“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
(1 Cor 1:3)
We, the Bishops of the Philippines, welcome with eagerness the announcement of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the universal Church would celebrate a special Jubilee Year of the Apostle Paul. On June 28, 2007, during the celebration of the solemnity of the holy apostles Peter and Paul in the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls, the Pope said: “I am happy to announce officially that we shall dedicate a special Jubilee Year to the apostle Paul, from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the bi-millennium of his birth, which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 A.D.”
Together with the rest of our fellow Asian Catholic Christians, how can we Filipinos not be moved to greet with enthusiasm the commemoration of the man who made it possible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to go beyond the confines of Israel and reach the rest of us, “Gentiles”?
The Apostle to the Gentiles
Saul, who later became Paul—the man we call “the Apostle to the Gentiles”—was formerly known as a rabid persecutor of Christianity before he became its most avid propagator. He was the arch-enemy of that fledgling sectarian movement of the early first century that claimed that Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom Pilate had executed on the cross, had been raised by God from the dead and was in fact the Messiah the Jews had long awaited. This zealous Pharisee saw the nascent Jesus movement known as “The Way” as a threat to Judaism, and took upon himself the task of destroying it—until that fateful day on the road to Damascus. That experience would effect in him a complete turn-around; he became a whole new person, like one who had been totally possessed by Christ. Dazzled by the blinding light of Christ, he received an entirely “new sight” that would make him see as rubbish what he formerly held to be of utmost importance, “in view of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8)
Many of our present-day nominal Filipino Catholics who experience conversion at some late stage in their life and turn into active participants in the Church’s work of evangelization, cannot but relate with Paul’s moving story of spiritual transformation. Unfailingly, they often also find themselves drawing from Paul’s writings to sustain their process of renewal as disciples of the Risen Lord, as is the case with many members of our Catholic Charismatic communities.
Paul considered the Damascus event as a revelation and a call from God. His description of it echoes the prophetic call of Jeremiah and the Servant of God in Isaiah: “God, who from my mother’s womb called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles…” (Gal 2:15-16; cf. Jer 1:4, Is 49:1). From then on, his life was given fully to Christ and the Gospel. He traveled the Mediterranean world, preached the Gospel especially to the Gentiles, founded churches and wrote letters that would become Sacred Scriptures. His toil and hardship for the Gospel would easily equal, if not surpass, those of any follower of Christ. And so would his success. It would be claimed that the conversion of Paul was second only to the Christ-event in importance to the Christian faith. But Paul would consider himself only as a “servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:1). What he was, all his toils, was due to the grace of God which was at work in him. Paul’s life was then crowned his with martyrdom; like Simon Peter he shed his blood in Rome. The two apostles are considered the two pillars of the Church of Rome which would become the mother of the churches.
Liturgical, Cultural and Ecumenical Initiatives
Pope Benedict XVI has proposed various activities for the Pauline Year, some of which would take place in Rome in the Basilica of St. Paul. Others can easily be carried out in various places in the world, and concerning these we invite the initiative and involvement of the Filipino faithful. The Holy Father notes that initiatives like penitential pilgrimages, study conventions and special publications on the Pauline texts can be implemented in the dioceses, shrines and places of worship, by the Religious and by the educational institutions and social-assistance centers which are named after St. Paul or inspired by him and his teaching.
Let us together mobilize the Filipino faithful so that the Pauline Year may turn into a kairos--a graced occasion--to know and imitate Saint Paul more in his consuming love for Christ and his zeal to spread the Gospel. We call upon all dioceses to come up with their own specific programs for the Pauline Year. The Bishops can designate churches dedicated to St. Paul where the faithful can go on pilgrimage and earn the gift of indulgences after following the requirements of the Church. We call upon Bible scholars to help us appreciate the Pauline Letters, the most precious legacy of the Apostle to the Church, but which many Christians remain unfamiliar to. We especially call upon the “Pauline” religious congregations, institutions and shrines to take special initiatives in leading the people to a greater awareness, love, and imitation of St. Paul whose life was wholly directed to Christ. The apostle would tell his converts: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). May these initiatives help us make “St. Paul alive today” and propel us in our common apostolic mission as Filipino Catholics towards the rest of Asia!
In particular, the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) among our faithful can draw a lot of inspiration from the Apostle Paul, who took every opportunity at each time he came into contact with people of other nations, to witness to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, often even at the price of so much suffering, persecution, and imprisonment.
Lastly, the Holy Father points to one aspect that must be paid attention to during the celebration—the ecumenical dimension. “The Apostle to the Gentiles,” the Pope noted, “who was especially committed to taking the Good News to all peoples, left no stones unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians.” While ecumenical initiatives are usually carried on the level of Church authorities, the faithful could always appreciate the universal and encompassing spirit of the apostle Paul which would like all believers to be one mind and one purpose (1 Cor 1:10). He himself became “all things to all… for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor 10:23). In the words of the Holy Father, may the apostle help us “to progress in the humble and sincere search for the full unity of all members of Christ’s Mystical Body.”
May the universal Church and the Filipino faithful experience God’s abundant blessing during this year of the Apostle’s Jubilee!
For and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
+ ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO, D.D.
Archbishop of Jaro
July 6, 2008