12/03/2015, 00.00
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Pope urges young people to read the Bible, not as a “literary masterpiece,” but as a book in which “God speaks"

Francis wrote the preface to an edition of the Bible for young people that includes their comments. “[T]oday even more than in the early Church, Christians are persecuted.” For him, “the Bible is an extremely dangerous book. It is so dangerous that in some countries those who own a Bible are treated as if they were hiding hand grenades in a closet!”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis has written a preface to a new German edition of the Bible for young people, with comments by young people, edited by some Austrian Jesuits, experts in New Testament studies.

The Italian edition of the pope’s preface was published in the latest issue of Civiltà Cattolica, which came out this week. In it the Holy Father says that the Bible is not a “literary masterpiece”, but rather “something truly divine, a book that is like fire, a book in which God speaks.” Hence, we should “remember that the Bible was not written to be put on a bookshelf. It was written to be held in one’s hands, to be read frequently, every day, either alone or with others."

Francis’ preface addresses young readers directly. "If you saw my Bible,” he writes, “it might not draw your attention. You might say, ‘What? That’s the pope’s Bible? What an old, worn-out book! You might even be tempted to buy me a new one, one costing a thousand euros maybe. I would not take it. I love my old Bible. It has been with me for half of my life. It has seen my joy, and has been wet by my tears. It is a priceless treasure. I live of it, and would not give it up for anything in the world.”

For Pope Francis, after reading it in one go, the book should not be just shelved away “to gather dust” until “your children sell it at the flea market. No, this cannot happen!"

"I want to tell you one thing,” he went on to say, “today even more than in the early Church, Christians are persecuted. What is the reason? They are persecuted because they carry a cross and bear witness to Christ. They are condemned because they own a Bible. Clearly, the Bible is an extremely dangerous book. It is so dangerous that in some countries those who own a Bible are treated as if they were hiding hand grenades in a closet!"

In making his point, Francis cited the Mahatma Gandhi. Although not a Christian, he said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”

“What do you hold in your hand then? A literary masterpiece? A collection of ancient and beautiful stories?" asked the pope. "In that case, we must tell all those Christians who are prison and tortured for the Bible 'How foolish and unwise you have been. It is only piece of literature!' No, with the Word of God has come the light, which shall never be extinguished."

“You hold in your hands something truly divine,” the pope said, “a book that is like fire, a book in which God speaks. Therefore, remember that the Bible was not written to be put on a bookshelf. It was written to be held in one’s hands, to be read frequently, every day, either alone or with others."

In fact, the Pontiff noted, "You play sport and go shopping together. Why not read the bible together, in groups of two, three or four? Outdoor perhaps, surrounded by nature, in the woods, by the sea, in the evening by candlelight. . . . You will have powerful and shocking experience. Or do you fear perhaps that you might look foolish to others?"

"Read it carefully, not superficially, like a comic book! The Word of God is not something that one simply skims over”. It requires asking oneself what the Bible tells the heart. "Only thus does the word of God show all its power; only thus can our life be transformed, becoming fuller and more beautiful."

"Let me tell you how I read my old Bible,” Francis said. “I often pick it up; read it a bit; then I put it aside and I let the Lord look at me. I am not the one looking at Him; He is the one looking at me. God is truly there, present. Thus, I let Him look at me and I feel and sense, and this is no sentimentality, what the Lord in the deepest is telling me.”

"Sometimes he says nothing. So I don’t feel anything; only emptiness, emptiness, emptiness. . . . still, patiently I stay there, waiting for him, reading and praying. I pray sitting down because kneeling hurts me. Sometimes, as I pray, I fall asleep. But that’s Ok. I am like the son next to his father, and this is what counts. Do you want to make me happy? Read the Bible."

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