“When we study the bible, we have hope!” Indeed, hope in the bible is not just a virtue, but a person: Jesus Christ (1 Tim 1:1). And those who gather around the Word of God are sure to find Him, and every reason to hope, just like the 16-year-old parishoner in Don Bosco Tondo behind this remark.
Fr. Celestino Lingad Jr, SDB, biblical scholar and professor, shared how the bible nourished people of all ages in Tondo when he began holding bible study for them as parish priest many years ago. Fr. Lingad and Mr. Mon Arguelles, who advocates the Liturgical Bible Study, were the featured speakers last November 20 as the Ongoing Formation (OGF) Series on the Year of the Parish in DBCS continued with the Word of God and Church Communion: How the Word of God Nourishes Communion in the Parish.
Bringing God’s Word to the People
In the book of Genesis, God created through his Word. And in creation, God already reveals Himself, as St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans. But this creative word also became audible through the people that God sent, especially the prophets. Later, as John the Evangelist wrote, the Word even became visible with the incarnation of the Son of God. Furthermore, this Word also became edible, as Jesus gave us his flesh as true food, and his blood as true drink in the Eucharist.
Thus, Jesus, the Revealer, the Bread of Life and “the Word truly nourishes us,” Fr. Lingad pointed out. And this was especially evident to him when he was parish priest in Tondo for seven years.
“The parish priest has an important role. He should know why he is there and not get lost in the many responsibilities. Many of his tasks may be done by laity because they have the training for it — such as building and running cooperatives,” said Fr. Lingad.
He explained that being in persona Christi capitis, the priest should particularly commit himself to do what he is called to do — to represent and bring Jesus to the people. Just like in Acts, the apostles sought help from the deacons so they would not be distracted from preaching and praying.
When he was unexpectedly and providentially assigned to Don Bosco Tondo, Fr. Lingad wanted to do something that would make a difference. “What would my contribution be?” he asked himself. Already, the parish was doing very well in serving the people as it was founded on two pillars: Liturgy and Catechetics. The Liturgy was very well-organized and celebrated in a meaningful way, and the parish produced about 25 new catechists annually.
“Two weeks after I came, I told the young people who were with me then, ‘I will start a bible study here.'” The kids liked the idea but they told him, “Don’t expect us to show up with the adults.” Since the activities in the parish were organized by age, the youth expected to have their own bible study. But having no time to repeat the same bible study class twice, Fr. Lingad convinced the young people that attending one bible study class for all ages was the best thing. He told them, ” I don’t want the adults to miss your very important insights.” Learning from each other’s experiences and perspectives was a precious part of the process.
Hunger for the Word of God was evident from the very beginning, as attendance hit 450 to 500 weekly, even reaching up to 700. In fact, even when Fr. Lingad had a new obedience and was assigned in Mary Help of Christians in Paranaque as he prepared for further studies, the parishoners in Tondo still expected him to go there on Fridays. So the bible study classes continued for one more year before he left for his doctoral studies in Rome.
The parishoners were nourished in many ways. Like the 16-year-old mentioned at the start of this article, the people were enriched when they deepened their understanding of the Word of God. Receiving “hope” from the Word should be read in context, said Fr. Lingad, after all these people were not rich. Many could not even afford to buy their own bible, but they were so inspired by God’s Word that they even wrote their own notes with Hebrew and Greek characters, and some even held small group discussions to talk about the lessons further.
It is very challenging to teach a group composed of varied ages, the youngest being 6, and the eldest 77. While worrying about what language and method of teaching he should use, Fr. Lingad said the Lord convinced him that all he needed to do was to “lend God” everything he had, and the Lord will take care of the rest.
The fact that the Parish became centered on the Word of God helped to make it a seedbed of vocations. So many religious — including priests and sisters — have come from Tondo, Fr. Lingad shared. There are also those who remain as laity but volunteer as catechists. Once a Salesian seminarian who was in Tondo was even approached by three boys who asked him, “How can we enter the seminary, Brother? We’d like to study the bible more.”
After an 18-year absence from Tondo, Fr. Lingad is again holding his bible study classes every second and fourth Fridays after the Parish Pastoral Council reinstituted the bible study and invited him to continue this wonderful work.
Nourishing the Domestic Church
Mr. Mon Arguelles discovered the beauty of the Liturgical Bible Study in 2007, when he and his wife began attending classes. This type of bible study focuses on the readings for the following Sunday Mass.
“The fruit is that Sunday Mass became so alive for us, even our young kids who were distracted before began enjoying the Mass because they understand it now,” he shared.
Since he himself began forming bible study groups in many places, he felt God calling him to do the same in his home. This is how his own children also became even more nourished by the Word.
It was Advent then, and he remembered reflecting on the manger in the stable, where the Holy Family had to go because there was no room for them at the inn. “‘I want your home,’ God seemed to be telling me.” But his first attempt to have a bible study at home was not successful.
The following Lenten Season, he tried again, and this time the children were very responsive. “Dad,” they said, “it’s actually not boring at all!”
From then on, the children appreciated Holy Mass even more. In fact, one time, his two young boys even went to Mass before the whole family. They went to 6:00 am mass with their friends. “Why did you do that?” Mr. Arguelles asked them, quite disappointed, since he wanted them to go as a family. His boys replied, “Because no one takes them to Church, so we invited them to go with us.”
The fruits of the Liturgical Bible Study class have been tremendous. In fact, even Mr. Arguelles’ children have become advocates of bible study as well. When his daughter was assigned in Cebu, she established several bible study groups there. Eventually, they had their own facilitators and she only assisted them when they had questions. And to this day, these bible study classes continue, even if she has long returned to Metro Manila.
When his family was invited to help facilitate one of the workshops at the First Philippine Congress on New Evangelization (PCNE), Fr. Francis Gustilo, SDB asked Mr. Arguelles to let one of his boys hold the Liturgical Bible Study. And so his son calmly agreed and began asking mothers and fathers questions in a very animated bible study class.
“It has changed us in so many ways. The power of God is evident. Our home has become more peaceful,” shared Mr. Arguelles, who explained that his children are getting along much better now. Aside from helping them participate more in Sunday Mass, the Word of God has also moved his children to do mission. It is indeed a true experience of “being Church.”
“We showed photos to Fr. Francis of the bible study groups we hold in cafes, parks, etc. And he said it is not just a bible study, it is ‘being Church.'”
Furthermore, they also journeyed with prison inmates. After holding weekly bible study classes with them for four months, they let the inmates facilitate it themselves, and only supervised them. “Eventually, we left them to do bible study on their own. And they did it daily, in all the brigadas, and the gangs did not matter anymore (a member of one gang will do bible study with another gang).” The inmates even asked them to come back to train more of them, since they could not accommodate all the requests for bible study.
Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is the Research Coordinator and Guest Professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.