South Asian Biblical Ministers to Promote “Culture of the Bible” in Communities and Formation of the Laity

INDIA / HONG KONGForty participants sought the light of the Word for their biblical pastoral ministry at the recent Fifth South Asian Workshop of the Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF), declaring to promote a “Culture of the Bible” in communities and to train lay animators who in turn can form other lay people.

The biblical workshop, held from January 2 to 5 at Sarvodaya Centre of the St. Pius College in Mumbai, India, reflected on the theme “Word of God: Source of Justice and Peace” in the context of South Asia. The event was a concrete preparation for the upcoming Seventh Plenary Assembly of the CBF which will take place from June 24 to July 3 in Tanzania, Africa, and the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” to be held from October 5 to 26 in Rome.

The opening Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI). In his address to the participants, the cardinal made reference to the challenges mentioned in the Lineamenta for the Bishops’ Synod: “There is a felt need for a more total and complete knowledge of the Church’s teaching on the Word of God. Suitable methods need to be employed to provide all Christians with opportunities to encounter our Holy Scriptures and experience God’s saving and transforming power.”

Archbishop Soosa Pakiam, Chairman of CCBI Commission for Bible, and Bishop Antony Devotta of Trichy, Tamilnadu of India joined in concelebrating the Mass.

Being a rich experience of deep reflection on the theme with the help of scholarly and pastorally relevant presentations and daily Lectio Divina, workshop participants voiced the urgency to give the Bible back to the People of God, empowering them to read the Word meaningfully with life-related contexts to nurture a genuine biblical spirituality.

Fr. Peter Abir, South Asia Sugregional Coordinator of CBF and Director of Tamilnadu Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre of India, said: “In the religiously and culturally pluralistic context of South Asia, we need to adopt a dialogical approach in dealing with the issues of conflict, violence and injustice. This calls for a church in which men and women work in dynamic partnership and inclusive leadership to bring about a culture of reconciliation, justice and peace.”

Reviewing the socio-eco-political-religious issues, South Asia is marked by stark contrasts of great economic growth, educational excellence in the fields of medicine, information technology, scientific temper and industry on one hand and poverty, fundamentalism, terrorism, violence, globalization, displacement and migration on the other. It has been noted that the massive poverty is caused by the unequal distribution of resources, religious traditions that legitimize caste system, corrupt political systems, colonialist hegemony and illiteracy of masses.

In his keynote address, Archbishop Soosa Pakiam, Chairman of Bible Commission of the CCBI, highlighted that peace is a gift of God to humanity. “We need to observe challenges for building a brighter future whereby the Word of God will give shape to ‘a new world order’ of which love is the content. Jesus is our peace and the model of justice.”

Divine Word Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, Philippines, moderator of CBF’s Executive Committee and chairman of the Philippine bishops’ Episcopal Commission on the Biblical Apostolate, sent a message to the Mumbai meeting. He said that God’s Word is really a source of “justice”, whose moral notion is very broad in the bible, extending to the total observance of all God’s commandments. “For the world to achieve peace, all of us, especially Christians, must learn how to reconcile with each other. Full reconciliation will take place only when we do what God requires us: to do what is right, to show constant love and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).”

To facilitate a broader interactive exchange in the biblical pastoral ministry in the region to prepare for the CBF plenary meeting and the bishops’ synod, Northeast Asia Subregional Coordinator of CBF Cecilia Chui was also invited to attend the Mumbai workshop. She proposed to intensify collaboration by uniting lay institutions and relevant organizations in the CBF network to form a more organized contributing force for lay empowerment and participation in the ministry of the Word.

In this year of celebrating the Jubilee Year of St. Paul, the South Asian workshop concluded with a final statement pledging to create and strengthen a “Culture of the Bible” through a process of animation, training and formation whereby individuals, families and communities give centrality to the Word of God in their lives. Attention will be paid to practical training for seminarians and religious in experiential reading and animation of lay people for the Bible apostolate. Another resolution is to bridge the gap between the laity and the scholars, the laity and the clergy, between the popular and the exegetical reading of the Word. People will be encouraged to bring their own Bible for prayer and devotions so as to enhance their reverence and attachment to the Bible.

Every form of the ministry of the Word – whether in Liturgy, Catechesis, Small Christian Communities (SCCs), families, prayer groups, biblical formation programs – should let the Word shed its light on the concrete life situations so as to interpret God’s will in situations of injustice, exclusion and division. This prophetic interpretation should lead to an authentic and credible response as individuals and communities.

As a further regional preparation leading up to the forthcoming CBF plenary assembly, under the theme “Word of God – Source of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace”, the Fifth CBF Southeast Asian Workshop is scheduled to take place from February 11 to 17 in the Philippines.

Established in April 1969, the CBF is an association of international and local Catholic groups committed to biblical pastoral ministry. The Federation has a network of more than 320 member organizations located in 132 countries.

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