Episcopal Commission on the 
Biblical Apostolate

Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines



Posted on August 13, 2012 at 11:45 PM


Archbishop Charles Bo, SDB

Archbishop of Yangon – Myanmar


Respected Brother Bishops, dignitaries, Priests, religious, all the other esteemed delegates, Shalom. Minglaba,

Salam alikum!

It is a greathonor to address this august assembly, consisting of eminent scholars,practitioners of the Word.   I have neither the boast of scripturescholar nor the gift of an evangelical preacher.  I am not the wise manfrom the East, I am a shepherd, in many ways, whose knowledge of the ‘word thatbecome flesh’ is not laudatory as the scholars assembled here.  I am apastor from a country till recently closed to the world. I am aware there arebiblical scholars here, bishops who have done studies in depth on Verbum Dominiand other papal document.

So yourindulgence in inviting me to deliver this key note address is an affectionatehonor you bestow on the people of Myanmar, whose long night of silenttears is slowly breaking into new dawn.  In that way, we are a people whoIsaiah praised as the people ‘who walked in the darkness and awaiting to seethe light’.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the organizers, for this honorand friendship.

Let me beginwith a little story:

The Grain ofRice

Once there wasa good king who ruled wisely and who ruled well. He was loved by all the peopleof his kingdom. One day the king called his four daughters together and toldthem that he was leaving on a long journey. “I wish to learn more about God. Iam going to a far off monastery to spend a long time in prayer. In my absence Iam leaving the four of you in charge of my kingdom.”

 ”Oh,Father,” they cried, “don’t leave us. We will never be able to rule the kingdomwithout you.”

The kingsmiled. “You’ll do well in my absence,” he said. “Now before I leave, I wish togive each of you a gift. It is my prayer that this gift will help you learn howto rule.” The king placed a single grain of rice in each daughter’s hand. Thenhe left on his journey.

The oldestdaughter immediately went to her room. She tied a long golden thread around thegrain of rice and placed it in a beautiful crystal box. Every day she picked upthe box and looked at it.

The seconddaughter also went to her room, where she placed the grain of rice in a woodenbox and put it in a secure spot under her bed.

The thirddaughter, a very pragmatic young woman, looked at the grain of rice andthought, “This grain of rice is no different from any other grain of rice.” Shesimply threw the grain of rice away.

The youngestdaughter took her grain of rice to her room and wondered about the significanceof the gift. She wondered for a week, then a month. When nearly a year passed,she understood the meaning of the gift.

 Monthsturned into years, and the four daughters ruled their father’s kingdom. Andthen one day, the king returned. His beard was full and his eyes sparkled withillumination gained through years of prayer. The king greeted each of hisdaughters, then asked to see the gifts he had left with them.

The oldestdaughter rushed to her room and brought back the crystal box. “Father,” shebegan, “I carefully tied a golden thread around the grain of rice and have keptit near my bed where I have looked at it every day since you left.”

Bowing to hisdaughter, the king accepted the box and said, “Thank you.”

Next, thesecond daughter presented her father with a wooden box containing the grain ofrice. “All these years I’ve kept the rice secure under my bed,” she said. “Hereit is.”

Again thefather bowed to his daughter, accepted the box, and said, “Thank you.”

The thirddaughter rushed into the kitchen, found a grain of rice, ran back and said,“Father, here is my grain of rice.”

Smiling, theking accepted the grain of rice, bowed, and said, “Thank you.”

Finally theyoungest daughter stepped before her father and said, “I do not have the grainof rice that you gave me,” she said.

 ”Well,what have you done with it?” the king inquired.

 ”Father,I thought about that grain of rice for nearly a year before I discovered themeaning of the gift. I realized that the grain of rice was a seed. So I plantedit in the ground. Soon it grew, and from it I harvested other seeds. I thenplanted all those seeds, and again I harvested the crop. Father, I’ve continuedto do this. Come outside, look at the results.”

The kingfollowed his daughter where he looked out at an enormous crop of ricestretching as far as the eye could see. There was enough rice to feed theentire nation.

Stepping beforehis daughter, the king took off his gold­en crown and placed it on her head.“You have learned the meaning of how to rule,” he said softly.

From that dayon, the youngest daughter ruled the kingdom. She ruled long, wisely and well.

I haveorganized my simple talk into just three major sections:

The context with special reference to the Holy Father’s intention of year of Faith and New Evangelization that has to be taken to  the modern man and woman in their context,The opportunities  a  new  world  offers andThe challenges ahead.Some of thesethemes are known to you all. My attempt is to initiate reflection on some ofthe urgent needs of the world to which the Word of God can be great answer.

His PresenceAmong Us today:

 Istrongly feel the presence of the Lord Jesus amidst us in this conference. Iwish to greet you in the words our Lord used when he entered the house ofZacchaeus. “Blessings have come to this house” (Lk 19:9)   We startwith that prayer for blessings and salvation in the name of Jesus. We aregathered in the house of the Lord – believing strongly ‘the word becomes Fleshamidst us’.  (John 1:14)This is a sacred moment and sacred Place.  Wegather with the same feeling that the psalmist felt ‘Come within his gatesgiving thanks, to his courts singing praise, give thanks to him and bless hisname! (Ps: 100:4). As the Acts of the Apostles gathered in one place (Acts 2:1-4) we pray for the pouring of spirit in these days.   We pray offulfillment of his promise  “For where two or three are gathered in myname, I am amidst them. (Mathew 18:20).  Ours is a faith Journey of thedisciples of Emmaus, whose little faith and doubt, ended with a magnificentprayer: stay with us Lord. (Lk 24:29). May His Spirit Animate us.

The Logo – itsrelevance and the Challenge

The beautifully designed logo of this conference tells it all – Verbum Domini, theWord of the Lord is for us engraved in the Holy Book, the Sacred Scriptureswhich always gets a prominent place in our churches, homes, and above all, inour hearts. The world is our planet earth. The workshop is for South East Asia as partly seen on the logo.  Thefocus is on West Java with the yellow color. Bandung, the venue issituated there. The figure on the left depicts the “Rishi” priest or holy manin the Mahabharata or Ramayana story.  The “wayang” is a very oldtradition from Hindu times. It is performed by people or by puppets made ofclay or leather.  The figure here is made of leather.  The arms aremoveable by sticks, controlled by the puppeteer, one who tells the story. TheRishi brings us to prayer, to worship, to communication with God. The Wordinvites us first of all to listen to the Word in prayer. The boy on the left isplaying the angklung, a traditional bamboo instrument. It brings us to everydaylife where the Word has to take root, become flesh and bones, speak to us injoy and sorrow, in sickness and in health.

1. The contextof our Gathering today:

The country

We aregathering in the largest Muslim Country in the world. Their faith theiradherence to the Book has always inspired us.  We, the Jews, theChristians and Muslims are the sons of Abraham, children of the covenant. Faith is an integral part of a Muslim’s life. Parts of Koran are shared withthe Christian tradition.  Isau as Jesus, Miriam as Mary, Ibrahim asAbraham, we share the same faith journey.  Let this fellowship be mutuallyenriching. Indonesian Christians have redefined their faith and exemplaryChristian life amidst their Muslim brethren, promoting understanding and mutualadmiration. Vatican II realized the special relationship we enjoy with Muslims:“The plan of Salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in thefirst place among whom are Muslims, these profess to hold the faith of Abraham,and together with us they adore the One, merciful God, mankind’s judge on thelast day” (The Dogmatic Constitution on the church Lumen Gentium (LG 16). Wecome as brothers and fellow pilgrims in our sacred journey.

Special Year:

This is theyear of Faith, the year of New Evangelization. The clarion call to allChristians to understand the Word of God and proclaim gains a new urgency withthis initiative.   It started with the Second Vatican Council, reaffirmed in the Encyclical Evangeli Nuntianti and popularized by the Pope JohnPaul II.  The present Holy Father, in his erudite wisdom has called forthe whole church to take the word and proclaim it.   So there is arenewed urgency and a relevance to our gathering today.


Christ himselfis the gift from the father.  He is the word that became flesh. He broughtthe good news and collected a group of disciples. The call to proclaim the wordwas given by our Lord Jesus Christ himself:

Go thereforeand make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father andof the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I havecommanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Mt. 28:19-20)

This word is amessage revealed through Jesus himself to all of us.

 Now Iwant to make it quite clear to you, brothers, about the gospel that waspreached by me, that it was no human message. It was not from any human beingthat I received it, and I was not taught it, but it came to me through arevelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1: 11-12)

St Paul brought the urgency of the Gospel as he strongly affirmed, proclamation as an obligation to every follower ofChrist.  “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel (1Cor 9:16)” Know theBible, know Christ and proclaim him. That is the command for all of us thisyear.

The mandatefrom the Church:

 VaticanII reemphasized the mission of the Word to the Ad Gentes.  Pope PaulVI   inspired the Catholic community with his Evangeli Nuntiati: “TheTask of Evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of theChurch”  Pope John Paul while introducing the   phrase ‘NewEvangelization’

     “Evangelization is Fundamental to the Church Mission and has its origin inTrinity itself. It is always focused on faith in and personal encounter withChrist and these results in the profound experience of Conversion.Evangelization is the task of the entire church and is concretely located inthe activity of the local Church “(John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio)

2. Thechallenges from the Modern World

The topic givento me is:  Verbum Domini in Our World Today.  The innocent lookingtopic masks many challenges.  The pivotal challenge is “whichworld?”   Pope John Paul II identified three kinds of world – withreference to the message of Christ.

The world where Christ message is still not known – Ad Gentes,The world that has known Christ well and made his teachings a way of life.  The need for these ‘Evangelized becoming Evangelizers’The world where Christian has been diluted by onslaught of secularism and relativism where the baptized do not practice Christianity in their private and public life.   Christianity faces herculean challenges in this century.For the last five decades, the world hasachieved much. It has wired itself into a virtual world through the internetand social networking.   While technology has been galloping at asearing rapidity, in moral and spiritual sphere, humanity is on a slipperyrock.  Transcendence and the sense of God is compromised with reductionistideologies like post modernism – euphemism for existentialconfusion.   It is through this man made darkness at the noon time,Christ message has to pierce. Some of the main challenges we face today are:

1.    Ethical relativismand the Word of God the “tyranny of relativism” as our Holy Father has termedhas commoditized and trivialized every sacred symbols and systems of thepast.  Family, the cradle of human civilization lies in ruins in manycountries. John’s Gospel opens up with beautiful asserting that ‘word becomesflesh”. The human body is sacred. St Paul reminds us.”Your body is the Temple of the holy Spirit” (I Cor 6:19) Thesanctity of union of man and woman is threatened by western concepts of samesex marriages, abortions and genetic manipulations.  It is a travesty ofhuman existence that in countries like Japan there are more pets thanchildren. The moral compass that guided the human journey for centuries is lostin the pursuit of hedonism without any responsibility.  The first chaptersof Genesis open with the beautiful concept of man and woman being created inGod’s image. (Gen 1:26). Today that   Human body is a marketable commodity,a conduit to reckless enjoyment and exploitation.  The modern forms ofslavery, human trafficking, sex trade and other existential threats areaccepted as ‘freedoms’.  Europe leads theway in all this, provoking the Holy Father to urge its return to its Christianroots.  In a Globalizing world we in the east are not immune from this,especially our youth are directly exposed to these dangers.  Christincarnation is a historical evidence of sanctification of human body. His   establishment of the Eucharist ‘this is my body’, his death onthe Cross are enduring affirmation of the sanctity of the human person, who aresaved by his precious blood from eternal damnation of death.  The humanfamily has indebtedness to Jesus. The world is his body. “All of you are ChristBody, each one is part of it” says the Apostle.  (1 Cor 12: 27). Survivalof humanity depends on the return to Gospel Values of respect for Life.

2.    A Christianitywithout the Bible as the Centre of Life:  The Use of Bible in the life ofthe Catholics is sadly inadequate.  Vatican Ecclesiology gave a threedimension to Christian life with three Ws : Word, worship andWitness.   While the Catholics have taken commendable steps inworship and Witness too, Catholic faith is not marked by its fervor for theWord. After fifty years of Vatican II, the Word of God as in the Bible remainsa strange book to many Catholics.  The Bible is the fountain of our faith,the inspiration and the guide in our life journey.  With the new Evangelization,all especially the laity are expected to play a major role in the spread of theGood news.

3.    The Word of God andthe problem of Poverty and Starvation: Word is broken and bread is broken inevery Mass. Every day, Eucharist bread is broken with the compelling words: Take andEat!  But we are painfully aware we break bread in an unjust world wheremillions do not have anything to take and eat. Every day 30000 children die ofStarvation (UNICEF 2001). That amounts to 10 million children every year, 1800children every hour and 20 Children every minute!  The Market Economy hasunsettled agriculture, the very soul of millions of our people. Urbanization has brought in slums with squalor and inhuman existence in many ofour East Asian Countries. What is the ‘word of God’ for these suffering people?Bible’s strong identification with the poor, as in Exodus, (EX 3:6-8) as in thelife of Jesus, (Mt 25: 31-40, Lk 4: 16-18) is a timeless message.  Onceagain Genesis portrays God as a generous father creating the world and givingit as a gift to all humankind for a happy life.   Poverty hasincreased in the last two decades, disturbing the rural communities andbreaking them into pieces. The widespread problem of maids without justice, thefactory girls in Chinaand unsafe migration of our youth in other countries pose a fundamental problemto the Church. One of the methods of new Evangelization to be present among thepoor, in upholding their dignity, helping in their human development. Paul VIhas impressed upon the church ‘the intimate relationship between evangelizationand human promotion, development, liberation that is anthropological,theological and evangelical ( EN 31). Pope John Paul II considers humandevelopment is one of the paths of Mission (RM).  Our Holy Father Benedictimplores that human development and promotion of justice are integral ofevangelization. (Caritas in Veritate 15).

4.    Harmony amongCultures and the Word of God: Soon after the Sep 11th attack it is customary totalk of ‘clash’ among various peoples.  After a century of clash of‘classes’ under Marxian analysis, certain sections of intellectuals andcountries mainstream a concept of ‘conflict among cultures’. The quest for Godand ultimate meaning must have united the humanity towards peace andreconciliation. Unfortunately mutual suspicion has sent wrong signals to thosewho do not believe in God and His redeeming message.  The neo liberaleconomy which has sent millions to poverty has a hidden agenda in creating andmaintaining conflicts among religions. Many of the Western Economies justmelted away in the human greed. In this milieu of excessive greed, there is agenuine search for God and imperishable values. “God is back’ is therealization in societies that sought solace in consumerism.  The challengeis to the Church to present a “message credible and understood by the modernman”.

5.    A creation Groaningunder Human Greed:  A recent study gave us shocking news, that most of thecountries will go to war in future over drinking water.  The world isspending more of its natural resources like water than it can reproduce. Water a great gift of the creator is already privatized. Millions of acres offorest disappear, the ozone turbulence, global warming and sea rising are someof the news we watch with great concern every day.  The concept ofEvolution that negates God’s Creation has facilitated wanton destruction ofnature.  Once again the poor are the victims.

3. Opportunties for Word of God confrontedwith the modern world

·       Guidancefrom New Evangelization: The instruction in the New Evangelization movement hasgiven fourfold approach. Each country called upon to come out a plan of action,with active participation of the laity ‘the evangelized becoming theevangelizers”

1.    Proclamation thatcomes through a deep encounter with Jesus

2.    Preaching throughGood deeds apart from direct proclamation

3.    Being present amongthe Non Christians through Direct Service

4.    Dialogue with otherCultures – learning from them and enriching them

The Word of God that is simple and consoling:  The Holy Father has consistently impressed on the Universal Church to make available the teachings of the Gospel to the faithful ‘with a new vigor, a new method and a new Mode”.  The power of the Bible is winning millions in many countries. The ability to make the Gospel attractive to a new Generation. Evangelical preachers whose capacity for using the Bible is well known are attracting thousands with the power of the Bible.  Often they make the truth simple (or simplistic!) and attractive.  Catholic Church has still wake up to the power of the Word of God.  Biblical instruction needs a more simple, hearer friendly approach. After all our Lord was the great communicator, communicating sublime values in simple stories. 

A Word of God that identifies with the victim: Jesus was the lamb of God, sacrificed his life for the victims – of spiritual darkness and human evil.  He has identified himself with the suffering humanity. Church has a great opportunity in reaching out to those in the margin, with the message of the Gospel, through human development, proclamation of Jesus message.   Gospel was preached by poor apostles to the poor people. Apostles were oppressed and they carried the message to the oppressed people.  Thousands and millions need the consoling message of the Gospel 

A word of God that promotes life:  An acute culture of death has brought in abortion, death penalty and destruction of nature. Rich and powerful nations have been challenging the church teaching on sanctity of life, pro life. One of the urgent needs is to affirm the dignity of life, especially when it is least powerful in the womb of the mother.  Every child comes with the message that God is yet not tired of man. 

A word of God that is seen in Action: St James in his path breaking epistle and Faith in action asks the pertinent question:  “My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it?”  Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Evangeli Nuntiati has said, “The modern man has great confidence in the words of anyone whose words are followed by action”.  The new Evangelization has insisted on the need for ‘preaching without words” following the example of St Francis of Assisi who said, “Proclaim the Good new Always, use words… if needed!” 

A word of God that is in Dialogue with Culture, poverty and major religions: Finally the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) has indicated the need for triple dialogue as spreading the word of God:  Dialogue with the Culture, with poverty and other cultures.Conclusion:  These are thechallenging times to be Christians.  The first Christians lived in morechallenging times, yet they lighted the world with an inner fire that lightedthousand fires of faith. Peter’s word to the lame man at the temple gate: Ihave neither nor silver, receive what I have: In the name of Jesus, get up andwalk”.  The world needs in of that kind of faith to help it to get up andwalk in freedom and faith. I wish this conference will help us to be animatedby the Spirit and help all of us to become the frontline messengers of Christ’sredeeming message.

Thank you

(Posted on August 7, 2012 by cbfsea )



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