ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: December 05, 2012 06:30 AM GMT
The lack of qualified scholars in China poses significant challenges to biblical ministry in the communist country.
Divine Word Father Ludger Feldkamper, 75, a former general secretary of the Catholic Biblical Federation with years of experience in formation in the Church in China and across Asia, spoke with ucanews.com during a visit to Hong Kong last month about what he sees as a major obstacle for the Church in China.
“There are very few people who can accomplish proper biblical training, which is very demanding particularly because of the need to master biblical languages,” he said.
Team work is also necessary “but is also difficult for the Church in China,” he said.
He did note one positive development in a northwestern diocese, where “we were able to form a core team at the diocesan level.” This team holds workshops for parish Bible group leaders during the Christmas and Chinese New Year holidays.
“There is a very concrete sense of hope.”
Fr Feldkamper has been a frequent visitor to China, leading about 30 seminars in various dioceses, seminaries and Religious communities since 2006.
“My idea is not to pass on Bible knowledge from my head to their heads, but to give them simple tools so that they can dig the treasure by themselves,” he said about the focus of his seminars and workshops.
“I explain these tools, make them apply these tools and give them the joy of discovery of the richness and profoundness of the Bible. It is not a boring book,” he said.
Fr Feldkamper said he has been happy with the response from priests, seminarians and nuns, especially a group of sisters on a two-year formation course that studied with him for two weeks.
“What I really wanted to achieve I think has been accomplished.”
Fr Feldkamper was in a northern diocese at the advent of the Year of Faith in mid-October. In this special year for the Church, Chinese faithful join Catholics around the world to study the documents of the Second Vatican Council and on catechism to deepen their faith.
But studying these things is not in itself enough, said Fr Feldkamper.
“One should not forget to put the Bible in first place,” he said.
“The growth of faith could only be achieved by personal encounter with Jesus Christ through reading of the scriptures.” And this will prompt the faithful to proclaim the Good News to others.
Evangelization itself, Fr Feldkamper said, was also a challenge. It was the subject of last month’s World Synod of Bishops and he said it should “start from where people are” and “start with their questions.”
“That is the thing many priests do not know. They do not listen to the people,” he said.
As all members of the Church – clergy and laity – receive the same baptism, they are of the same dignity in spite of different responsibilities, he said.
Therefore, priests should not just rely on “their theological and biblical knowledge that they already have” but learn to listen to the lay faithful. The parish council is a good occasion for priest to take laypeople’s views seriously, he said.
The Catholic Biblical Foundation in which Fr Feldkamper served was founded in 1969 to bring together Catholic groups committed to biblical-pastoral ministry. It is represented in about 130 countries by more than 300 member organizations, though not in China.