St. Paul's missionary travels, his writings and his perseverance despite suffering demonstrate the strength of his conviction that all people need the salvation of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said.
During his Aug. 27 weekly general audience, the pope dedicated his main talk to the biography and travels of St. Paul as part of the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle's birth.
Pope Benedict returned to the Vatican by helicopter from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo to share his reflections with the estimated 8,000 people in the Vatican audience hall before returning to the summer villa south of Rome.
The pope told the crowd that the fact that St. Paul was born a Jew, was raised speaking Greek and held Roman citizenship placed him on "the border of three different cultures, and perhaps this is why he was open" to proclaiming the Gospel to pagans as well as fellow Jews.
"We see in him a commitment that can be explained only by a soul truly fascinated by the light of the Gospel, in love with Christ and having a deep conviction that it is necessary to give the world the light of Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to all," Pope Benedict said.
In St. Paul, he said, "we see the greatness, the beauty or, rather, the necessity of the Gospel for all of us."
Pope Benedict prayed "that our hearts, too, would be touched by Christ's words so that we, too, can give the light of the Gospel, of the truth, to the world that is thirsting for it."
The pope said St. Paul's speech at the Areopagus in Athens, Greece, reported in Chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles, was a model for demonstrating how the Gospel message responds to the yearnings and aspirations of all people.
The apostle helped "the Greeks understand that this God of the Christians and the Jews was not a God foreign to their culture, but is the 'unknown God' they had been expecting and the true response to the deepest questions of their culture," the pope said.
Pope Benedict also spoke about the dispute among the leaders of the early Christian community over the degree to which new Christians who had been pagans and not Jews had to follow Jewish law in order to share in the promises God had made to the people of Israel.
The pope said the discussion included "observing the Sabbath, circumcision and the dietary restrictions that separated the Israelites from the rest of the world."
The question, he said, was a "fundamental problem for the birth of the future church" and would determine "whether or not a truly universal church would be born."
The apostles and leaders of the early church decided the only necessity was to be truly faithful to Christ, "to live with Christ and according to his words," he said.
Near the end of his life, St. Paul was sent as a prisoner to Rome to plead his case before the emperor. In the city, he met with delegates from Rome's Jewish community, the pope said.
Pope Benedict said St. Paul "had remained faithful" to his Jewish beliefs and "was convinced that Jesus was the hope of Israel and that suffering for Jesus, he suffered for the hope of Israel."
The pope said he would continue talking about the life and teachings of St. Paul at future audiences.
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