Pope Benedict XVI sketched a rough biography of St. Paul
The Holy Father had announced on July 2 that he planned a series of weekly talks on St. Paul's life and teaching during the current Pauline year. But the Pope's regular cycle of weekly audiences was interrupted by his vacation and his trip to Australia for World Youth Day. Upon resuming his weekly sessions, the Pope devoted two audiences to other topics: on August 13 to the importance of prayer and on August 20 to the veneration of the saints. So his August 27 talk was only the second in the projected series.
The audience was also the first held at the Vatican in several weeks; on the two previous Wednesdays the Pontiff had met with the faithful in the courtyard of his summer residence. Today he traveled by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo to the Vatican, returning later in the day.
Explaining his plans to the crowd in the Paul VI auditorium, the Pope said that he would speak the following week about the pivotal event in St. Paul's life: his conversion on the road to Damascus. For now he offered an overview of the Apostle's life.
First the Pope explained that experts set the birth of St. Paul in the year 8 AD-- thus establishing this year as the 2000th anniversary-- because Saul was described as a young man at the time St. Stephen was slain, and as an old man when he was imprisoned in Rome.
Saul was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia that was a provincial capital-- which, incidentally, was once ruled by Cicero, and later was the site of the first meeting between Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
Saul was a Jew who spoke Greek and a Roman citizen. Thus, the Pope remarked, he lived at the intersection of three important cultures. He was also a trained craftsman, who probably learned from his father to make tents.
At about the age of 12, young Saul left Tarsus for Jerusalem, to study in the strict tradition of the Pharisees. That study, the Pope observed, "instilled in him a great zeal for the Mosaic law," and caused him to view the followers of Christ as dangerous threats to Jewish orthodoxy and identity.
That intolerant attitude was changed completely along the road to Damascus, the Pope continued, and Paul became a tireless missionary for the Gospel. He undertook three great missionary journeys, which are described in the Acts of the Apostles, followed by his fourth trip as a prisoner to Rome.
Pope Benedict traced the route taken by Paul and his companions on those trips, as well as the key role that Paul played in the Council of Jerusalem. The Pope noted that while St. Luke reports that Paul spent two years in Rome under house arrest, the final events of the Apostle's life are not fully recorded. But apparently his appeal to the Emperor Nero was unsuccessful, and he died as a martyr. The Pontiff promised to speak about St. Paul's martyrdom, too, in a future Wednesday catechetical talk.
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