Benedict XVI spoke out personally today, at the end of the general audience, on the dramatic situation in Orissa, after the Vatican yesterday expressed its concern and condemnation of what is taking place.
The pope expressed "profound sadness" over the news of the "violence against the Christian communities of the Indian state of Orissa", and also over the "deplorable assassination of the Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati", after which the violence broke out in Orissa, where "some people have already been killed, and others wounded", in addition to which "there has been destruction of places of worship, Church property, and private homes".
"I express", he concluded, "spiritual closeness to the brothers and sisters so harshly tested, and I implore the Lord to accompany and support them in this time of suffering, and give them the strength to continue in the service of love on behalf of all".
During the audience, which was again held at the Vatican after a hiatus beginning on July 2, the pope announced that he would resume his reflection on the Pauline Year, which he began before the summer. Today, he sketched a biography of the apostle to the gentiles, leaving the subject of his conversion, "the fundamental turning point of his life", until next Wednesday.
Benedict XVI first highlighted that Paul - born in Tarsus, probably in the year 8 - "spoke Greek, even though he had a name of Latin or Roman origin". He was "a meeting point of three cultures" - Jewish, Greek, and Roman - "and perhaps for this reason as well was able to mediate between cultures, in a true universality".
Paul was educated in Jerusalem by the rabbi Gamaliel, "according to the strictest norms of the Pharisees", for which reason he believed in a "profound orthodoxy that saw a risk, a threat in the man called Jesus".
"This explains the fact that he clearly persecuted the Church of God. He was on the road to Damascus precisely in order to prevent the spread of this sect, as he himself said". From that moment, the persecutor of Christianity "became a tireless apostle of the Gospel, and passed into history for what he did as a Christian, or rather as an apostle".
The pope then recalled his apostolic activity, which "is subdivided on the basis of the three missionary voyages, to which is added a fourth, when he was taken to Rome as a prisoner".
Among the various moments in Paul's life, Benedict XVI recalled his famous speech in the agora in Athens: "In the ancient cultural capital, he preached to the pagans and Greeks. In the agora, he gave a model speech for explaining to the Greeks that this God is not foreign and unknown, but one they had been waiting for, the deepest response to their anticipation".
In conclusion, Saint Paul "dedicated himself to the proclamation of the Gospel, without holding anything back", making himself, as he wrote, "the servant of all, confronting harsh trials". "I do everything", he said, "for the sake of the Gospel".
"This commitment", the pope said, "can be explained only by a soul that is enraptured with the light of Christ", by the conviction that "it is truly necessary to proclaim the light of Christ to the world, to give a glimpse of the beauty and necessity of the Gospel for all of us".
"Let us ask", he concluded, "that the Lord may show his light to us as well, and that we may also give the world the light of the Gospel, the truth of Christ".
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