01/25/2009, 00.00
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Pope: Happy Chinese New Year, celebrating Saint Paul’s conversion

Benedict XVI extends his Best Wishes to the peoples of East Asia, that they may live in joy and harmony with God and creation. Conversion means welcoming salvation and the gift of Jesus’ love, which saves us from selfishness and sadness. The Pontiff also marked World Leprosy Day and the end of Christian Unity Week at St Paul’s Outside the Walls Basilica. Two children release two doves from the Pope’s window.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI extended his Best Wishes for Chinese New Year to all the peoples of East Asia who follow the Lunar Year and who will start celebrating the Year of the Ox tomorrow.

Speaking at the end of the Angelus prayer to the faithful gathered in St Peter’ Square, the Pope said: “The peoples of the various countries of East Asia are preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year. To them I express my Best Wishes that they may experience this celebration in joy. Joy is the expression of when we are in harmony with ourselves. And this can only come when we are in harmony with God and his creation. May joy always be alive in the hearts of all the citizens of these nations, so dear to me; may it shine around the world!”

China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Koreas, Vietnam and all the countries will large Chinese communities like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines celebrate this event.

Saint Paul’s conversion, which the Church celebrates today, was however the main subject in the Pope’s reflections ahead of the Marian prayer.

“If truth be told,” said the Pope, “in the case of Paul some prefer not to use this term because,” they say, “he was already a believer; in fact he was a fervent Jew, and thus did not go from no faith to faith or from idols to God; nor did he abandon the Jewish faith to join Christ. In reality, the Apostle’s experience can be a model for every true Christian conversion.”

Paul’s conversion, the Pope went on to say, “took shape in the meeting with the Risen Christ. It was that meeting that radically changed his life. On the way to Damascus what happened to him is what Jesus calls for in today’s Gospel. Saul converted because, thanks to divine light, he believed in the Gospel’. This is his and our conversion: believing in the dead and risen Jesus and opening ourselves to the light of divine grace. In that moment Saul understood that his salvation did not depend on good deeds performed in accordance with the Law, but in the fact that Jesus also died for him, the persecutor, and had risen.”

For each Christian, baptism is the sign of conversion. “Converting,” explained the Pontiff, “means, also for each one of us, that Jesus, by dying on the cross, “has [. . .] given himself up for me” (cf Gal, 2:20), has risen and [now] lives with me and in me. By putting my trust in the power of his remission and letting myself be taken by His hand, I can escape the quick sands of pride and sin, lies and sadness, selfishness and false security, to find out and live the richness of his love.”

Benedict XVI also said that this afternoon he would preside over the solemn Vespers in St Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica along with Rome’s ecumenical leaders.

“We Christians have not yet achieved the goal of full unity,” he added, “but if we allow ourselves to be continuously converted by the Lord Jesus we shall certainly get there.”

The Pope also mentioned important another event, the 56th World Leprosy Day. “I am happy,” said the Pope, “that the United Nations, in a recent statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has urged states to protect people living with leprosy and their families. For my part, I can assure them that they are in my prayers, and I encourage once more all those who are fighting by their side for their complete recovery and social integration.”

A special greeting, said with “great affection”, was dedicated to the children of Rome’s Azione Cattolica, who were involved throughout the month in meetings, reflections, and activities connected to the “Caravan of Peace”.

At the end of the Angelus two children and the Pontiff together released two white doves.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”