Holiness and Fraternal Delegates,
We are gathered before the tomb of St. Paul, who was born 2,000 years ago in Tarsus of Cilicia, in present-day Turkey. Who was this Paul? In the temple of Jerusalem, before an agitated crowd that wanted to kill him, he introduced himself with these words: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but educated in this city, instructed at the feet of Gamaliel in the exact observance of the Law of our fathers; I was full of zeal for God."
Therefore, we have come together not to reflect on a past history, irrevocably surpassed. Paul wants to speak with us today. That is why I wanted to convoke this special "Pauline year": to listen to him and to drink from him, as our teacher, in the faith and truth, in which are rooted the reasons for unity among the disciples of Christ. In this perspective, I wished to light -- for this bimillenary of the apostle's birth -- a special "Pauline Flame," which will remain lit during the whole year, in a special niche placed in the portico of the basilica. To solemnize this event, I have also opened the so-named Pauline Door, through which I entered the basilica accompanied by the patriarch of Constantinople, the cardinal archpriest and other religious authorities.
For me it is a motive of profound joy that the opening of the Pauline year assumes a special ecumenical character, given the presence of numerous delegates and representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities, which I welcome with an open heart. I greet first of all His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I and the members of the delegation accompanying him, as well as the large group of laymen from several parts of the world who have come to Rome to participate in these moments of prayer and reflection with him and all of us. I greet the fraternal delegates of the Churches that have a special bond with the Apostle Paul -- Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Greece -- that form part of the geographic environment of the apostle's life before his arrival in Rome.
We are gathered, therefore, to questions ourselves about the great apostle of the Gentiles. Not only do we ask ourselves, "Who was Paul?" Above all, we ask ourselves "Who is Paul?" "What is he saying to me?" At this hour of the beginning of the Pauline year that we are inaugurating, I would like to choose three texts from the rich testimony of the New Testament, in which [Paul's] inner physiognomy appears, that which is specific about his character. In the Letter to the Galatians, he has given us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart to the readers of all times and reveals what is the most profound source of his life: "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me."
For many, Paul appears as a combative man who knows how to use the sword of the word. Indeed, in his path as apostle, there was no lack of disputes. He did not seek a superficial harmony. In his first letter dedicated to the Thessalonians, he himself says: "We had the courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in face of great opposition. … For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed."
In the search for St. Paul's inner physiognomy, I would like, in the second place, to recall the word that the Risen Christ spoke to him on the road to Damascus. Earlier the Lord asked him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He answered: "Who are you, Lord?" And he received the reply: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." By persecuting the Church, Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. "You are persecuting me." Jesus identifies himself with the Church in a single subject.
I would like to conclude with a later word of St. Paul, an exhortation to Timothy from prison, in face of death. "Endure with me sufferings for the Gospel," said the apostle to his disciple. This sentence, which is at the end of the roads traveled by the apostle as a testament, leads us back to the beginning of his mission. While, after his encounter with the Risen One, the blind Paul was in his room in Damascus, Ananias received the order to go where the feared persecutor was and lay his hands on him, so that he would recover his sight. To Ananias' objection that this Saul was a dangerous persecutor of Christians, this answer was given: "This man must take my name to the Gentiles, to kings and to the children of Israel. I will show him all he will have to suffer for my name."
At this hour in which we thank the Lord for having called Paul, making him the light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, we pray: Give us also today the testimony of the Resurrection, touched by your love, and [make us] able to carry the light of the Gospel in our time. St. Paul, pray for us. Amen.