Studying the Bible is transforming the lives of Christians in north-east India and leading to practical action.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr. Thomas Manjaly, Bible professor at the Oriens Theological College, Shillong, told the Catholic charity that the Scriptures are central to Catholics living in India’s Meghalaya State.
He said, “The Bible occupies a very important place in the life of the Church in north India – one main reason being the large Protestant influence in the region.”
More than 70 percent of the inhabitants of Meghalaya are Christian, and, according to Fr. Manjaly up to 60 percent of the Christians in north-east India are Protestant.
He added, “They have a developed Bible culture which has come into the Catholic communities, which is a very positive thing.”
Bible study is central to a movement of small Christian communities that have been developed in Catholic parishes over the last 15 years.
Fr. Manjaly said, “To a large extent they have helped to get people more engaged with the Word of God.
“They listen to the Bible in small groups, hear it explained and then pray the Word.”
He explained how these groups help the faithful to apply the Bible to their lives and put what they have studied into practice.
“They, as a group, will do something not only at an intellectual level, or at an emotional level, but also at a practical level.”
“It could be improving my relationships with others, forgiving someone who has hurt me, or helping someone in the community. It depends on the particular text taking for the reflection.”
Diocesan Biblical outreach programs have received funding from Aid to the Church in Need.
He said: “ACN has been a great supporter of our Biblical Pastoral ministry.”
“We are very grateful for this sort of help which makes the Word of God better known and better understood. God bless you.”
He went on to describe how Catholic families honor the Bible by putting it in a special place in their homes, where it becomes the center of a quasi-shrine.
Fr. Manjaly described how this “enthronement” of the Bible is performed by a local community leader, a Catechist, or a religious Sister who visits the family.
The ceremony takes the form of a short prayer service prepared by the Church in the local language.
Fr. Manjaly, who is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Commission, explained how it is common for the family to read the Bible together.
He said, “Some people in the house may not be able to read, so someone who does will read it to the whole family.”
The Bible is also shaping modern worship in the region.
Fr. Manjaly said, “Until the last quarter of the last century we followed hymns in the local language Khasi, translated from those brought over by the Germany and Italian missionaries.
“There has been an attempt to compose hymns in Khasi language, using Khasi music – drawn from the texts of scripture – so that it’s not Italian music, or German music, or Spanish music, but our music.”
The priest told ACN how the new hymns are based on the Gospel – the parables, or the Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus – or on the epistles of St. Paul or Psalms.