Thomas Ora, Dili – Timor-Leste's Dili Diocese has declared 2017 as the Year of the Bible to boost people's faith and understanding of the Gospel as the main source of Christian life.
The declaration was made based on recommendations from a liturgy conference held last year.
To start the special year, the diocese held Bible classes from Feb. 28 to March 10 for representatives from various communities.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of the Bible by calling on Catholics worldwide "to always read the Bible," Bishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili said.
"I hope those who attended the Bible classes act like prophets, and become more involved in Christian communities," Bishop Da Silva said at a ceremony marking the end of the Bible classes on March 10.
"I invite all Catholics to renew their spiritual life during this Lent," Bishop Da Silva said.
The bishop who was installed in Dili in 2016 expected Timor Leste Catholics, particularly young people, to ground themselves in biblical values, and always strive to conquer temptation.
Father Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo, head of Dili's Pastoral and Catechetical Commission, said the diocese conducted Bible classes for 63 catechists, church activists, and youth. "More people will attend classes later in the year," he added.
Dili Diocese is the oldest diocese in Timor-Leste with an estimated 590,000 Catholics living in 30 parishes and cared for by more than 100 priests.
"Despite Timor-Leste being a Catholic majority nation, reading the Bible has not been habitual," Father Araujo said. "We want Catholics to read the Bible at home and carry it with them when they go to church," he added.
Father Mouzinho Pereira Lopes, one of priests who conducted the classes, said people attending were taught how to relate Gospel messages with reality, such as by visiting the sick, prisoners, and persons with disabilities.
"They are examples of people who need more attention and love," he said. "So Catholics must bring the Gospel to those people," he added.
Antoninho de Jesus, 20, from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hatulia, 30km from Dili, attended the Bible classes.
He admitted that Catholics in his group do not read the Bible much. "I will encourage people to use the Bible in community prayers," he told ucanews.com.
To support the "Year of the Bible" program, several churches such as St. Anthony's Church in Dili, have distributed Bibles to families with the hope that they will teach other people in the communities where they live.