Catholic Bible Foundation Turns 25
As the Catholic Bible Foundation turns 25, head Br Mike Chalmers CFC looks back at how it started – in the most unlikely of places.
The Catholic Bible Foundation (CBF) will celebrate its 25th birthday on September 12 — a quarter of a century of bringing the Word of God to the Catholics of Southern Africa.
The CBF was “born” in a remote village near Elandskop, in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, when two Holy Family Sisters entered the home of Mrs Mdaweni.
It was the humblest of homes and Mrs Mdaweni was among the poorest of the poor.
At the time Mrs Mdaweni’s son was dying of cancer. Her dearest possession was a picture of the Sacred Heart; she owned very little else.
Holy Family Sister Mary Doyle and her companion had come to enquire if they could do anything to assist this poverty-stricken family. Much to their surprise Mrs Mdaweni responded: “Sisters, we know that you can do nothing about our poverty. We will handle that ourselves. What we want you to do is bring us the Word of God.”
Out of this grew a Bible-sharing group in which all denominations found a home. Sr Doyle treasured these memories. In time she would be able to devote her life to answering God’s call coming to her from the people of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Little did anyone present on these occasions realise the far-reaching impact the words, “Bring us the Word of God”, would have.
Meanwhile, far away
Meanwhile, a thousand kilometres away in Klerksdorp, North-West Province, Bishop Daniel Verstraete OMI was busy preparing for the day when he would be able to realise his dream of establishing an organisation that would have as its sole aim the promotion of Scripture in the Church. Providence took over.
The time came when Sr Doyle wrote a letter to Bishop Verstraete telling him about her wish to respond to what she knew was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Thirty years before, the Second Vatican Council had promulgated the document Dei Verbum, calling for a renewed interest and love of Scripture among all Catholics.
As Bishop Verstraete read that letter from Sr Doyle he went down on his knees praying in thanksgiving. And so the Catholic Bible Foundation of SA came into existence.
The vision of the Catholic Bible Foundation is “to help people enter into a living and dynamic relationship with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, through the Word of God in Scripture”.
That relationship with the Word of God has the power to change people. My confrères noticed that in me. “Mike, you have changed since you started working for the Catholic Bible Foundation,” they said. I hope that all will have the same experience.
25 years of service
During our 25 years we have worked in most dioceses in the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference region, including Botswana, as well as in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
We take our inspiration from the teaching of the Church: Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (1965), the teachings of Pope John Paul ll, and Verbum Domini, the 2010 post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Benedict XVI.
Christ himself is present in his Word, since it is he who speaks when Scripture is read in Church, as Pope Benedict said in Verbum Domini (52).
Pope John Paul ll in 1996 noted that the Word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality. It gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God.
Let all remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together for we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the Divine sayings (Dei Verbum 25).
Currently the CBF offers programmes at all school levels. For parishes, dioceses and religious houses of formation we offer Basic Biblical Spirituality, Windows on God’s Word, Lectio Divina, Gospel of the Year, Exploring Scripture Together, Scripture for Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers and Lenten Retreats.
Since 2005 the CBF has organised and promoted Bible Sunday on the last Sunday in August.
For ten years we offered the archdiocese of Johannesburg a monthly article on the Word of God. Commentaries on the Sunday readings are published on our website.
Br Mike Chalmers is the director of the Catholic Bible Foundation. His book Bread That Will Last was published in 2015. His new book, Meet God in His Word, will be launched on September 12 as part of the CBF’s 25th-anniversary celebrations.