Rome (AsiaNews) - This evening, the vigil of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Benedict XVI will inaugurate the Pauline Year, centred on the figure of the apostle who, born in Tarsus around the year 8 A.D., died as a martyr in Rome in the year 67. That makes 2008 the two thousandth year since his birth; celebrations will last until June 29 of 2009. Paul's conversion to Christianity and his missionary activity are spoken of throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and many of his letters to Christians of the time are preserved in the New Testament. Paul's great contribution to the Church is in his exploration of the meaning of faith in Jesus as the one saviour, and in the opening of the Gospel to non-Jews, which made Christianity available to all peoples and cultures.
Many Asian Churches - which see themselves as "descendants" of Saint Paul's work on behalf of the pagans - are planning pastoral events and activities.
In Thailand, the That bishops' conference has decided to insert the Pauline Year within the Year of the Word, which had already been planned. The president of the bishops' conference, George Yod Phimphisan, explained that the celebration should make the Thai faithful "living witnesses to proclaim Jesus Christ courageously, like St Paul". For the entire year, the faithful are asked above all to become familiar with the Word of God, and to dedicate at least fifteen minutes a day to reading and meditating on the Bible. Every diocese must organise gatherings to read the Bible together, offering hospitality to members of other Christian confessions as well. Also planned are the creation of instruments of communication to spread the Christian faith in Thai society, and a series of pilgrimage to churches dedicated to St Paul in Thailand, and to the places of the apostle's life in the Holy Land, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome.
Evangelisation began in Thailand in the 16th century. Currently there are 2 archdioceses and 8 dioceses. Out of the population of about 63 million, 95% are Buddhist, 4% Muslim, and only 1.1% Christian. There are about 300,000 Catholics.
In Hong Kong, the Pauline Year will begin on June 29, at 6 p.m., with a solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop John Tong Hon, at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Everyone at the Mass will receive a book in Chinese about the apostle Paul. The diocese of Hong Kong has created a committee to support all of the activities connected to the Pauline Year. Planned are Bible reading courses, publications, video cassettes, and DVD's on St Paul's work of evangelisation, and pilgrimages to places linked to St Paul in Rome, like to the basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls, where the body of the apostle is preserved .
Out of a population of about 7 million, the Catholics of Hong Kong are almost 250,000. To these must be added another 100,000 Filipinos who work in the territory as domestics.
In Indonesia, the Pauline Year begins with an exceptional event for the Church: a Eucharistic Congress will be celebrated in the diocese of Semarang, the first in the history of the Indonesian Church. Inaugurated yesterday, it will last the entire week. The site is a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Ambarawa, 35 kilometres from Semarang (central Java). About 1500 people are present. The diocese of Semarang has about 5000 faithful.
The majority of the 222 million people in Indonesia are Muslim (87%); the Catholics are 3.6%. There are also Protestants (6%), Hindus (1.8 %), and Buddhists (1 %).