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Religion and Society

Non-stop Bible reading, an experience of meeting

To read the whole Bible without interruption, day and night, from the first verse of Genesis to the final invocation of the Book of Revelation. This is the simple and moving idea of Non-stop Bible, an initiative born in 2005 in Limoges and over the years reproposed in a number of French and Italian cities (Mantua, Bologna, Rome – on the occasion of the Synod on the Word of God – and Udine). From 14 to 20 April it was the turn of Venice, in the Church of St. Pantalon. The initiative, promoted by the local Council of churches on the XX anniversary of its constitution, was an opportunity to experience the Year of Faith from an ecumenical point of view, in the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican Council II. The Holy Scripture, in fact, even in the variety of its interpretations, represents a patrimony of inestimable value, common to all Christian confessions.

 

 

Even the origin of this initiative is very interesting: it was not in fact born theoretically, but during an exchange between two classes. In 2004 an English teacher from Limoges heard a German colleague talking about his experience of a partial reading of the Bible in a highly symbolic place, the Cathedral of Nuremburg, which in the sixteenth century was the theatre of one of the first anti-Jewish pogroms. It was there that she had the idea of an uninterrupted reading of the Scriptures: this was the creation of La Bible en continu, ‘a magnificent idea, a wild project, a true act’, as the site says.

 

 

The endeavour goes beyond the individuals making it up, but cannot go ahead without them. When they finished their reading they went to work or returned to their homes, but could not help but think of those who at that moment were lending their voice (perhaps in the middle of the night) so that the story could continue to reach the magnificent scene of celestial Jerusalem. In this sense the non-stop reading somehow offers a paradigm of life: even in difficult moments, the toughest and darkest chapters (the book of Lamentations or the oracles against Jerusalem), are not an end in themselves, but find a sense in a greater design. There is also a considerable literary dimension: the Old Testament in fact is written according to principles of Semitic rhetoric, different from the western ones, and this often constitutes an obstacle for a correct appreciation of the texts. To let the holy author speak in the various chapters makes it possible to abandon oneself to a rhythm and a style that are different from the Greek-Latin ones and on which our rhetoric is based, but is no less true for this reason.

 

 

The Bible in fact is like a fruit with a shiny bright skin, but with a very sweet flesh, as the great translator St. Girolamo said, who was also reprimanded in a dream for his literary tastes: Ciceronianus es, non Christianus, you are not a Christian, you are a Ciceronian. Besides the immersion into an unusual aesthetic dimension, this experience makes it possible to experience a scrap of holy time, a dimension of which today almost all memory has been lost: a measurable reality (the schedule is precise to the minute), but which is not exhausted in the pure quantitative fact, since, as Augustine teaches us, time is also distensio animi.

 

 

Of course an initiative of this type requires the readers to prepare themselves in order to have a sufficiently precise idea of the chapter or chapters that they have been given: it is therefore a chance for reflection. But above all it makes them join forces. In Venice for example no group taken individually had the necessary numbers to bring the project to conclusion: the situation itself forced them to collaborate. This seems to be of great importance for an experienced ecumenism that tends to valorise what people have in common, not starting from an abstract project but from a real need. This was what the Coptic Pope of Alexandria Theodoros II said, in another context and in other words, in a recent interview made to Oasis: ‘In the Middle East we are about 300 million people, of whom only 5% are Christian. For this reason our Christian voice must be one and only one’. It is reality itself, and not a strategy, that demands it.

 

 

The practical ecumenism of Non-stop Bible reading is expressed also materially in the various languages in which the Scriptures were proclaimed, from Hebrew, to Greek, Russian, but also Arabic and Turkish. The reading by the Rabbi of Venice of the first chapter of Genesis, in the field in front of the church, reached an interreligious dimension and some non-believers also accepted to tackle the text, in the awareness of its huge cultural value.

 

 

At the end of this experience, with our thoughts turned, as is natural for Oasis, to the Christian communities in the countries with a Muslim majority, it is spontaneous to ask: when will there be a Non-stop Bible reading in the Middle East? It seems to be the right time for this.

 

 

 

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