By ARMANDO MACHADO
Last Sunday was the first “Sunday of the Word of God,” as Pope Francis declared last September. Every year, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time will henceforth be recognized as such, for the “celebration, study and diffusion” of the Word of God.
As the pope explained in his apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis”, a day “dedicated to the Bible should not be seen as an annual event but rather as a year-long event, because we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord.
At St. Benedict Parish in the Bronx, Father Stephen Norton, the pastor, is proud and grateful for the dedicated work of the parish’s two Bible study program coordinators, which he says is in line with the pope’s statement. .
The two coordinators are Isabelle Welch and Carmen Mejia. They have been leading the weekly classes for eight years. Both trained through archdiocesan programs.
“It’s important because it opens the scriptures to people,” Father Norton said of the Bible study program in a Jan. 23 phone interview with Catholic New York. “It helps them to understand the love of the Word of God and to appreciate the Word of God, so that when they come to Sunday Mass they are better able to appreciate the parables and stories of the Old Testament and New Testament by weekly study.
Father Norton explained, “I use this Sunday’s Gospel – making fishers of men – to remind me of the declaration of the Holy Father. If it doesn’t apply to priests, then it doesn’t apply to anyone. If we are not seated with the Word of God so that we can preach, then how do people fall in love with the Word of God? This call from the Holy Father must be heard by the priests of each parish at each Sunday Mass.
Regarding the two Bible study instructors, Mrs. Welch and Mrs. Mejia, Fr. Norton said, “We have two wonderful lay people who are doing amazing work. I try to go there as often as possible. But I have confidence with these two good and strong lay people who have studied and who have prepared and have a very good program. They both had a desire to study the Bible, for the Word of God, and they went with it. They were really on fire with it… Isabelle also works with our RCIA program.
The pastor said meetings are held every Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., often preceded by coffee and a donut. Each year, the course takes place from the beginning of October until the end of May. “The lessons build on each other; we get 15-20 people every year, and some are rehearsals,” said Fr. Norton, who served as St. Benedict pastor for 10 years. Meetings sometimes include talks from the pastor and visiting priests.
Fr Norton said program material is presented as directed by the Archdiocese and its prior approval, usually each year with an emphasis on a particular book of the Holy Bible.
Ms. Welch told CNY that she and Ms. Mejia strongly believe in the importance of program participants learning about and understanding the Bible. She said it was important for participants to feel comfortable in the classes and to feel welcome, “so they can share their thoughts and feelings and ask questions.”
About the pope instituting “Sunday of the Word of God,” she said, “I think that’s a beautiful message. We should intensify our journey to the Lord.
Recalling her initial decision to become a parish Bible study teacher, Ms. Welch said, “I felt a very strong call to know Jesus better, and the best way to do that is to study the Word.
Pope Francis’ declaration to have a “Sunday of the Word of God” was made “motu proprio”, on the initiative of the pope. Its title, “Aperuit Illis”, is based on a verse from Saint Luke’s Gospel, “So he opened their minds to understand the scriptures”.