Why are they reading the Bible?

bibleInfo003So there are literally hundreds of stories out there about Pope Benedict XVI launching a marathon Bible reading this week. And the vast majority have the Who (The Pope), the What (marathon Bible reading session), the Where (the Vatican) and the When (right now). This Agence France-Presse story is representative. This Telegraph story was a bit better, but just touched on it. But it took me some searching to find the Why. The Los Angeles Times had a good report. After explaining the basics -- all the books of the Bible, broadcast live on state television, lasting seven days and six nights, 1,300 readers (including former Italian presidents, current Cabinet ministers, soccer stars, foreign diplomats, cardinals, intellectuals, actors, opera singers and ordinary citizens, and 6 Muslims and 15 Jews):

Organizers wanted to make it clear, the Vatican said in a statement, that "the Bible belongs to everyone without any discrimination or cultural or ideological barrier." The message was underscored by the pope's decision to take part, as the pontiff explained in comments to the faithful after Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

"In this way the word of God can enter homes to accompany lives of families and individuals," Benedict said. "A seed that if well received will not fail to bring abundant fruits."

Although the pope tends to have a quiet, reserved style, he liked the idea of making the Bible accessible, Vatican officials said. Moreover, the timing was good because Sunday marked the start of the bishops synod, an assembly of bishops from around the world.

"The reason the pope has agreed is to give his support to a program intended to bring the listening and reading of the Bible to a wider public of every age and condition," said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, in an interview. "The church encourages the faithful to read and understand the Holy Scriptures. . . . The pope, therefore, intends to give a personal example . . . at a moment when the entire Catholic Church is reflecting and praying on the centrality of the Holy Scriptures in its life."

The BBC adds a bit from the Pope's address to the synod of cardinals and bishops. Such a simple thing, but telling readers why the Pope is doing this makes all the difference in the world.

To that end, the Religion News Service explained what was going on and managed to be the most interesting while doing so:

Catholics over the age of 50 are old enough to remember when the church discouraged non-clergy from acquainting themselves with Scripture, apart from selections quoted in their catechisms or read aloud at Mass. But that traditional attitude has shifted amid the many dramatic changes in Catholicism that began in the 1960s. . . .

A survey commissioned in preparation for the Synod showed Bible-reading in traditionally Catholic European countries to be markedly less common than in the United States. Only 38 percent of Poles, 27 percent of Italians, and 20 percent of Spaniards had read even one passage of Scripture over the previous year, the study found, compared to 75 percent of Americans.

Of equal concern to the bishops is how Catholics understand Scripture when and if they read it. The Synod's official agenda notes the increasing popularity of "fundamentalism," which it says "takes refuge in literalism and refuses to take into consideration the historical dimension of biblical revelation."

Earlier this month, Benedict himself stated that a proper understanding of the Bible "excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism," and insisted that the "word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text."

See, isn't that interesting? The example of reading the Bible might seem self-evident but not only does it need to be explained, the particularly Catholic approach here needs to be explained. Only RNS did that.

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