Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to Christians to learn from the teachings of St Paul. Benedict described the apostle's writings as those, "in which are rooted the reasons for the unity of the disciples of Christ" - writes Luigi Sandri.
The Pope made his remarks at a ceremony at the end of last month, at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, at the beginning of year-long celebrations to mark the second millennium since the birth of St Paul.
The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, and representatives of other churches joined the Pope at the ceremony.
According to tradition, St Paul was beheaded in Rome near the basilica, which is said to contain the remains of the apostle, who was famous for his missionary journeys around the Mediterranean and the Middle East to spread Christianity in the years following the death of Jesus.
Historians say Paul was born and raised in Tarsus between AD 7 and AD 10 in the south of what is now Turkey. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is located in present day Istanbul.
St Paul was raised as a Jew and originally named Saul. As an adult, he took part in the persecution of Christians. Saul later changed his name to Paul after experiencing a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Today, many of the world's Orthodox Christians see Bartholomeos as their spiritual leader, as the, "first among equals" of Orthodox leaders worldwide. As a young student, Bartholomeos graduated in the 1970s from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and he speaks fluent Italian.
Benedict greeted Bartholomeos with the "kiss of peace", and warmly welcomed him and other Christian guests.
Bartholomeos told the gathering that he, too, some days previously had also proclaimed a "Pauline year".
In his address, the Pope said, "It's for me a matter of real joy that the opening of the Pauline Year has a special ecumenical character due to the presence of numerous delegates and representatives of other churches and ecclesial communities."
Still, no official representatives of Lutheran or Reformed churches were present at the ceremony. According to Italian media reports, these churches were offended that the Pope had granted special indulgences to Catholic faithful participating in celebrations of the "Pauline Year".
According to Catholic doctrine, the granting of indulgences by the church, usually for good works or special piety by individuals, allows for the remission of time spent in Purgatory after death. It was the issue of indulgences, which at the time were being sold, that led to Martin Luther's attempt in the 16th century to reform the Catholic Church.
The day after the Pauline inauguration ceremony at the Vatican, Bartholomeos delivered a homily at St Peter's Basilica in Rome at a Mass for the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The Patriarch and the Pope entered the church together.
In his homily, Bartholomew said, "The ecumenical dialogue between our churches continues, thanks to the help of God, in considerable difficulties that remain and in spite of some well known issues."
When he spoke, Benedict referred to, "our common hope to see the day approaching of restoration of unity, the day of full communion between us".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]
Also on Ekklesia: Simon Barrow on Christian mission in the light of St Peter and St Paul - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7417