By Marco Cardinali
ROME, NOV. 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- St. Peter's won't be the only basilica graced with an Austrian Christmas tree this year. The country has also donated an 82-foot fir to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to commemorate the Pauline Year.
The fir, donated by the city of Kötschach-Mauthen, in Austria's southern state of Carinthia, arrived last week as a special gift to the monks of the Benedictine abbey at the basilica, who have been the custodians of the body of the Apostle to the Gentiles for about 1,700 years.
"It is a gift for which we Benedictines of St. Paul's are very grateful, especially since it is the first time that such a thing has happened," the Abbot of the St. Paul's, Father Edmund Power, told ZENIT.
"We are used to seeing the tree in St. Peter's Square, but none has ever been seen next to the Basilica of St. Paul," the Benedictine added. "It is a gesture that highlights in a joyous way the importance of the present time of grace of the Pauline year and how much all the Christians of Europe and of the world feel this connection with the Rome of the Apostles."
"Also, [the symbol of] the tree, which hearkens back to ancient traditions and has pagan origins, is one of the most popular Christmas symbols," he added.
"The tree, in fact, is the symbol of life and Christmas reminds us precisely of the incarnation of the Word of God, the Root of Jesse, of him who is the true tree of life and at the same time is the truth and the way and who St. Paul always witnessed to and preached as the love of the Father," said Father Edmund.
An Austrian delegation will greet Benedict XVI on Wednesday, presenting him with a similar, but smaller tree, as the 17,636-pound fir is already in place beside the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Leading the delegation will be Mayor Walter Hartlieb of Kötschach-Mauthen, and Bishop Alois Schwarz of Gurk-Klagenfurt. The tree at the Pauline Basilica will be lit Saturday, in the presence of some 500 Austrian pilgrims.
Gutenstein im Piestingtal, also located in Carinthia, is sending a tree mid-December for St. Peter's Basilica.
By Marco Cardinali