A two-week trip to Greece will let priests in Rome follow in the steps of St. Paul: all the way from his conversion in Philippi, to his preaching in Corinth and finally his overnight stop in Crete as a prisoner. “Studying the Bible in the places where it was written — the Holy Land, Greece, Turkey — is essential for all students of Scripture, in my opinion,” Father Scott Brodeur S.J. told CNA Aug. 13. “Of course classroom lectures and readings are essential to the learning process, but well-planned trips to the Biblical lands really help people put that knowledge into better perspective.” Fr. Brodeur is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and a specialist in Pauline studies. For the second year in a row he will be leading the “Paolo e il suo ambiente (Paul and his environment)” course in Greece, a two-week a licentiate-level study done through the Biblical Theology department of the Gregorian University. Starting Sept. 7, the course is meant to introduce students to what would have been St. Paul's world in the first century. “After visiting the baptistery area along the river bank in Philippi, you cannot read the story from Acts about Paul's conversion of St. Lydia in the same way,” Fr. Brodeur said. “The same with a visit to Corinth or Thessalonica — Paul's letters make more sense and take on greater meaning.” The 33 students who will participate in the course this year are mostly religious and diocesan priests from the Gregorian, with the exception of one laywoman and her husband, and a few students from the other pontifical universities. A handful of non-students coming just for the experience are also numbered among the group, including the rector of Pontifical Brazilian College. “That said, the real diversity in the group is our national makeup: many different countries from all over the world are represented, and the one language we all share, thanks to Rome, is Italian,” the priest observed. Structured around the major places in St. Paul's life and ministry in Greece, the course will take students to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Crete. The fact they will be traveling by bus will help those enrolled to appreciate the long distances Paul and the other apostles traveled by foot, which was “an extraordinary achievement for people in the first century!” Fr. Brodeur said. After spending roughly a week and a half going around continental Greece, the group will spend their final three nights on Crete, which is the last place St. Paul — while in chains — visited before shipwrecking on the island of Malta. Although the main goal is to visit the churches that Paul himself founded, the priest stressed that it’s also important to learn about the major pagan sanctuaries of the day. In addition to visiting the shrines of Delphi, Olympia and Epidaurus, the students will also be taken to the Orthodox monasteries of the Meteora, which Fr. Brodeur noted are “unique in the whole world.” St. Paul, he observed, “is the Church’s greatest evangelizer. He brought the Gospel to the nations and brought the Gentiles into the Church.” “Thanks to his brilliant articulation of the Christian faith Christianity spread from Asia to Europe. He was a man of extraordinary intellect, courage and zeal,” he said, and expressed his admiration of the apostle for these and the many other virtues he possessed. Since first teaching the course two years ago Fr. Brodeur said that he has seen the students who participate come back to Rome not only more enthusiastic about St. Paul, but also more interested in the New Testament. “This renewed interest helps them to persevere in their ongoing studies as well as prepare them for their own teaching careers.” With many of the course participants likely to soon return to their home dioceses or provinces and join faculties in seminaries and Catholic universities.
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