The month of January in the Philippines is especially dedicated to the Word of God. Celebrated in this month is the National Bible Week that culminates in the National Bible Sunday, an ecumenical project of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Protestant Churches through the endeavors of the Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate (ECBA) and the Philippine Bible Society (PBS), an inter-confessional organization supported by the United Bible Societies. Since January 5, 2017, the Bible Week has been lengthened to cover the entire month of January. Then, former President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 124 declaring January as the National Bible Month, culminating in the last week of January as National Bible Week. While maintaining neutrality in its treatment of all religious communities, the government is not precluded from pursuing valid objectives secular in character. The 1987 Philippine Constitutions calls on the government to support efforts to strengthen ethical and spiritual values and to develop the moral character of the Filipino people. Philippine history bears witness to the fact that reading and the study of the Bible help in the molding of spiritual, moral, and social fiber of the citizens of the country.
For the Bible Week, ECBA and PBS come out with a common theme for the celebration. For Catholics, the National Bible Sunday on the last Sunday of January is given special emphasis in the liturgy. Sunday collection for the biblical ministry of the Church is made in the parishes.
Pope Francis’ declaration of the Sunday of the Word of God on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time has added a special meaning to this celebration. This either coincides with, or comes close to, the celebration of the National Bible Week, giving greater inspiration to Filipinos to celebrate God’s saving Word.
Churches and civic societies come together through parades, motorcades, and rallies proclaiming the yearly themes of the Bible celebration. Streamers and posters call attention to this significant event, as well as Scriptures that are distributed on the streets and other public places. Sermons and homilies focus on the Bible’s role in changing the people’s lives during the National Bible Sunday. Some Catholic parishes hold Bible “cosplay”—a parade of saints—where children dress up as biblical characters and saints when they attend Masses and join in the procession to the delight of parishioners.
The Society of St. Paul actively joins the local Church in the ministry of the Word. For years, it has collaborated with ECBA and a Pauline served as consultor. But its contribution lies mainly in the publication and distribution of Bibles in English, Tagalog (Pilipino), Cebuano, and Hiligaynon—the major languages in the country. ST PAULS, its apostolic arm, has also come out with important publications that are biblical in character, and more recently, biblical materials in digital forms. The following are worthy of note:
- Bible Diaries. Bible Diaries are seasonal products that have a wide readership in the country and abroad. The English version 365 Days with the Lord was begun in 1990 when Fr. Gil Alinsangan returned from his biblical studies in Rome. He served both as writer and editor. In the years that followed, other contributors joined, both SSP members and other Bible scholars. In the beginning, only the Gospel reading was featured. Much later, to serve as Mass guide, also the First Reading was included. When the diary was done in four colors, printing was being done in Nanjing, China, and it continues to this day.
The Tagalog version of the Bible Diary is Simbahay (coined from Tagalog words simba (worship) and bahay (house). Contributors are both from SSP members and other biblical scholars. The editor is Fr. Jean Rollin Marie Flores, SSP, the present Provincial Superior. The printing in two colors is being done in the Philippines.
In the annual Manila International Bookfair held in September, the two Bible diaries are the main attraction of ST PAULS booth.
- Missalettes. The Sunday guide for the Eucharistic celebration is Sambuhay, coined from the Tagalog word samba (worship) and buhay (life). The English and Pilipino (Tagalog) edition were started in 1986. In 2000, the Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) version was added. Sambuhay features a front page biblical reflection on the Sunday readings written by SSP members and other Bible scholars: priests, religious men and women, and lay persons. Filipino cardinals and bishops have also contributed reflections.
Sambuhay has branched out to televised online version of the Mass, aired in the country and abroad, and catering mostly to overseas Filipino workers. From being featured on Sundays, now it is aired every morning from the Sanctuary of St. Paul in Makati City. SSP priests take turn in presiding at Mass and giving the homily. With the safety protocols imposed at the time of pandemic, viewers of online Masses have greatly multiplied.
In commemoration of the 500 years of Christianization of the Philippines, Sambuhay TV came out with a video entitled The Gift of 500. It won the award “Best Adult Educational/Cultural Program” in Catholic Mass Media Awards 2022 which is being participated by TV networks in the country.
- St Paul National Bible Quiz. The St. Paul National Bible Quiz (SPNBQ) was part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the presence and mission of the Society of St. Paul in the Philippines (July 7, 1935). Students mostly of Catholic schools test their knowledge in three categories: Old Testament; Gospels; Acts, Letters and Revelation. Bible Teams composed of young SSP members travelled to different provinces to hold the Regional Competitions, and Grand Finals were held in Manila to coincide with the Manila International Bookfair. On its 10th edition in 2019, the SPNBQ had the national coverage of 395 schools, 682 teams, and 2,046 student participants from all over the country. However, with the pandemic COVID-19 preventing face-to-face encounter, the Bible Quiz in its usual format had to stop. In order to maintain connections with its followers, the SPNBQ began on online “show” called Faith or Fake where invited contestants undergo a quiz on the Bible. It has also branched out into Dear Pablito (the mascot of young St Paul the Apostle) with SSP members discussing online biblical themes and other relevant subjects. With things slowly returning to normal after the pandemic, SPNBQ will find other ways to involve young people in the encounter with the Word of God.
During the Pauline Year of the Bible in 2021, the SSP and other members of the Pauline Family collaborated in different initiatives to promote the Word of God. Due to the pandemic COVID-19, project were done mostly online: Webinars, Reflections of Bible scholars, Lectio Divina, online Bible Concert, etc.
Aside from the apostolic initiatives presented above, ST PAULS has also ventured into other new media like Sambuhay Interaktive, Simbahay Audio, and Gospel reflections aired from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish which is run by the Pauline Fathers. Some members collaborate with the Daughters of St. Paul in their own digital flatforms and with Radio Veritas 846, the official station of the Archdiocese of Manila. Indeed, when the Lord closes the door, he opens windows. The pandemic COVID-19 has great affected the traditional publishing apostolate, but it has challenged the Paulines’ creativity in looking for other ways to bring the Joy of the Gospel to a world that has fast become a “global village” because of the internet. Indeed, the Word of God cannot be chained! (2 Tim 2:9).