Report on Scripture in the Americas

«Our Faithful Need to Study … the Word of God»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2008 ( Here is an unofficial Vatican translation of the address Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, gave Oct. 6 to the world Synod of Bishops on «The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,» which is under way in the Vatican through Oct. 26.

This translation of the Spanish-language report on the America’s was released Friday.

* * *

Historical introduction

Christopher Columbus, who carried with him the first example of the Bible, read biblical texts out loud during his journeys, to “placate the furious waves” and usually gave Biblical names to the islands he discovered.

From the beginning an option for those who served

One of the friars traveling with Colombus to the Island of Hispaniola, the Catalan Ramon Pane, who arrived with Columbus’ second journey, is perhaps the first missionary who carries out his apostolate taking into account local culture. The monk, “a poor hermit of the Order of Saint Jerome”, learned the language of the region of Macori and, with what he managed to understand of their life, religion and native customs, wrote the first American anthropological treatise and the first European book written in America. “Relacion acerca de las antiguedades de los indios (Report on the history of the Indios)”, teaching the Gospel in the language of the natives.

Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico, arrived in 1528 with the Bible in his hand, but even more with the explicit desire to spread the Word of God to all faithful. He was not the only evangelizer to arrive with this intention. The Franciscans opened the way for the New World considering the Gospel “as the true rule of their order”. The three councils of Lima (1551 to 1583) made a superb presentation of the Gospel to the ordinary people.
The life of the pioneers of the Latin American faith, who quenched their thirst on Biblical sources, ensured that that seed did not die with the passing of centuries and they continued to live with catechesis, preaching, the presentation of literary works and a significant Biblical presence in colonial works of art.

Four centuries of Biblical hibernation

Christianity reached America at the time of Reformation, when the Bible lost its privileged place in the Catholic Church and when the majority of God’s people, especially the laity ,were deprived of a direct access to Sacred Scripture.

Latin American translations in the local languages became particularly difficult. Biblical texts were replaced by catechism and doctrine which both lack the taste of the Bible.

The last 43 years of the Bible in the Pilgrim Church of America (Since Vatican Council II) Vatican Council II appealed to all available spiritual forces to overcome the power of material intransigence and the consequent violence against the weak and the little ones. Its renovating and evangelizing intention is evident in many places, such as for example, the first paragraph of the first approved document that is the Constitution on the Liturgy.

The Council “earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the ‘excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8). ‘For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ (DV 25). It is necessary“that as many ministers of the divine word as possible will be able effectively to provide the nourishment of the Scriptures for the people of God, to enlighten their minds, strengthen their wills, and set men’s hearts on fire with the love of God” (DV 23).

CELAM, following the teaching of Vatican Council II, invited the Latin American Bishops General Conferences to deal with Biblical animation: In Medellin, 1968: An important place was given tot he Bible in its deliberations. In applying the Council advice, it sought to understand the historical moment of the Latin American man and to see the face of that people with its signs of suffering but also of hope. This lead to the affirmation that it was the strength of the Word that called and promoted the communities (6.9). For this reason, it recommended the preparation of experts on Sacred Scripture (9.11), that the priests be made capable of listening and living it with personal conversion, study and prayer (13.10); that the pastoral affirm itself on the strength of Sacred Scripture (6.13, 14.14); that catechesis transmit it faithfully (8.6); that it pervade popular devotions (6.12); and serve as the basis for the communities (6.13). The II Conference produced an ecclesial process of great vitality, characterized by creativity, imagination, research, study, the central role of the laity, their sense of belonging to the Church… that favored the resurgence of the Biblical seed of evangelization.
In Puebla, 1979: CELAM sketched the relationship between the Bible and evangelization. At that time the Latin American Church was already familiar with the reference to the Word of God, by means of the Biblical Apostolate. Echoing the expression of Leo XII about Sacred Scripture as the soul of theology (PD 58), it declared that it is “the soul of evangelization” (372) and following the Council, that it is the “fount of catechesis” (981; 1001).

As a result it recommended the spreading of the Word of God by means of the Biblical Apostolate (1001). In listing the pastoral options available to the Church under the sign of the Spirit, it insisted on the importance of listening, studying, celebrating and proclaiming the Word of God, and in bearing witness to it by denouncing situations of sin, carrying out its conversion and contributing to building a new society (1305). An enormous advance was made by insisting not so much on the interpretation of the Bible as the interpretation of life in the light of the Bible.
In Santo Domingo, 1992: The IV General Conference of the Latin American Bishops answered the explicit request of its participants with reference to the formulation of the final document: that it be Christ-centric in its content and Biblical in its expression”.

The working document of the Santo Domingo Conference emphasized lights and shadows: the experience of the meeting with the Holy Scriptures, the centrality of the Word in the Church, study, reflection and Biblical prayers, the love of the poor and the simple for the Bible, translation into native languages, popular editions, Biblical materials and methods, Biblical pastoral ministry; the lack of Biblical formation, not very Biblical homilies, tendency to fundamentalism and Biblicism, the lack of access to inexpensive editions for the poor.

The conviction that the new evangelization only “will have a renewing force in faith in the Word of God” (27), as expressed by the Biblical motto “Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever” (Heb 13:8), was stamped on the document and on the ecclesial reunion.

Other than the motto, the conference refers to two Biblical texts, both from Luke, of a paradigmatic characteristic thanks to their placement: the episode of Emmaus, 24:13-35, which gives form and structure to the message of the bishops to the peoples of Latin American and the Caribbean; and the episode of the synagogue 4:16-22, which is the foundation of the preferred option of the Latin American Episcopacy.

These three Biblical quotations lead to a definition of new evangelization in Latin America which is characterized by three elements: reference to the Word of God, the central role of the laity and the animation of the community.

The pastoral experience then indicated, on the one hand, that the last two are nourished and enlivened by their reference to the first and on the other hand the new evangelization will become a reality and at the same time an explicit announcement of Jesus Christ, only in the measure that it will be founded on the Word of God, will be open to the laity and will guara
ntee the future of the Church through the formation of communities.

References to the Sacred Scriptures inspire all of the San Domingo document and open the Christ-centric pole to these three elements towards which John Paul II had pointed at Puebla. The Biblical background of the Santo Domingo conference can also be measured in the enlightenment, in the challenges and in the pastoral lines completely inspired by what was revealed, even if this does not appear in an implicit or explicit way in Biblical quotations. It should suffice to mention the references to the poor, to women, to youth, to the ecology, to family and to human rights.

In Aparecida 2007: the theme, explicitly enriched by Benedict XVI: “disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ so that our people may have life in Him”, had an obvious Biblical and guarantory root that the Word of God penetrate the event and the conclusive document from beginning to end. In fact, the document of participation mentions the importance of the Word, the praying reading, the Biblical pastoral and its ecumenical import. On its part the synthesized document has as a common thread the Bible: in the introduction it recognizes that the Latin American ecclesial originality depended on the meditation on the Word. Its conclusion is inspired by the episode of Emmaus. The three moments of this reflection are linked to the three progressive and globalizing Biblical affirmations: seeing through the eyes of the Word (77); judging with the centrality of the Word (134-140); acting with the praying and community reading: the lectio divina (331).

This Biblical theme upholds four basic ideas that, drawn from the revealed Word, then determine theology and the pastoral projection of the document: 1) the evangelical doctrine of the Kingdom; 2) the Pauline teaching on the diversity of unity and ministeriality of the Church; 3) the formation of the stories on the Passion for the disciples in sequela and for the mission with prophetic witness; 4) anthropology of the poor expressed above all for the Gospel according to Saint Luke.

The final document is inspired by the inaugural message by the Holy Father that underlines the importance of the Word, meditations to enter into it and the fruits in Christian life. Benedict XVI recalled that “we must found our missionary commitment and all our life on the rock of the Word of God” (3).

The V Conference, therefore, has a deep Biblical fabric based on two fundamental affirmations: Biblical animation of the pastoral as the first fruit of pastoral action in the Latin American Church and the prayer reading of the Sacred Scripture as the first formation place of the encounter with Christ.

Thus begins a fundamental phase in the relationship between the Bible and the Church in Latin America. If the bishops’ reflections are interpreted in the light of the discipleship of the Bible according to Luke, this will turn more towards the centrality of the Bible in the Church and towards the Biblical orientation of every pastoral. How? Starting from the typically kerygmatic presentation of Christ the Savior. One must insist, as Saint Luke did, on the reaction of the believer, that is to say, the discipleship, through three fundamental elements – faith, conversion and baptism -, and five attitudes: sequela of Jesus, witness of life, spirituality and prayer, poverty, community life.

Some steps made by the Biblical Federation of Catholic Latin America and the Caribbean

In the meetings on the work of Biblical animation in the pastoral, the Biblical Federation of Catholic Latin America and the Caribbean highlighted the following themes: devoted reading of the Sacred Scripture; the profound spirituality that is rooted in the Bible for the building of a new society; the prophetic people of God; the transformation of life that flows from Biblical spirituality; the Bible and new evangelization; Lectio Divina and the reading of Scripture in prayer.

Tendencies in and justification of Biblical animation in the whole of pastoral life

Regarding all we have just said, we can affirm that we are seeking to ensure that the Bible is not an object that is separate from the Church’s pastoral, but rather the backdrop against which to place the pastoral. As a result the following tendencies were enunciated.
A hunger for the Word of God can be seen, that has spread throughout the whole of the Americas, especially in the more marginalized areas, creating hope and a fertile contact with the text.

Faced with the different translations of the Biblical text, we can see a worldwide phenomenon that has multiplied as never before in the history of the Church, characterized by three aspects in Latin America.

— Liturgical, through the use of the vernacular in celebrations;

— Interconfessional, on the suggestion of the Council (DV 22) and the “fundamental principles” given by the Holy See and welcomed by CELAM in its meetings with the united Biblical societies;

— missionary, for the capacity of the Bible to enter into apparently impregnable spheres.

Finally, we observe the interpretation of the text in the field of life, through the emphasis of hermeneutic understanding before exegesis, identifying “fidelity to the message” with “fidelity to man”, supported by accentuating concepts of the “theology in its context” and of the “inculturation” of the Gospel.

Difficulties encountered in Biblical animation in pastoral life

— The conditions of poverty and illiteracy;

— A divorce between exegesis and the interecclesial community, between exegesis and dogma, between exegesis and the pastoral;

— Biblical fundamentalism in sects and within Catholicism that leads to a reading that encourages passivity.

Summary of the Biblical journey in recent years in America

From 1965 to 1985 contact with the Bible text. These are the years of the translations and editions of the Bible, of examples on the part of all the Churches, of the organization of Biblical circles, of the reading and study of the sacred books on the part of the laity and the basic ecclesial communities.

From 1985 to 1993 contact with the Biblical message. These are the years of Biblical interpretation, of the organization of study centers, of the structuring of methods of Biblical pastoral, Biblical prophecy and the formation of the Biblical ministry.

From 1993 to 2007 contact with the person revealed in the Bible: Jesus Christ. It is the moment to breathe with both lungs, exegesis and hermeneutics, of the centrality of the Bible in the Church.

From 2007 onwards, we move from formation to Biblical reading starting from life; a prayerful and meaningful reading. A reading that sets out from discipleship, that is expressed profoundly in the Lectio Divina that goes on to be concerned about the mission.

Study institutes and Biblical works

Since Vatican Council II all seminaries where priests are trained in America foresee profound study of the Bible. Preaching is moving ever nearer the biblical text.

Various American episcopal conferences can rely on Bible experts who have carried out further studies and have come back to America to continue studying and to prepare other people in Biblical sciences. In various Catholic universities throughout America degree courses are available on the Bible and Biblical pastoral that are bearing great fruit.

CELAM in 2004 opened the doors of the Biblical Pastoral for Latin America (CEBIPAL) which offers courses and programs of pastoral Biblical animation in coordination with the episcopal conferences of America. Along with other institutions, it promotes the Lectio Divina. It also offers a course of permanent formation for Bible professors in America.

In the preparation of catechists, which is under the control of each diocese, the Bible occupies an important role. The Catholic Biblical Federation has a predominant role in pastoral Biblical formation in the continent (especially as regards the criteria and di
fferent styles of Biblical formation).

There are in Latin America a number of organizations that have developed a Biblical pastoral from their own perspective.
Furthermore, there are at the moment a number of Biblical magazines that publish articles of a high quality and level of exegesis.

There is also a network of higher Biblical Institutes that brings together more than 30 Biblical institutes. Various types of Biblical institutes can be found in different dioceses that respond to the concrete needs of their members. In different countries, especially in Central America, the “delegates of the Word” have offered a very special contribution to the Church. The majority of them are lay people who have acquired a Biblical formation, moving from the elementary level to specific preparation courses, and without a doubt they represent a great support for the Church.

At the interfaith level, the united Biblical societies have offered a high quality contribution to the Catholic Church, both in translations made with Catholic Biblicists as well as in new presentations of the Bible in support of pastoral work. We cannot but thank CEBIPAL for its collaboration in the formation of young people in the Lectio Divina method through the use of the Internet. Those called “lectionautas” are increasing in number every day.

Courses of Biblical formation by modern means of communication are also on the increase, for example, using the internet. We can state that the majority of publishers publish books in a great variety of editions on Biblical themes, from the most popular to the scientific. Today in America we can count on a vast Biblical bibliography in all the main languages. There currently exist a variety of editions of the Lectio Divina available for monks and religious as well as for the lay faithful.

Figures and statistics

We have to remember, as pointed out in the statistics, more than 50% of the world’s Catholics are to be found in the American continent. With four major languages and about 200 minor languages, we are faced with a very variable panorama of Biblical translations.

Spanish is certainly one of most spoken languages by Catholics throughout the world. It is therefore very important to have texts adapted for many millions of people. Currently in America there are 26 versions or translations approved by the Catholic Church that can be found in different bookshops.

Portuguese is one of the most popular languages in America and currently has 12 translations of the Bible.

English is spoken in the United States, Canada and in a large part of the Caribbean and Central America. There are 5 translations of the New Testament, 1 Book of Proverbs, 6 of the Book of Psalms and 2 complete Bibles.

French is spoken officially in Canada and in various Caribbean countries. A total of 8 versions of the Bible in French are in circulation.

The united Biblical societies have 29 Bibles without the Deutero-Canonical books, 17 with them and 29 New Testaments. Different institutions have translated the New Testament into 216 native languages in America, which has been a great cultural battle. Many of these translations are also used by the Catholic Church.

General number of Bibles distributed in the last 43 years

To discuss the numbers distributed is very difficult, because the publishing companies do not always furnish this data, especially for recent years. We can say that, the first edition of the Latin American Bible had a distribution of 60 million copies, since 1972. In two years, 420,000 copies of our Bible were distributed. Descle de Brower have distributed approximately 150,000 copies each year of the Jerusalem Bible since the seventies (approximately 5 million copies of the Bible distributed). In total in Brazil in 2007, 9,250,301 copies of the Bible were distributed.

It is important to point out that Biblical animation of the entire pastoral ministry is the culminating moment of ecclesial life, where the Bible is not a separate compartment, as if it was one of the many pastoral areas of an episcopal conference. On the contrary, the Bible is the main line that animates pastoral areas, since it roots its main reference in the Word, and makes the Word the Rock of the Church (cf. Benedict XVI, inaugural speech at Aparecida). “To make the Word of God the source that animates all pastoral activities of the Church”. “The Biblical animation of the pastoral ministry, having as its background the Lectio divina, is the integration of the Word of God and life, as a point of reference necessary the Constitution Dei Verbum, and as a fundamental method and criteria of our reality, has in its present and future horizon the defense of life and human rights”.

We, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, wish to emphasize the biblical-doctrinal formation.

With a strong religious experience and an obvious community living, our faithful need to study the knowledge of the Word of God and the contents of faith, since this is the only way to grow in one’s own religious experience. Along this road, fundamentally lived and in community, the doctrinal formation is not experienced as theoretical and cold knowledge, but as a fundamental and necessary instrument in the spiritual, personal and community growth.

We feel the urgency of develop in our communities a process of initiation to Christian life starting with the kerygma, guided by the Word of God, which leads to a personal encounter, ever greater, with Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man (166), experienced as the fullness of humanity and which leads to conversion, to the sequela in an ecclesial community and in a maturity of faith in the practice of the sacraments, in service and in the mission (Document of Aparecida 289).

Teaching prayer

Among the many ways to approach the Sacred Scripture there is a privileged one, to which we are all invited: the Lectio divina, or the exercise of prayer reading of the Sacred Scripture. The prayer reading, if well done, leads to the encounter with Jesus the Teacher, to knowledge of the Mystery of Jesus the Messiah, to communion with Jesus the Son of God and to witness of Jesus the Lord of the universe (Document Aparecida 249).

Public life. Christians living according to the Word

Globalization has its positive aspects, especially when talking about information. We are informed of what is happening in the public lives of our countries, often with scandals of every sort. However, we deplore the fact that many protagonists of this social and political scenario have passed through our centers of formation (catechesis, youth groups, schools and universities). We should ask ourselves: what was the role of teaching the Word of God in them? Did we help them encounter the God of the Word? Why, when inserted in public life, whichever scenario they are involved in, are the Gospel values not the orientation of their lives?

In a strong Christian formation, the encounter with the God of the Word is necessary, which changes, modifies the behavior to the point of transforming them into Christian behavior. Therefore it is necessary to re-elaborate the way in which we teach Biblical faith for the life of Christians. A life that must be manifested in all its aspects, and that must embrace the totality of actions, and not only their life within our temples.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation