The Vatican has been very vocal about its promotion of the Pauline year. But Syria, one of the countries that is most important to the life story of the Apostle, is making a push as well.
Syria is rich in Pauline lore, it's where he saw Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, was baptized into the Christian faith, and began his missionary journey. Although a Muslim country, Syria is making an effort to commemorate the saint throughout the jubilee year declared by Benedict XVI.Dr. Saadallah Agha Alkalaa
Minister of Tourism (Syria) We launched first, on the 28th of June 2008, we launched the year, the jubilee of Saint Paul. There was a big event there, where St. Paul saw the light of Jesus Christ. And there were thousands of people who went there, Muslims and Christians, to be together. And there was of course masses there, and all the eminent personalities from Muslim, Islam and Christianity. All of them spoke about the importance of Saint Paul and his message to all the people around the world.
The Pauline year is having an effect on Syrian tourism. In 2007, nearly 14,000 Italian pilgrims visited the country. In 2008, the number shot up to 25,000, an increase of nearly 80 percent. There was also a 35 percent increase in the numbers of American tourists during the same period.
But Dr. Agha Alkalaa says that there's more for pilgrims to see in Syria than just the places important to the life and times of Saint Paul. Dr. Saadallah Agha Alkalaa
Minister of Tourism (Syria)
So when you come, its not only for Saint Paul. It's Saint Paul, it's culture, it's history, it's the history of Islam, it's the way of living together between Muslims and Christians. So there's a lot of things to come and see, and you need at least a whole week to spend, so that you can be aware of the treasures of our country.
Saint Paul is not the only Christian figure with ties to Syria. Legend has it Saint John the Baptist is buried in Damascus, and John Paul II visited the site during his papal trip in 2000. For the moment, there are no plans for Benedict XVI to visit Syria for the Pauline year.