Church Leaders Review Bible Apostolate in Africa at Virtual Conference

Poster announcing the virtual conference organized by the Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF).

Church leaders in Africa have, in a virtual conference, reviewed the status of Biblical apostolate on the continent.

During the Wednesday, January 20 event organized by the Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF), the world fellowship of international and local organizations committed to the biblical-pastoral ministry, the participants focused on the activities of the Catholic Biblical Centre for Africa and Madagascar (BICAM), an initiative of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

At the event, the Director of BICAM, Fr. Albert Ngengi Mundele shared about the Bible translation initiative revealing that a 2018 assessment by his office indicated that the Holy Book has been partially or completely translated to several native languages in the region, but not all.

“Two years ago, BICAM organized an international conference on Bible and Orality in Africa and the recommendation was that we should develop some materials and tools for the use of powerful orality in the proclamation of the word of God,” Fr. Mundele, who has been at the helm of BICAM since 2017, told the participants.

To promote the Biblical Apostolate, the Professor of Sacred Scriptures, Biblical methods and approaches and biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) underscored the need to apply orality of the Bible in evangelization activities across Africa.


The Kenya-based Congolese Cleric noted that limited funds and inadequate facilities were some of the challenges that were hindering the process of translating the Holy Book to the estimated 500 native languages of Africa and Madagascar.

The January 20 event is the first of a series of similar regional engagements organized by CBF as it prepares to hold its 10th Plenary Assembly.

On his part, Fr. Xene Sanchez, the Director of Verbum Bible, religious book publishing company run by the Missionaries of the Divine Word (Verbites/SVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), provided examples of what Africa is known for – “its particular love for the Word.”

“Africa is the first continent with the biggest number of Bible translations, (which is) surprising because Africa is very small compared to Asia yet the first to translate the Bible,” Fr. Sanchez said.

He noted that Africans come second to Latin Americans when it comes to buying Bibles, a phenomenon that he said is a true testament of Africans’ love for the Word of God amid financial challenges.

More in Africa

“In Bible formation, we have more problems limiting the number of volunteers to join than recruit. People are very hungry for Bible formation,” the Kinshasa-based member of Missionaries of the Divine Word noted.

Underscoring Africans' love for the Word of God, the Filipino-born Cleric recalled when his Parish Priest in DRC asked him to found a Commission on Bible Apostolate and that when he did, “the members were not experts but rather housewives, teachers, government officials and very ordinary people.”

“We gathered every week for formation and after a year we started the basic Bible seminars and the people asking for them (seminars) were so many such that some 40 Parishes asked the Commission on Bible Apostolate to go to their Parishes and offer the seminars,” Fr. Sanchez recalled.

At the end of the seminars, the participants would seek to know why such forums did not exist before, Fr. Sanchez, a CBF Executive Committee Member added.

Though the year 2020 was a “very difficult” year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the missionary Cleric said it was a “Golden Year” for his company, Verbum Bible, which “works to make the Bible available to all Africans of all ages, social standing, and economic status.”


He explained, “We succeeded in taking the Bibles to many places. Towards the end of 2020 we sent 5,000 Bibles to Bamako, Mali amid the political turmoil, and 10,000 others to Bukavu, Eastern DRC in Mashi (a native language).”

To Promote Bible Apostolate in Africa and its islands, Fr. Sanchez says there is a need for effective formation of Christians, a gap that contributes to Sub-Saharan Africa’s having the “most number'' of sects as “people have the Bible but do not know how to interpret it.”

Among the activities that SECAM has launched towards fostering Biblical Apostolate in its jurisdiction is “Making the Gospel known and loved in Africa, which opens the way for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” SECAM’s Deputy Secretary General Fr. Rafael Simbine Junior said during the January 20 virtual conference.

To make the Gospel known on the continent, “the personal possession of the Bible by the Clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful is encouraged,” Fr. Simbine who is responsible for SECAM Evangelization Commission that promotes Bible Apostolate added.

Founded on 14 April 1969 with the encouragement of St. Pope Paul VI, CBF strives to implement the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution, Dei Verbum and in particular of its chapter on the Holy Scripture in the Life of the Church.

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Today the 51-year-old entity has 344 members and representation in 126 countries. According to CBF Executive Committee Moderator, Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, the African membership of CBF comprises 27 episcopal conferences as full members and 28 associate members.

In Africa, though the Biblical Apostolate for Anglophone countries started in July 1974, it was not until 5 July 1981 that SECAM’s leadership formally established BICAM “for the promotion, coordination and organization of Biblical Apostolate in Africa and Madagascar.”