NEWARK-The Archdiocese of Newark will inaugurate its observance of the "Year of Saint Paul" with a special noon Mass to be celebrated by Archbishop John J. Myers on Sunday, June 29, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
The worldwide celebration, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI last year, will run from June 28 to June 29, 2009. Pope Benedict announced the Church's Pauline year marking the 2,000th anniversary of the saint's birth last June on the eve of the feast of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The pontiff said the celebration year, to be marked by liturgies and special events in Rome, also should be celebrated in dioceses throughout the world.
North American Church leaders have issued calls for the faithful to study the life and missionary spirit of Saint Paul during the next 12 months (see The Catholic Advocate, May 7). Father C. Anthony Ziccardi, executive director of mission and ministry and a professor at Immaculate Conception Seminary on the South Orange campus of Seton Hall University, said most of the information on the life of Saint Paul is contained in his New Testament letters as well as in Acts of the Apostles. In addition, there are a handful of separate first and second century text from early Christian writers-the first letter of Clement to the Corinthians; the Muratorian Canon; a letter to the Ephesians from Ignatius of Antioch-that mention the life and travels of Saint Paul.
One ancient text, "The Acts of Paul," written around the year 180, offers a narrative on Saint Paul's death-beheaded in Rome during the rule of the emperor Nero. Fr. Ziccardi pointed out that the end of Saint Paul's life, as detailed in Acts of the Apostles, is vague. While Luke, acknowledged as the author of Acts, had a great interest in the life of Saint Paul, his writing primarily was concerned with the history of salvation rather than a complete biographical account of Saint Paul. Many biblical scholars believe Saint Paul most likely arrived in Rome in the year 61 or 62, preached there for about two years, was imprisoned two times and died in the year 65 or 66.
Near the end of the Second Epistle to Timothy, Saint Paul writes about "my first defense" which suggests that, at the time, he was again in prison and awaiting a second and final trial. While he was brought to trial for preaching about Jesus, Fr. Ziccardi pointed out that Roman authorities, particularly during Nero's rule, considered figures like Saint Paul to be convenient scapegoats to further their causes within the empire.
It's believed Saint Paul was born around the year five in Tarsus-a commercial port in the region of Cilicia in what is today Mersin Province in modern southcentral Turkey, about 12 miles from the Mediterranean coast. Most likely he was well educated in Greek culture and traveled to Jerusalem when he was a teenager to study under Gamaliel I. There is no biblical passage that describes a direct encounter between Saint Paul and Jesus, although it's plausible they could have crossed paths in Jerusalem in the late 20s.
Saint Paul's letters, written before his death in Rome, would have predated the four Gospels, Fr. Ziccardi explained. By way of comparison, Mark's Gospel is believed to have been written in the year 69, while Luke's writings were done during the 80s. Though Paul's original letters-most likely written on papyrus-no longer exist, these letters were copied continuously and the earliest manuscripts date from about the year 200. It's also possible that Saint Paul could have preferred to "dictate" the letters to various "secretaries," as public speaking was the dominant form of communication in his day.
The most widely known story regarding Saint Paul comes from chapters nine, 22 and 26 of Acts of the Apostles, when Saint Paul experiences his life-changing "conversion" while on the road to Damascus. However, Fr. Ziccardi prefers to describe this event as Saint Paul's "calling" from the risen Christ.
"We typically talk about 'conversion' in one of two ways: a person changing his or her beliefs from one religion to another, or a profound inner change of heart and mind (someone who abandons a sinful way of life and is transformed by embracing high standards of morals and ethics)," Fr. Ziccardi said. "This was not the case for Saint Paul. There was no 'conversion.' Even when he was persecuting Christians, he was acting according to his conscience, not against it, and he never 'switched' religions. He was always a Jew and never would have described himself as anything but a Jew. He constantly quotes from the Jewish Scriptures, but sees them as being fulfilled only in the person and life of Jesus. His experience on the road to Damascus was a calling and a revelation.
"The groups in which Paul moved also were 'called' by God to believe Jesus was the messiah," he continued. "The calling for Saint Paul was that he should spread this Good News to Jews and gentiles. The commissioning of Saint Paul was to be an apostle with a focus on non-Jews. This gets to the identity of Jesus as someone who is greater than the messiah of Israel. The resurrection of Jesus has import for all."