AEC BISHOPS RENEW COMMITMENT TO WORD OF GOD, BIBLICAL ANIMATION AT BIBLE REFRESHER COURSE “WITH WORDS IF NECESSARY”
Thirteen (13) Archbishops and Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) accompanied by the Region’s Cardinal Kelvin Felix, AEC General Secretary Fr. John Persaud and four (4) priest Diocesan ABP Coordinators renewed their commitment to constant study, meditation, love and service of the Word of God and Biblical Animation of All Pastoral Life (ABP) at a specially organized week-long Bible Refresher Course for AEC Bishops in Miami 19-23 June, 2017.
The Bible Refresher Course on the theme of “The Sermon on the Mount” was jointly sponsored by Latin America and Caribbean Bishops Conference (CELAM), the AEC, and the prestigious US Catholic University of Notre Dame, and established as a historic precedent of being the first such course entirely in English involving CELAM which mainly comprises Spanish Speaking Episcopal Conferences of Latin America along with Brazil. A Chilean Bishop who studied at Heythrop College in England and worked for years as a missionary in Ghana also participated in the Course attended by the recently elected President of the AEC Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica and Vice President Bishop Charles Jason Gordon of Bridgetown, Barbados.
The intense 40- hour course was delivered by Dr. Sixto García, a lay theologian, professor emeritus at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida and the first Latino to receive a doctorate in theology at the University of Notre Dame in 1986. His introduction highlighted the following themes developed further with concrete examples during the week:
- That Jesus, far from offering a comfortable soothing message to the well off in his Sermon on the Mount discourse (Matthew Chapters 5-7), preached a powerful subversive message of the priority of the Poor in the Kingdom of God (echoed for example in the words of Pope Francis 10 June 2013, “The Poor are the Gospel” and “I wish a Church that is poor, and for the poor,”. . . They have much to teach us . . . We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them,” Evangelii Gaudium,” 198.
- Perissón Greek Mt. 5:17-20 ff. The excessive, abundant, exceeding, above and beyond, vehement love and grace of God that Jesus lived and witnessed that alone make possible our living out of the Beatitudes and the Antitheses (e.g. You have heard it said An eye for an eye… but I tell you Love your enemies….
- The Centre of the Sermon on the Mount- the Lord´s Prayer, God and his Love for the Poor, the Sinners, the Marginalized. “We cannot live a true dependence and reliance on God, if our high priorities continue to be provision for our material needs, present and future”
- The early church understood Jesus’ radical words as instruction to put into concrete practice in Life.
A Skype Lecture and dialogue with the Bishops on “The notion of charity and the poor in Luke-Acts” was delivered by Prof. Dr. Gary Anderson Ph.D. Harvard University, and Hesburgh Professor of Theology and a scholar of the Old Testament at Notre Dame, former lecturer at Harvard University and President of the US Catholic Biblical Association in 2013-2014.
In his presentation Dr. Anderson noted that in sharp contrast and alien to the paganism of the Roman Empire, the message and witness of Jesus and the communities of Acts of the Apostles stressed the notion that “because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another. Moreover, such responsibilities were to be extended beyond the bonds of family and tribe, indeed to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2). These were revolutionary ideas.
On the other hand, he noted that the witness of Jesus in Luke and the New Testament of the command to practical love and service of others has a solid history and foundation in the Old Testament by citing several key OT passages, e.g.
“Nevertheless, be patient with someone in humble circumstances, and do not keep him waiting for your alms. Help the poor for the commandment’s sake, and in their need, do not send them away empty-handed. Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost. Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from every disaster” (Sirach 29: 7-11)
A lively exchange followed on comments by the Bishops on an illustrative image presented by Dr. Anderson of a 15th century funeral Mass and the inseparable link between the grace of the Eucharist and the practise of charity and service of the poor in the Gospels regarding eternal salvation (image attached)
Ms. Esther Terry, Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree at Notre Dame, and Director of the Camino program at the University of Notre Dame and its on-line catechetical learning program presented the various virtual courses in STEP offered by the University of Notre Dame.
The service team in Miami consisted of Fr. Guillermo Acero and Fr. Damian Nannini, the respective out-going and incoming Directors of CELAM’S CEBITEPAL Bible School, Fr. John Persaud AEC General Secretary, Maria Díaz-James Caribbean Coordinator of the Catholic Biblical Federation, and Deacon Mike James CBF Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the tradition of the Second Vatican Council sessions and the Synod on the Word of God the Enthronization of the Word of God in the Meeting space inaugurated the Course, and each day began with the exercise of Lectio Divina on the daily Gospel reading with Bishops and priests in their Provincial groups following the seven step method promoted by AEC ABP Committee Chairman Bishop Emmanuel Lafont during his years of service of poor communities in Soweto in South Africa. By happy coincidence the recommended Gospel readings for the week of the course were all from St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, so that prayer followed study and vice versa.
Also by fortunate coincidence, the Course venue was in visiting distance of the Headquarters of Food for the Poor, the Jamaican founded agency which provides food and other essential support to the very poorest in the Caribbean.
In their visit, Mr. Robin Mahfood President of Food for the Poor and staff welcomed the Bishops and other participants and underlined the role of the organization in linking the Church of the First World with the Church of the Third World in a manner that helps both the materially poor and the poor in Spirit, echoing the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and Mt 25:40 “As often as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me”. He noted that the Caribbean Countries with the highest levels of urban poverty, Haiti 70% and Jamaica and Guyana with levels of poverty in the 30% region are those where Food for the Poor has resident offices and its greatest support programmes. The Bishops also thanked Mr. Mahfood and his team for helping to spread the Bread of the Word in the Region through repeatedly transporting Christian Community Bibles purchased by the AEC from Miami to territories in the region at no cost in Food for the Poor containers.
Following the visit, the Bishops celebrated a Eucharist at the recently completed Miami Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe where Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami was the chief Celebrant and host. On other days, the Eucharist was led by Bishops from the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Kingston, Castries and Port of Spain, and by his Eminence, Kelvin Cardinal Felix.
There was also time on the agenda for presentations on the recent English Translation of the ABP Guidelines for Latin America and the Caribbean presented and endorsed at the II Continental ABP Encounter in Quito Ecuador last year August.
Based on the narrative of the Disciples encounter and recognition of the Risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus, presentations on the Guidelines were made by Deacon Mike James, Catholic Biblical Federation Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, by Bishop Lafont on Chapters 1, 2 and the key ABP Mission in Community of Chapter 7, and by Msgr. William John-Lewis.
These were followed by refection and discussion groups of the Bishops by Province. In the reports of the group discussion and recommendations one bishop participant noted a common experience, “Through the Word, I experienced God journeying with us on the way to freedom. People have been experiencing suffering, violence and even death because they sought for justice. In our experience, despite the violent conditions, our people still see the need to gather together for reflection and studying the Word. Services are also conducted in the Spirit of Ecumenism. Prayer and reflections on the Word now give us freedom, courage and strength to move on.
Another Province report noted
“We are not yet fully converted to the Word of God. We need to see more groups of persons gathered around the Word following our own example. Some of us can be reluctant in meditating, meeting and sharing with other Clergy in our preparation for Sunday’s homilies so that our own hearts are continuously converted and our people in turn can be equally touched and moved.”
The Bishops and other participants confirmed their commitment to ABP in the Antilles region, to promoting participation by multiplier Agents of ABP in their dioceses in the first CELAM CEBITEPAL Course to be conducted in English in Trinidad later this year (1-12 October in Trinidad), and support of the wider distribution and implementation of the ABP Guidelines in English in their dioceses
In a stirring witness at the end of the Course, Bishop Lafont noted that he takes his Bible with him in his meetings with public officials in Cayenne and France and with remote local indigenous communities alike, and that the Word of God is better company on evangelizing visits than a camera.
Sharing a humorous cartoon, he noted that Change first comes in and from ourselves.
At the formal closing Eucharist at which the Chief Celebrant was President of the AEC Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, certificates of participation in the course from the University of Notre Dame and CEBITEPAL were presented to participants by Notre Dame’s Ester Terry and Professor Sixto Garciá.
At the Mass at which the Communion Hymn was “To be the Body of the Lord in this World” composed by Trinidadian Fr. Clyde Harvey, AEC General Secretary Fr. Persaud announced the recent appointment by Pope Francis of Fr. Harvey as the Bishop-elect of the Diocese of St George’s in Grenada. Special prayers for Fr. Harvey and thanksgiving for the people of Grenada were offered.
Fr. Persaud also expressed the special thanks of the AEC to CELAM and the University of Notre Dame for their organization of the very timely and appreciated Bible Course for Bishops. He also thanked Fr. Acero for his outstanding service to the Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean through CEBITEPAL. Fr. Acero leaves CEBITEPAL to take up his appointment as Vicar General of his Religious Congregation in Rome. He welcomed Fr. Nannini who succeeds Fr. Acero and pledged to continue the close cooperation of the AEC with him and CELAM in the service of the Word of God and ABP in the AEC.
In a post-Course message to his fellow Bishops and participants thanking them “all for the wonderful week we had together in Miami”, the Chairman of the AEC ABP Committee Bishop Lafont, added: “It was nice to reaffirm, with you, the Liberating power of God’s Word. Verbum Domini manet in aeternum. (The Word of God remains forever. Is 40:8)
Archbishop Kenneth Richards of Kingston said he “shares in the great appreciation for this most worthwhile Biblical engagement and refresher.”
Bishop Carlos Pellegrin from his diocese in Chile, south of the Capital Santiago, wrote his fellow participants, “I have arrived in Chile with a thankful heart, grateful to the Lord and to every one of you, for the wonderful time we spent together deepening our Christian commitment with the Word of God.
For me, personally, (it) was a real gift to be able to join and share the communion of the members of AEC churches. I have come back with greater enthusiasm to serve and witness to the Lord “even with words if it (is) necessary”. (cf. Saint Francis)
3 July 2017
AEC President Bishop Malzaire of Roseau Dominica
AEC course participants at Food for the Poor Miami
Cardinal Felix with AEC (Arch)Bishops
At Closing Eucharist