Beijing city and Hebei province would probably be the two most popular places in China where many Chinese Catholics reside. We visited these two places where some of the 200,000 Bibles and 800,000 New Testaments supported by the United Bible Societies (UBS) and the Taize Community were distributed. These Bibles and New Testaments were published and distributed by the Catholic Church in China nationwide.
We met four ladies (see photo) in Hebei province, reading the Bible donated from UBS and the Taize Community. Three of them now own a Bible for the first time; all received free owing to the generosity of our donors. Not all the ladies can read Chinese. During Mass, the lady in the group who can read will read God’s Word aloud. Now, with their own Bible copies, all the ladies said they could practice reading God’s Word at home with their children or grandchildren.
One of the ladies (first left in photo) who cannot read said she liked listening and learning. When she got the Bible, she began learning the Chinese characters because she wanted to be able to read the Bible on her own soon. To say that she is very happy now that she has her own Bible would be an understatement.
Those who suggest that Catholics rarely read the Word of God on their own but rely heavily on the priests’ scriptural exposition during Mass, would in fact find themselves surprised by the words of an elderly gentleman we met. Crowned by a full head of white hair and a beard of the same color, none of us were too surprised to hear that he was already past 90 years old. We casually asked him if he could read the Bible. “Yes of course, my eyesight is not failing. In fact, I like to read the Bible,” he retorted.
When his daughter came to fetch him home, he waved his goodbye to us saying, “pray for me and I will pray for you. Let’s continue to pray for one another…” The old gentleman had once been the church’s janitor. Now retired, he still walks daily to church but only to attend the morning Mass.
A priest from a Catholic church of Beijing was asked if he thinks his Catholic parishioners read the Bible often. The priest confessed that in the past the Catholics did not realize the importance of reading the Bible. “But now, more Catholic believers are beginning to see the importance and value of reading the Scriptures so they are in fact reading the Bible on their own. We also conduct Bible study for our parishioners and laity training classes,” the priest said.
When asked if they had received the UBS-Taize sponsored Bibles, the priest replied happily, “Yes, we did. Every time a believer is baptized, the church will give him a free copy from the distribution. The Bibles are really good and popular, “adding, “In the past, the Bibles were in the vertical format. But the Bibles are now in the horizontal format. This conforms to modern reading habits.”
Previously the Studium Biblicum Version (SBV), a version approved by the Bishop’s Conference of the Catholic Church in China for publication and distribution in the Mainland, was printed in the traditional script and on the vertical format. UBS helped and funded the conversion of the SBV Bibles to simplified script and to the horizontal format. Generally, feedback on the distributed SBV Bibles in the simplified script and the horizontal format was very positive. Citing larger character (or font) size, the more mature believers like the new Bible’s horizontal format as it was easier on the eye. The younger Catholics also preferred the new format and simplified script as that conforms to current school texts and modern books.
When we asked some Catholic believers if they think the Bible is an expensive book to buy, most say not really, compared to other books in the market. “Needless to say, the believers can only get the Bibles at such affordable cost because of donations from our UBS supporters overseas. All thanks to God and to the UBS donors!” exclaimed the Catholic Sister Zhao Wenyan (age 37) who helps out with this church bookstore (photo on right).
Written by Pamela Choo and Ms Zhang
for United Bible Societies, China Partnership