MANILA, Feb. 7, 2014—Parishioners packed the conference hall of the Santa Cruz Church (official name: Our Lady of the Pillar Parish) on Thursday evening as they listened to a young priest expounding on a variety of Biblical topics.
Fr. Ritchie Gomez of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) said he could not believe that his lecture would become such a “blockbuster” among those present given that invitation to the event was “less than aggressive”.
The lecture marked the Santa Cruz Parish’s participation in the Church-wide “Bible Week” celebration which aims to encourage the lay faithful to read the Sacred Scripture, and to take to heart its “very important message”.
It was also in response to the pastoral exhortation last December 1, 2013 of Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCP) president Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas for the “Year of the Laity” in which he called on Filipino Catholics to “make your faith bear on your day to day decisions and activities. It is only an integral faith, a faith that believes, a faith that worships, and a faith that works in love (Gal. 5: 6), that will serve as God’s way ‘to make all things new’ in our beloved country.”
Churchgoers shared that although a tarpaulin poster advertising Gomez’s lecture hung on a fence fronting the Parish Office, it was not conspicuous enough to catch the attention of passers-by.
Because of this, the priest admitted he was initially afraid his talk would have to end before it even started.
But he was wrong.
A last-minute invitation after the evening Mass was met with a reassuring response from the parishioners.
“It overwhelms me to see you all here gathering to listen to the Word of God,” Gomez told his audience in Filipino.
“I am amazed that more and more people are taking an interest in the Bible,” he said.
As in every Holy Mass, he opened the two-hour discussion with a verse from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians XIII.13 in which the Apostle said:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
No greeting is more beautiful, Gomez believes, because it makes the audience one in the presence of the Divine.
In his lecture themed Magandang Balita, Gabay sa Buhay-Layko, Gomez explained in a language that is easy to understand why Christians should make reading the Scriptures a habit.
“Unlike other books, the Bible as God’s Word—Dei Verbum—speaks to all ages and to all nations… It never loses its significance… It is just a matter of spending a few minutes a day to leaf through its pages,” he said.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Gomez traced the origins of the Holy Writ in Israel, and discussed how it became the revered book it is today.
“To appreciate the Bible, it is necessary to go back to its roots, to the cultural milieu that gave it birth, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and how it relates to our contemporary human experience,” Gomez shared.
The priest detailed the chronology of the Bible, beginning with the Jewish Patriarchs and Prophets, down to the age of the Apostles.
He stressed, “As Catholic Christians, we must view the Old Testament not only as God’s exclusive covenant to the Hebrew nation, but also as the paving of the way for the coming of His begotten Son, the Messiah.”
The priest reminded, “We should regard the New Testament as God’s promise to all nations fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ, Our Savior, who humbled and died for us in atonement of our transgressions.”
Gomez ended his talk with an applause from a grateful crowd who now see the Bible with fresh eyes.
“I am more than eager now to read the Bible,” a female member of the audience shared. (Raymond A. Sebastián)