06/30/2008, 00.00
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Card. Vithayathil: St Paul, model for mission in India and Asia

by Card. Varkey Vithayathil
The president of the Indian Bishops Conference tells AsiaNews that the Pauline Year which has just begun serves to encourage Christians in India and Asia to clearly announce their faith in Christ, stand strong in the midst of persecution and enrich and purify the culture of their times.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Diocese across India yesterday held celebrations marking the beginning of the Pauline Year officially opened by Benedict XVI to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle from Tarsus.  Speaking to AsiaNews, card. Varkey Vithayathil, president of the Indian Bishops Conference, pointed to the importance of the Pauline Year in light of evangelisation in India and Asia.  Card. Vithayathil, archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabar Church, also underlined the urgent need to clearly announce the faith to Asia’s multi-religious world as well as patience in the face of persecution.  Below his reflections given to AsiaNews:

In celebrating the second millennium since St Paul’s birth, the Church must revitalise her missionary zeal and spirit to announce the Good News to the peoples. St Paul was the greatest missionary and his life and preaching is most relevant for India and Asia especially in these current times.

I told the Bishops conference during their last meeting, that Social work is just not enough –social work is indirect evangelisation, but the Church in India must boldly preach Jesus Christ.  Preaching the Gospel and announcing the Good News of Salvation is the Biggest Charity the Church in India and Asia can do, this is the Charity which has the power to transform the lives of people, and even in their daily lives clothe them with dignity.  This is the mission of the Church and of every one of us baptised Christians.

Secondly, people must read the Epistles of St Paul, these letters are essential for Bishops, priests and lay people, catechising all of us how to live our Christian life in a holistic way.  We, all of us, are called primarily to be Christian and be witnesses of Jesus in our lives.  More important, Paul’s letters contain tremendous insights into our spiritual life.

The international community is preparing for the Beijing Olympics and the crown of Olympic glory.  Rigorous training and discipline are involved for this perishable crown of earthly glory.  Here I am reminded of the words of the great apostle: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Hence there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)…. There is nothing worthier than this crown of righteousness. This should be the highest aspiration for us in India, with the climate of intolerance in many States towards Christians, and with the Anti-Conversion Laws clearly aimed at curbing the evangelical spirit. This unflagging zeal of the Apostle should stir up the evangelical Spirit in the hearts of all of us in India, because we are evangelizing with Hope and we are telling people about Jesus.  Today this is important to radically live the gospel and our Model is St Paul.

St Paul epitomizes what a Christian has to face while preaching the Gospel and he is a Model for evangelization in India and Asia, and most specifically for the Persecuted Church in India.

Paul was known as St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, he was persecuted for Jesus Christ, but this did not dampen his zeal.   Paul travelled the length and breadth of the ancient world despite the difficulties, animosity and dangers of the times, trying to convert populations to the new faith.  It is a credit to the endurance and tenacity of the man that he accomplished as much as he did. Ultimately Paul was beheaded.

This is important for each of us here in India, Paul was so consumed with love for Jesus, that he bravely suffered persecution.   St Paul neither used force nor allurement- an allegation often used against Christians in India, Paul preached and people believed, this should be done in India and Asia.  Sadly, persecution frightens us, our zeal is lukewarm, and so we fail to preach. St. Paul was aware of the consequences of neglecting proclamation: "Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel” (Cor 1: 9, 16).  If we do not preach, how will the people believe and convert to the Truth about eternal life, how will the teeming millions even hear the name of Jesus and embrace Christ? 

St Paul was also prudent- in Athens (ref: Acts 17) when he saw the pagan altar he said they were worshipping “to the unknown god” - this is the Apostle Paul.  Paul believed that many influences in the surrounding culture were detrimental to the spiritual health of his communities. Yet, in other instances, Paul knew how to use common cultural images to good effect in order to get his message across to his audience. Paul challenges us to encounter our own culture bravely, with Christ as our guide.

The luminous light of the Resurrection must shine brightly in this generation and this requires you and me to announce to all peoples about the risen Lord.


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