At the basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome, Benedict XVI celebrated the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles.
The Pope greeted all those present at the ceremony, dedicating a special mention to members of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who have come to Rome to return the annual visit made by a Holy See delegation to Istanbul for the Feast of St. Andrew.
"These meetings and initiatives," said the Pope, "are not simply an exchange of courtesies between Churches, but seek to express a joint commitment to do everything possible to hasten full communion between Christian East and West."
"Ever since the beginning," he continued, "Christian tradition has considered Peter and Paul as inseparable the one from the other, even if they each had a different mission to accomplish: Peter was the first to confess faith in Christ, Paul obtained the gift of deepening the richness of that faith. With different charisms, they worked for the one cause: the construction of the Church of Christ."
"In Rome, the bond linking Peter and Paul in their mission has, ever since the early centuries, taken on a very specific meaning. It could be said that today the Church of Rome celebrates its birthday, because these two Apostles laid her foundations."
The Holy Father then explained that if tomorrow, June 29, Peter will be the focus of attention in the Vatican Basilica, today the leading role is Paul's, whose relics are kept in the basilica that bears his name. Paul, he said, "was 'set apart for the Gospel of God,' to spread the announcement of divine grace that, in Christ, reconciles man with God, with himself and with others."
The Apostle of the Gentiles, said the Pope, "was anything but a gifted speaker," and hence "the extraordinary apostolic results he was able to achieve are not to be attributed to brilliant rhetoric or to refined apologetics and missionary strategies. The success of his apostolate depended above all on his personal involvement in announcing the Gospel of Christ with total dedication to Him, a dedication that feared no risks, difficulties or persecutions."
"From this," he continued, "we can draw a very important lesson for all Christians: The activity of the Church is credible and effective only in as much as those who are part thereof are ready to pay their faithfulness to Christ in person. If such willingness is lacking, then the decisive argument of truth upon which the Church depends also fails. … As in the beginning, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves … like St. Paul."
"For this reason I am happy to announce officially," said Benedict XVI, "that we will dedicate a special jubilee year to the Apostle Paul from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009, for the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of his birth, which historians place between A.D. 7 and 10."
The Pope went on to explain that this "Pauline Year" will be celebrated particularly in Roman and that the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls will host "a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events, as well as pastoral and social initiatives." Furthermore, "special attention" will be given to penitential pilgrimages to the tomb of the Apostle while, all over the world in dioceses and places of worship dedicated to St. Paul, similar initiatives may be held.
The Holy Father highlighted the fact that the Pauline Year will be characterized by its "ecumenical dimension" because "the Apostle of the Gentiles, particularly dedicated to bringing the Good News to all peoples, concerned himself with the unity and harmony of all Christians.
"May he guide and protect us in this bi-millennial celebration," the Pope added in conclusion, "helping us to progress in a humble and sincere search for full unity among all members of the mystical Body of Christ."
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