It comes as no surprise that at the end of this week, Pope Benedict XVI will announce a year dedicated to St. Paul. The official reason given by the Holy See for the year of St. Paul is that Saul of Tarsus was born probably between A.D. 6 and 10, and this would be the the 2000th anniversary of his birth (an impressive milestone!). However, I think there is also a more subtle second reason as well.
For months now Pope Benedict has been dedicating his Wednesday general audience
to key figures of the early Church (the general audience is usually seen every week on Salt + Light; live in Italian at 3:30pm ET, or with English translation on Thursday at 3:30pm ET and again at 9pm ET). Not only have we heard about the lives of the Apostles, Martha and Mary, contemporaries of St. Paul (such as Barnabas and Timothy), but we've also learned about Christian champions of the first few centuries, such as Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, and St. Justin Martyr. As a teacher, the Holy Father has made it part of his pontificate to showcase the early men and women who not only helped spread the Gospel, but who, with Christ as the cornerstone, helped lay a foundation and became models for all of us. The Holy Father is shining the spotlight on the roots of our Catholic family tree! Pope Benedict has continuously offered a reminder, particularly to our European brothers and sisters, to remember our Christian heritage. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense to dedicate a year to the "Apostles of the Gentiles." Paul's travels brought Christianity to countless nations, and his love and fervor for Christ have been an inspiration for nearly 2000 years! He helped to plant the seeds which have taken root in many areas.
What should we expect in this year of St. Paul? How will the Holy Father challenge us? We may have to wait for that. Though the announcement comes this week, the actual Pauline year is expected to run from June 29th 2008-June 29th 2009.
You can watch Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of the Pauline year, and his celebration of first Vespers on the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul live this Thursday, June 28th on Salt + Light Television at 11:30am ET, with an encore presentation at 8:00pm ET (there will be a French broadcast of the event at 3:30pm ET).