As our nineteenth year draws to a close our thoughts turn back to the events that lead to the founding of the Catholic Bible Foundation in December 1993. In the words of Bishop Daniel Verstraete, “This was the most providential event in my life.” The story of each person involved in the founding echoes this sentiment.
Early History of CBF
The Catholic Bible Foundation was born in a remote village near, Elandskop, in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Some twenty years ago two Holy Family Sisters entered the home of Mrs Mdaweni. It was the humblest of homes and Mrs Mdaweni was among the poorest of the poor. At the time her son was dying of cancer. Her dearest possession was a picture of the Sacred Heart. She owned very little else. Sr Mary Doyle and her companion had come to enquire if they could do anything to assist this poverty-stricken family. Much to their surprise Mrs Mdaweni responded in these words. “Sisters, we know that you can do nothing about our poverty. We will handle that ourselves. What we want you to do is bring us the Word of God – the Bible”
Mrs. Gumbi also echoed the request for the Bible. Out of this grew a Bible Sharing Group in which all denominations found a home. Sr Mary treasured these memories. In time she would be able to devote her life to answering God’s call coming to her from the people of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Little did anyone present on these two occasions realize the far-reaching impact the words, “Bring us the Word of God – the Bible”, would have.
A thousand kilometers away in Klerksdorp, Bishop Daniel Verstraete omi was busy preparing for the day when he would be able to realize his dream to establish an organization that would have as its sole aim the promotion of Scripture in the Church. Providence took over. The time came when Sr Mary wrote a letter to Bishop Verstraete telling him about her wish to respond to what she knew was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Thirty years before, the Second Vatican Council had promulgated the document Dei Verbum calling for a renewed interest and love of Scripture among all Catholics. As Bishop Verstraete read that letter he went down on his knees praying in thanksgiving. And so the Catholic Bible Foundation of SA came into existence.
The Vision of the Catholic Bible Foundation is:
To help people enter into a living and dynamic relationship
the Word of God, Jesus Christ,
the Word of God in Scripture.
At the close of 2012 Bishop Daniel Verstraete omi left South Africa to take up a retirement post in Belgium. We pay tribute to him and to Sr Mary Doyle hf for their courage and insight over the years. They were the two people responsible for bringing the dream of the Catholic Bible Foundation into reality. The Church in South Africa owes much to these two people. They heard the call of Vatican II.
“In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it remains the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life.” (21)
Dei Verbum is as relevant today as it was in 1965. All involved in the formation of the people of God need to realise that Scripture should be at the centre of all formation programmes.
Verbum Domini calls on us to, “Rediscover the centrality of God’s Word in catechesis. God’s Word must accompany the journey of the People of God.”
The Church is defined as “a community that hears and proclaims the Word of God”. (51) “We are encouraged to a “greater ‘biblical apostolate’, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work.” (73)
These are the ideals that inspired both Bishop Daniel and Sr Mary. These are the ideals that energized all those who have worked in the Catholic Bible Foundation of SA: Sr Dympna Travers, Mary-Anne Ralston, Sr Cynthia Thompson, Br Joe Bell, Br Mike Chalmers, Maureen Lawson, Lynn Harrison, Sr Marie-Andre Mitchell, Lucia Sithole, Betty Harvey, The ABIL facilitators (Too many to mention), Fr Chris Schonenberg, Bobby, Aileen, Uget, Inga, Ruth and Dot; to all who have gone before us we thank you for your inspiration to us and dedication to the Pastoral Biblical Apostolate.
Over the past ten years the Foundation has worked tirelessly to promote the celebration of Bible Sunday. Each year has seen a significant growth in the importance and understanding of this Feast. Parishes have become more aware of the centrality of the Word of God in the spirituality of the People of God. More and more parishes celebrate Bible Sunday each year. Nine hundred and sixty parishes received the ‘Guide for Celebrating Bible Sunday.’ In 2012 ten percent of all parishes contributed towards the running expenses of the Foundation. It is hoped that many more marked the day in a special way. We thank all for their growing interest in God’s Word and their enthusiasm for and love of Scripture.
We continue to work with the Bible society of SA on this activity. We thank them, in particular, Rev Shane, for the wonderful co-operative spirit that exists between the two organizations.
Bread for the Journey
This programme consists of teaching the Gospel of the year. We concentrated on the Gospel of Mark and will be doing Luke’s Gospel in 2013. Participants commit to attend three Saturdays each year. Some of the topics covered are:
Introduction to Mark, Journey through Mark, Discipleship, Portraits of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, Three Mighty Deeds, Jesus calms the Sea, Apocalyptic language, The Last week of Jesus’ life, in Jerusalem and Love Conquers Everything.
The second half of the day is devoted to one of the following practical programmes;
Windows on God’s Word, Exploring Scripture Together and Lectio Divina.
Bread for the Journey has been most successful among the Zulu-speaking people. The reasons for this are: the strong partnership between Durban Archdiocesan authorities and CBF, the full support of the clergy; and the enthusiasm of the people of God. Along with this we give thanks for the hard work and skills of Sr Chrysostoma Bele and Mrs Fisane Nene.
We have been similarly blest in the dioceses of Polokwane, Witbank and Kimberley.
In all, the Johannesburg office worked in eight venues and Durban in twelve. At all venues a significant number of persons completed the three year programme and were invested as ‘Apostles of the Word.’ This was a proud moment for all concerned.
At this point I will quote from a letter from Father Wenceslaus Kwindingwi CMM. “This is to express our sincere gratitude for the services rendered by your office in the persons of Sr Chrysostoma Bele and Mrs F Nene in the training workshops for our lay ministers and voluntary catechists. Last year, 2012 we engaged the services of Sr Chrysostoma and Mrs Nene to help in the training of our lay leadership. This proved to be a success story. We really will appreciate the Catholic Bible Foundation continuing to contribute to the development of the local Church and indeed the universal Church through the services of its personnel. We are grateful for the donation of Bibles to our lay leadership.
On behalf of the parish I do count on your generosity in spreading the Word of God.”
This letter highlights the wide range of services that the CBF renders to the Church in South Africa.
Over the years we have continued to make good Catholic Bibles available to our people. We promote the African Bible which has accurate translation, sound biblical commentary and explanations as well as cross-reference and notes. We extend our gratitude to the donors, who have made it possible for us to donate Bibles to the neediest. Through people working in the prisons, we have made Bibles available to these often forgotten people. Bibles have been donated to many groups in dire need. The Bible group at an inner-city parish received one hundred Bibles for the homeless. Those who facilitate this group expressed thanks for the gift that our donors made possible.
Apostolate to youth
We offered programmes in schools from Grade 1 – 12. The Johannesburg office visited ten schools. The time spent in each school varied from one to eleven days. First communion and pre-confirmation retreats form part of this outreach. Many retreats were offered by the Durban office.
Priests and Religious.
This year we had our first invitation to present a retreat for Priests. This took place in the Diocese of Keimoes and Upington. The formation work with young religious continued though we did not have as many calls as in the past.
Basic Bible Seminar
This is one of the earliest programmes developed. We are indebted to our co-workers in the Philippines for this very useful, balanced and informative introduction to the Scriptures. During the past year it has been used with great effect for the people in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Restructuring of Catholic Bible Foundation of South Africa
The economic crises that hit the world also had an impact on the future funding of the Foundation. The announcement that Bishop Verstraete would no longer be residing in South Africa added to the problems of financial planning for the future.
In order to secure future funding the Board decided to form a holding entity for all future funding received for the Foundation. The Board of Directors will be Mr John McKay, Mrs J Seland and Br Michael Chalmers. The application for NPO status is with SARS.
Financially the Foundation should remain a viable organization for the next eight years.
A decision was taken to close the apostolate to the English speaking community in Durban. Mrs M Lawson had reached retirement age. She will however render managerial services to the CBF in her private capacity. Mrs L Harrison accepted retrenchment as of 31 January 2013.
At this point it is fitting to pay tribute to these two people who have given such faithful service to the work of the CBF. They worked in the Biblical Apostolate for twelve and fourteen years respectively. We extend our thanks to them and look forward to a long friendship in the future.
I am pleased to be able to give the assurance that the apostolate to the Zulu-speaking will continue. They are fully booked for 2013.
The Johannesburg office has lost the services of Ms N Sango. She decided not to renew her contract at the beginning of 2013.
Preparing for the future.
As early as November 2011, all staff received training in John’s Gospel from Br Kevin McDonnell of the Catholic Bible College. In September of 2012 all made presentations on a topic of their choice from John’s gospel. At the conclusion of this exercise it was decided to present John’s gospel in two formats. One, as a weekend retreat and the other, as a five evening programme of two hours each evening. During 2013 we will present John‘s gospel in five different venues.
Towards the end of the year we advertised for a new National Director. The aim is to have a new director in place prior to the time when Br Mike Chalmers will no longer be able to continue to hold this position. Once applications have been received in 2013, interviews will be conducted and the way forward planned.
Use of the Media
We continue to make contact with a wider audience through the electronic media.
Our website is regularly fed with new material. Some of the features on the website are:
Information about the Catholic Bible Foundation of South Africa
Programmes offered by the Foundation
A weekly commentary on the Gospel for the Sunday. This commentary is written from the perspective of the Windows approach to Scripture. We offer a different view of the Gospel in that we approach the text as “Story”.
Once a month, an article on scripture is published in the Archdiocesan News of Johannesburg. These articles are also published on the website and made available to the editors of a number of Diocesan newspapers and newsletters. To date 49 articles have been published. This project will continue in 2013.
On facebook we give:
A Scripture thought for the day.
Notice of upcoming events.
Photographs taken at recently presented programmes.
Feedback on comments made by readers.
We thank Br Richard de Maria cfc who works in Nairobi for keeping this going.
The financial administration is done by Mrs S de Ponte, Mrs J Seland and Mrs T Wilsnagh. We thank Mrs Wilsnagh for her outstanding contribution in this and all divisions of the CBF.
Our thanks go to all those who have helped make the work of the CBF possible. We are very grateful to Bishop Verstraete for his interest, advice and support. We thank our Chairman, Brother Atty Sobayeni, for his interest, support and advice. To our staff we extend sincere thanks for their creativity, hard work and devotion to the Apostolate of the Word.
Br Michael Chalmers cfc: National Director
- Mrs Teresa Wilsnagh: Deputy Director
- Mrs Sandra de Ponte
- Ms Nomawetu Sango
- Mr Tiyiselani Msimango (Probation)
- Sr Mary Doyle hf (Volunteer)
- Br Richard de Maria (Volunteer)
- Mrs Flora Maziza
- Mrs Maureen Lawson: Regional Leader
- Mrs Lynn Harrison
- Sr Chrysostoma Bele F.S.F.
- Mrs Fisani Nene
- Ms Precious Gumbi
- Mr Zenzo Nkabinde
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
- Br Atty Sobayeni: Chairman
- Br Mike Chalmers: Vice-chairman and National Director
- Sr Maureen Yenson OP: Secretary
- Mr John McKay: Treasurer
- Mrs Fisane Nene: Staff Representative
- Ms Bernadette Chellew: Catholic Bible College, Rector
- Fr Michael Morrissey OMI
- Fr Terry Barnard OMI
- Mrs Connie Nkoane
- Mrs Teresa Wilsnagh: Minute Secretary
- Bishop Daniel Verstraete
- Br Mike Chalmers
- Mr John McKay
- Mrs Janice Seland
- Guide to Daily Liturgical Readings 2012/13
- Exploring Scripture Together – Old Testament – New Testament
- Ilizwi Bible Course | Basic Bible Seminar
- Windows programme | Scripture Rosary
- Prayers before praying Scripture
WEBSITE AND FACEBOOK
Facebook page: Catholic Bible Foundation of South Africa
Name: “Yeshua CBF”
- Bible Seminar
- Windows on God’s Word
- Lectio Divina
- Exploring Scripture Together | Old Testament | New Testament
- Bread for the Journey | Breaking open the Word
- Parish, School and Adult Retreats.
- Lectors workshops
- Lenten programmes
- Women’s Day Programme
- Participation in Catechetical Festivals
- Bible Sessions on requested themes.
- Support for people active in the Prison Apostolate.