Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., of EWTN fame has been busy promoting the Pauline year (and his new St. Paul Bible study) in recent weeks. This morning he was featured on Cincinnati’s Son Rise Morning Show on Sacred Heart Radio, and earlier this month he visited my home diocese of Rochester (New York). Here’s a snippet from the local Catholic Courier:

Father Pacwa, who spoke at St. Theodore Parish July 18, suggested that parishes could continue St. Paul’s work by concentrating on evangelization. The priest acknowledged that the saint’s drive to evangelize had its own perils, including getting him beaten up, thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded.

“For the sake of Christ, he did it,” Father Pacwa said. “For the sake of Christ, we need to do the same.”

Father Pacwa’s talk in Gates was one of several local appearances. He also spoke July 19 at Holy Spirit Church in Webster and July 20 to the Upper New York Association of Diocesan Leaders at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.

Father Pacwa, a Biblical scholar who hosts “Threshold of Hope” and “EWTN Live” on the EWTN Global Catholic Network, recently wrote a Bible-study guide for the Pauline Year, which runs through June 29, 2009.

During his Gates presentation, Father Pacwa gave an overview of St. Paul’s background and how that information helps clarify the saint’s point of view in his many writings. St. Paul was an impassioned evangelizer, the priest noted, especially to the Gentiles, who he successfully argued did not need to convert to Judaism to become baptized Christians.

Although the saint’s many letters have shaped Catholic thought and are regularly read during Sunday Masses, the priest noted that 16th-century disagreements over the letters’ meanings have led Catholics to neglect study of St. Paul.

Nevertheless, “he is and has been key to Catholic theology as well as all Christian theology,” Father Pacwa said.

Known during his early life by the Hebrew name Saul, St. Paul was born an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. Additionally, Saul was born a Roman citizen in Greek-speaking Tarsus, which was then part of Asia Minor and which is now part of Turkey. Though history is unclear why he was born a Roman citizen, Father Pacwa said historical records indicate that his family members, who were tentmakers, may have been given citizenship for doing work for the Roman Empire.

Saul studied with Gamaliel, a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem, to learn the pharisaic tradition, which Father Pacwa described as a conservative political party or sect within the Jewish laity that strictly adhered to both written Mosaic law and oral tradition about the law.

Acts 8:1 places Saul at the trial of St. Stephen and notes that he gave consent to St. Stephen’s stoning. After the trial, Saul zealously went from house to house arresting Christians, and a high priest directed him to go to Damascus to arrest more converts to Christianity.