Every Wednesday evening about 200 parishioners of Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and other nearby parishes attend Father Gregory van Giang's Bible class. Why?
"PEOPLE NOW ARE hungry for the Word of God." This was the thought that led Father Gregory van Giang to start a Bible class at the beginning of 2005 at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS), where he is parish priest.
Father Gregory's Bible class started with 18 "students" but has since grown to almost 200, some of whom come from the neighbouring East District parishes.
Father Gregory taught the original group of 18 the Letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles which led to their being inspired to make a pilgrimage to Turkey to experience the routes the apostles had taken. This experience convinced them that the Bible lessons should continue after their return. Father Gregory agreed and he "officially" started the Bible classthat the students attend every Wednesday evening.
There is no fancy name to it - it's simply known as Bible Study. Starting with the Book of Genesis, Father Gregory goes through every verse in the Bible with the students. Where they used to be able to complete only one chapter each week, the class is now able to study up to three chapters a week.
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This is Father Gregory's fourth year at OLPS and he intends to cover as much of the Bible as possible. "As long as I'm here, I'll continue [with it]", he said. When more people started to turn up for the weekly sessions, Father Gregory decided that it was a better idea to open the class up for everyone who is interested. After all, it takes the same amount of work and it benefits more. He shifted the class to the main church hall where more people can be accommodated.
THE SESSIONS BEGIN at 8pm sharp on Wednesdays. During a session attended by the writer of this article, Father Gregory greets those present warmly in his jovial manner. He addresses those present by their names. In return, many respond enthusiastically to the questions he poses.
The sessions are interjected with anecdotes, jokes and personal sharings and reflections. It seems that people respond so positively to Father Gregory's Bible Study because they see his dedication, and like him for his personality and ability to relate to them even as he sometimes struggles with the English language. Because of this, those attending the class make the effort to prepare for each Wednesday session.
"I'm beginning to reflect deeper in the Word," commented Ms Brenda, a parishioner at OLPS who has been going to the class. "Normally we just read [the Bible] literally but not spiritually."
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THOSE HUNGRY FOR the Word of God but find the OLPS class inconvenient or unsuitable may also go to the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI) which organises 30 or more Bible courses a year by Bible scholars Msgr Eugene Vaz and Father Ambrose Vaz, and other priests and religious sisters. Each of these courses is attended by 20 to 100 people.
Some of these courses are held at parishes while most are conducted at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre at 2, Highland Road. For more information on the SPI courses visit www.catholic.org.sg/spi
Right, Father Gregory in an animated discussion during one of his Bible Study sessions.