VATICAN CITY, JUNE 26, 2009 ( Even though the Year of St. Paul will end this weekend, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls says he will keep a light on and the door open for pilgrims wishing to visit the Apostle of the Gentiles.

Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said this today in a pressing briefing ahead of the closing of the Year of St. Paul. Benedict XVI will close the jubilee year marking the 2,000th anniversary of Paul's birth in a ceremony Saturday at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

"The Pauline Year is coming to an end," the 83-year-old cardinal said, "but the great ferment of pastoral initiatives, catechesis, and cultural events is destined to continue, and to find a large following at both the local and the continental level."

"The Pauline Door [...] will remain open, and the Pauline flame lit by the Holy Father at the beginning of this year will continue to burn in the quadriporticus," he added, "reminding all the pilgrims who continue to arrive from every corner of the globe of the richness and profundity of the Word of God transmitted to us by the Apostle of the Gentiles."

Cardinal Montezemolo reported that tens of thousands of pilgrims visited the Pauline basilica in the last year, and that on May 1 of this year, the basilica saw more than 18,000 pilgrims. In recent weeks, he added, "we have certainly seen more than 10,000 a day."

Pilgrims who visited were able to see Paul's tomb, he added, which hadn't been possible before: "An opening was made in the ancient fifth century brickwork surrounding Paul's tomb under the main altar, so that pilgrims could see one side of the great marble sarcophagus, which has never been opened and which has held the mortal remains of the apostle for the last 20 centuries."

Apostle's message

The archpriest recalled that the jubilee was about more about than visiting the basilica. He noted that one of the year's main objectives was to "increase people's knowledge of, and invite them to meditate upon, the valuable message left to us by the Apostle of the Gentiles in his writings, which are often difficult and little known or poorly interpreted."

Another objective, he added, was "to create various programs in the ecumenical dimension, which means working to an ever greater degree with non-Catholic Christian communities on various initiatives of prayer, study and culture."

Reflecting on the activity of the last year, Cardinal Montezemolo noted "the celebration of the second millennium of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles was perceived and experienced as a fresh stimulus, a further reason to work toward evangelization."

"This was also felt in the Orthodox Churches and in many other Christian communities, and has become a shared commitment on the path to recreating unity among Christians," he added.

Recalling the highlights of the Pauline year, the cardinal noted Benedict XVI's catechetical addresses on the Apostle of the Gentiles, which were delivered at the weekly Wednesday audiences from last July 2 through Feb. 4.

Another highlight, he said, was the opening Mass of the synod of bishops on the Word of God, which took place at St. Paul Outside the Walls. He noted that at this meeting of bishops, St. Paul was the most mentioned figure, after Jesus Christ.