Arcbishop of Mumbai: “The Word of God, fulcrum of our mission”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Divine Word “is the fulcrum of the Church’s mission”, which must “interpret the Scriptures and not allow them to become a mute skeleton”, because without the Word inspired by God “there is nothing”. These are the reflections of Archbishops Oswald Gracias, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India and spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Mumbai. He spoke to AsiaNews regarding the Lineamenta published ahead of the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The prelate dwelt on the relevance of the Lineamenta and there importance in the Indian context. 2008 will be “The year of the Word” in his archdiocese.
Q. – The Draft speaks of the ‘Word of God made flesh in the family. However, how could this be applicable in the current global and economic scenarios where through demands of work, the traditional family no longer exists?
A. – In this great commercial capital of India, the Word of God has saved families and for me as this is very encouraging and reassuring. When it is said that the West is losing sight of Christ, in Mumbai our Bible classes are well attended. The Gospel is full of values and for our Indian people, the big crisis now in India is a question of values; we seem to be losing values. Focus could be the Word of God, which is the Letter of God, His truths, His mind, that should be able to re-infuse values into our Indian society. This is what people are looking for - that the Year of the Word of God would be a service to the Indian society. The Gospel values must permeate life in all its aspects, family, social and even communitarian. In this globalised world, it is fundamental that the Bible , the Gospel values, make this world and the future a place where Justice, Truth and Unity prevail. Today we speak of environment... but the Bible which is divinely inspired has always announced the beauty and the integration of creation.
Q. – How does the Church in India propose to pursue Inculturation in the light of the Word of God becoming flesh?
A. – For us Christians the Bible is God’s Revelation to Us. However, we respect all other scriptures as holy, and sacred to their beliefs. Indeed, there are lots of Truth and Light in other scriptures as well, but for us Christians, the Bible is God’s message to us. Regarding the Bible being one of the Sacred Scripture………..it is true that other holy scriptures like the Koran, Bhagtwat Gita etc., contain truths, but the Bible which is divinely inspired, is also a work of research and scholarship relevant for all times for all people and specially enables one to faces the crises and challenges of life in today’s modern society. Surely we cannot place the Bible on par with other scriptures -we cannot compromise on that. On the one hand while we respect other scriptures, for us the Bible is a Lamp of our Steps it is what we Christians are called to live by. In our inter-religious Dialogues, I will announce that for us Christians, the Bible is God’s revealed truth, the Bible is a source of our strength, a message of God relevant for all times for all peoples, and the Bible does not in any way lessen the vales of other scriptures. In this year, the Church in Bombay will have many Ecumenical as well as Inter-religious Dialogues, where the wealth and richness of the Bible will be studied, discussed, shared and lived. The Word of God is a source of infinite grace and truth, which has the power to transform humankind. My prayer for the Archdiocese of Mumbai is that the Word of God may transform not only the lives and families of Mumbai but also India.
Q. – What concrete steps will you take to put into practice the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the church ?
A. – The Archdiocese of Bombay is blessed abundantly with active Laity and the Church in Bombay has Bible Cells in nearly all parishes and in some of these parishes the Lectio Divina is practised. There are also a few adult theology courses which are well attended by a large number of Adults. These will be strengthened during the Year of the Word of God so that Word of God may penetrate the lives of every faithful in the Diocese and enable them to leaven society and the country with the values of the Gospel. People need to understand and appreciate the Bible through the study of doctrine, but in a theological- catechetical synthesis to be made Flesh in the lives of the Faithful. Faith and Reason have been a topic very close to the Holy Father’s heart and the Word of God, together with the power of the Eucharist, has the Power to integrate both. This year will transform the diocese, and the country. Our Mission is that the word of God reaches out and permeates society, so that humankind and creation itself will be the praise of His glory to the benefit of society and civil life in general.
Q. – How can the Divine word be distinguished from the Scriptures, given that they both refer to the Bible?
A. – The Word is much more that the Scriptures. That is why they can never be separated from the body which gives them life, otherwise they are dead Skeleton. They can never be separated from this body which has lived them, written them and continues to bring them. This body is the Church, the people of God. Scriptures without the Church and without the people of God are nothing, they would become dumb, they would be a dead skeleton.
The Holy Spirit is alive - which is where these scriptures take life. Moreover, it is the Church which has the right to interpretation of the scripture. Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”. Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open our minds to understand the Scriptures”. “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord” both nourish and govern the whole Christian life. I now end with the words of St. Augustine who says: “All those who love God and through His mercy are meek, look for the will of God in these Books. Their first work must be to get to know them by reading them, even if they do not understand them, but to learn them by heart or at least that they maybe not completely unknown. Then they have to investigate more accurately what is clearly said in them: rules of life or rules of faith.”