to them when he heard of their accomplishments and failures. Paul’s letters are the earliest records of the life and history of the early Church.

All together, there are 13 epistles that bear Paul’s name as the author. However, scholars do not believe that he wrote them all. Paul himself was the author of first Thessalonians, first and second Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians and Philemon.

The epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, second Thessalonians and first and second Timothy bear Paul’s name, but it is believed that they were written after his death. The writers of these letters were disciples of Paul who wanted to continue his teaching. Whoever the authors of these epistles were, these writings have been accepted into the New Testament as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Paul the missionary

Paul travelled over 10,000 miles proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. His journeys on land and sea took him primarily through present day Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Greece. Paul walked the roads built by the Romans to facilitate their control over their Empire. Travellers took to the roads in as large a group as they could find. There was constant danger of bandits.

Travelling by sea was not comfortable. There were no cabins for travellers. They had to find a place on the deck exposed to sun, winds, and rain. Paul’s trade as a tentmaker probably held him in good stead, as he could fashion shelter for himself and his companions on the deck.

In 2 Corinthians 11: 25 – 27 Paul describes some of the dangers of travelling.

… three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, … in toil in hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.

Paul preached in local synagogues and also addressed philosophers in places like Athens. Paul believed that Christ had come for all and the observances of Jewish Law were not necessary for those who believed in Christ. This belief was a source of tension in the early church but it was Paul’s out-going approach that eventually prevailed.

After his third major journey, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to the Emperor. He was then sent to Rome to have his case resolved. It was in Rome that Paul was martyred around the year 67 A.D.