Cardinal discusses St. Paul with downtown crowd

Speaking on the life and ministry of St. Paul, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley Dec. 12 delivered the closing address of the fall season of the “Christ Speaks in the City” lecture series at Boston’s Old State House.

The Church is in the middle of its Pauline Year, which runs until June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, marking the 2,000th anniversary of Paul’s birth.

The cardinal said he had made a serious study of St. Paul as a seminarian, and his talk was a modest attempt to condense his reflections on St. Paul in the 45 minutes he was allotted.

While some of the topics the cardinal said he meant to address had to be left out in the interest of time, he said he was glad he was able to express the importance of Paul’s conversion and his contributions to the catholicity of the Church.

When he was growing up in western Pennsylvania, the cardinal said he knew of a non-Catholic church named for St. Paul that was eventually purchased by the diocese and promptly renamed The Conversion of St. Paul. “That would never happen today.”

More than 35 years ago, then as a Capuchin brother in Washington, the cardinal said he was speaking to a group of Cubans, including some veterans of the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. He tried to illustrate the dramatic nature of this conversion which, he suggested to them, was similar to Fidel Castro becoming a great holy man of the Church.

The result was a near riot, he said. “A Cuban priest had to come in and calm them down.”

The reaction by the Cubans, the cardinal said, was exactly the point he was trying to make. “Paul was a man who took it upon himself to stamp out Christianity, which shows that throughout Salvation History, God chooses unlikely people to serve his Church.”

Beyond his conversion, the diversity of the Church begins with Paul, he said. It was Paul who was arrested for bringing gentiles into the Temple and whose advocacy for the inclusion of gentiles led to Peter’s entering the house of the gentile, Cornelius.

In his remarks and in the question and answer period afterwards, the cardinal touched upon the relationship between Sts. Peter and Paul.

In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written by Paul’s companion Luke, the focus is on Peter, he said. Then, roughly halfway through Acts, the narrative turns to Paul, as the center of the Church shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch.

It was a difficult relationship, he said. “There were tensions. But, it was a pastoral problem. Paul is always deferential to Peter.”

In the end, both men were together in Rome preaching the Word, when they were executed during one of the Emperor Nero’s persecutions of the Christians around the years 67 or 68 AD, he said. A Roman citizen, Paul was beheaded, rather than crucified like Peter.

Catherine A. Hegan, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Winchester, said she came to the talk to hear the cardinal for her second time. “He has such a wonderful soft-spoken way of speaking.”

Joseph W. Gemmell, a Boston financial advisor, said he comes whenever he can to the “Christ Speaks” talks and always brings others along with him. “The cardinal was fantastic.”

Having a Catholic forum near his State Street office, gives Gemmell a chance to step out of the business world and take time to focus on God, he said.

The “Christ Speaks in the City” talks will resume in the spring, said Father Michael C. Harrington, the assistant director of the archdiocesan vocations office. The series is targeted to young professionals working in Boston, who are looking for a more serious approach to religious ideas and perhaps are discerning a vocation to religious life.

More information about the “Christ Speaks in the City” series is available at the Web site