Estrella (Star) Cui del Mar

        I have heard many times the saying “life is what you make of it” and “everything that happens in your life is your choice”.  For the most of my life, these were true but there were also several times in my life that I allowed things to run its course without my doing anything about it.  One of those times was my Dei Verbum Course in Nemi, outside Rome in Italy.  It was a five-month stay-in course and I would be part of the first batch in 1987 July-December.  I was hesitant since it would be my first time to get out of my country.  I have difficulty in breathing inside the plane if I stay for a longer time since I am claustrophobic.  And I cannot breathe in the dark!

        The Archbishop of Freiburg at that time, offered to pay for my tuition and board & lodging thru the request of Fr. Willi.  Tante Laura Meder of Germany offered to pay for my round trip ticket.  I was accepted by the Nemi staff running the course.  Everything was in order.  In addition to that, I could visit other countries in Europe like Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France to meet our Benefactors from Institutions and private individuals too.  It was really a great opportunity to study (the professors were selected from different countries), learn from other cultures since the participants were coming from different countries,  to meet new friends, explore the world and see more wonders of God’s creation!  And I did not want to go!

        Bishop Benny Tudtud, DD (Bishop of Marawi at that time) came to CLFC to give a retreat to priests in 1986.  Our staff was scandalized by the behaviour of a previous group of priests who stayed at CLFC while I was at EAPI in Ateneo, Quezon City for a summer course.  So before they started the retreat, I requested to speak to the priests.  I told them the behaviours of the priests before them that scandalized my staff. I gave them a few areas of concern from the lay’s perspective on the responsibilities of the clerics as church leaders being looked up as guide & models by the laypeople.  After I talked to them, Bishop Tudtud told the priests: “You have heard enough for this retreat.  Now you can go home and continue your reflections in your parishes!” I was shocked to hear him say that.  I left them and he took over to facilitate the retreat that lasted for a week.  True enough, that group was the opposite of the previous group.


Bishop Benny Tudtud, DD (1931-1987)

        Bishop Benny and I talked a lot and became friends.  He ate with us at our staff quarters.  He did not join the retreatants for meals.  He washed all the dishes after we ate. He was a very simple man.  I was astonished by his personhood: his simplicity, humility, kindness, humor & love for peace and the poor.  He was like our father taking care of his children in his house.  He was so at home with domestic work.  I could not imagine that I was facing a Bishop. He surprised me when he took the risk of allowing me to give him a haircut.  It was my first time to do a haircut for men. Ha ha! While cutting his hair, I asked him why Bishops wear a heavy head dress called a mitre.  He answered that “it is to cover an empty head!” And we both laughed!  I did not expect to hear that answer from a Bishop.  He said he did not want to wear it.  And I was quick to add “because your head is not empty!” And we both laughed!

        Bishop Tudtud can easily make you feel comfortable in his presence.  He spoke softly and plainly.  He was an expert in “Dialogue” not so much as a meeting of minds but as a meeting of hearts.  His mission in Mindanao was to unite the Muslims and Christians.  (His sharing helped me later in my interreligious dialogue with people of other faiths in my travels abroad.)

        The few days with Bishop Tudtud was like listening to a guru every day.  I felt that I was talking and listening to a living Saint.  He was not an ordinary person though he considered himself very ordinary.

        I told him about the offer to study Scriptures in Nemi just outside Rome.  I was not sure to accept the offer due to my anxieties.  I was still thinking whether to go or not to go.  Bishop Benny told me “Do not think anymore, just go!”  And before he left CLFC, he made me promise to go to Rome and participate in the biblical course. Bp. Tudtud was an inspiration and an encouragement.

        I did go to Europe.  It was a torture to take that long plane ride.  I thought I would not reach the destination and die on the plane!  But I did land in Zurich, Switzerland.  Friends met us and brought us around Switzerland.  What a beautiful country it is!  The rest of the trips were made by train – thank God! I almost landed a job in Switzerland but Fr. Willi did not allow me.  That work would have been close to my heart and my academic university training – ecology and spirituality.  I remembered what Fr. Enrique Schoenig, SVD told me when I resigned from the University:  “Estrella, not many are trained to be Scientists, but there are many people who can do what you are doing in the pastoral work.”  And I told Fr. Schoenig that I can do both:  be a Scientist and a Pastoral Worker.

        From Switzerland, we went to Germany, Austria, France and Italy on the way to Rome until Nemi where I stayed for the next 5 months.  I was so excited to hear that our Dei Verbum class would have a private mass with Pope John Paul II at his private chapel at Castel Gandolfo which is near Nemi. Castel Gandolfo is the summer residence of the Pope because it is much cooler there.


Our Morning Praise with St. John Paul II

        I was seated at the back near the wall.  It was a prayerful and reflective mass.  It was a privilege to receive Holy Communion from the Pope himself. And I thought that was the climax of the visit until we were ushered to another room where Pope John Paul II would meet each one of us, to talk briefly and to give each one of us a rosary.  WOW! Was I dreaming?

Holding Hands with St. John Paul II

Holding Hands with St. John Paul II

        We held each other’s hands tightly.  I told Pope John Paul II that I love the biblical apostolate and had been doing it (since I started teaching) among the students and co-teachers.  He told me “Continue spreading the Good News to all.  Have courage.  Give my greetings to the people of Cebu and Cardinal Vidal!”

        And that was not all.  Pope John Paul II gave us more gifts – large books with nice paper and pictures and all in Italian!  We were all carrying heavy bags when we left Castel Gandolfo.  We posed for a group photo with the Pope. But our classmate, Bishop Darius Nggawa of Flores, Indonesia, distracted Pope JP II during the group photo.

Our Group Photo with St. John Paul II

Our Group Photo with St. John Paul II

        I felt like in cloud 9!  I was fully charged, fully inspired and ready to go out and spread the Good News to the world, not only in Cebu or the Philippines but to wherever the Spirit leads me!

        That was 1987.  But since then, I was involved with the Biblical Apostolate until now.  In 1988, I travelled around the Visayas to help organize the BA in the Region.  I went to Vigan to give a talk to a National Consultation of Biblical leaders from all over the Phil. I visited the first Regional Biblical Center in the Phil. (John Paul I Biblical Center of the Northern Province) and learned from them.  I participated in Asian and International gatherings of people engaged in the Biblical Ministry in different countries since 1988.  I went to different places from north to south of the Philippines to facilitate Bible Seminars.  I went to Kuala Lumpur to give the BBS and BFS to the Malaysians.  I had been to Rome 6 times since 1987.  I was privileged to take up a summer Biblical Spirituality course of 3 months at the Holy Land of which my 30-day-retreat there was the most memorable!  I have been to the world and back to Cebu.  Pope John Paul II’s words became true.

        I still continue at this time to get actively involved in the Biblical Pastoral Ministry through the Catholic Biblical Federation.  My greatest surprise in the CBF was being elected by the Plenary Assembly in Hong Kong in 1996 as an Execom (EC) Member representing the Associate Members.  The nominees at that time were prominent Bible Scholars from different countries with outstanding works and positions.  But the small, obscure and plain lay woman from CLFC, Cebu City, Philippines was elected by the Assembly.  Added to that, the EC elected me as Vice-Moderator.  That position I held for 6 years until the next Plenary Assembly in 2002 in Beirut, Lebanon.  I kept asking the Lord “why am I here?”  I realized in the course of the meetings what my role was:  as a simple lay woman representing not only the Associate Members of CBF but representing the majority of the Catholic Church population – the simple laity!  And that made a big difference in the discussions.
        Doing the Biblical Apostolate was and is not easy especially when I get little or no support from local Church leaders.  But it has become my passion and commitment.  To be a prophet is to be killed (to die for the faith and there are many ways of dying.  To be a Christian is to carry one’s cross till death!  To do this require so much faith, so much hope, so much love and constant inspiration to get going.


        Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited our CLFC when she came to Cebu.  Fr. Willi and I met her at the airport and brought her and her companions to CLFC.  She was a small, humble and kind person.  When Fr. Willi introduced to her the Institute for Lay Spirituality, she did not like the term “lay spirituality” because she said “there is only one Spirituality and that is the Spirituality of Jesus Christ.  It does not matter what congregation or group you belong.  We, Christians, have the same Spirituality!”

        I walked around the CLFC buildings with her.  She wanted us to get the neighboring open space that does not belong to us.  She whispered to me how to get it for retreat use.  I did it and true enough, the owner was so kind to allow us to use the vacant lot for retreatants to walk around or meditate or even use the space for additional parking. Thanks to Ben Dapat, the owner’s friend.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited our CLFC when she came to Cebu

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited our CLFC when she came to Cebu

        I knew that I had a close encounter with SAINTS at that time when I met them.  Meeting them changed me for the rest of my life!  They strengthened my faith.  At times when I felt I could not do it anymore, frustrated, desperate and disillusioned, I remember what they told me.  And I gain courage and renewed enthusiasm.   I can carry my cross for Jesus Christ.  They did carry their crosses not only their own but the crosses of people too.  They are my inspirations and my models.  They evangelized me not only with their words and deeds but more so of their being – of who they are and how they lived!


        I believe that there are many Saints around us.  They are still living among us.  They may not be known or recognized as such!  They may not even be baptized Christians.  They are silent witnesses of Jesus Christ for God’s people.   I met a few of them in my travels.  I often feel challenged as a Christian by what these non-Christians are doing and how they live.  AND OUR LORD RECOGNIZES THEM ALL!



Bishops’ Institute on Biblical Apostolate – (BIBA – IV) in Thailand



December 5-7, 2013 at the Redemptorist Center, Pattaya City, Chonburi, Thailand

Seminar on Biblical Apostolate and New Evangelization of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) Office of Evangelization

Bishops Institute on the Biblical Apostolate (BIBA) IV


The seminar was attended by participants from different parts of Asia.  There were Bishops, Priests, Sisters, Brothers, Lay People involved in the Biblical Apostolate.  The lay people comprised half of the participants.  The invitation was given out by the Executive Secretary of FABC-OE, Fr. Jacob Theckanath.  He was amazed by the overwhelming response to participate in this seminar that he had to change the venue from the Camillian Retreat House in Bangkok to a bigger one at the Redemptorist Center in Pattaya City.

 The topics were very attractive, enriching and interesting for further discussions and sharing.  They were the following:

 1. “I have an Obligation to All Peoples”  by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, SDB,  Chairman, FABC-OE.  Archbishop Emeritus Thomas shared with the participants his acceptance speech when he was conferred an honorary doctoral degree on Missiology by the Urbaniana University in Rome, Italy on November 14, 2013.  Here he shared his missionary experiences, the values guiding his work, and his work plan to reach out as much as he can – indeed to “all peoples” as St. Paul did in his time. 

“Crossing the borders” as a missionary to diverse cultures and peoples not so much to teach his own concepts but to lead them to understand these by using the people’s own specific cultural vision of things.

He introduced “the Mission of Anger-Reduction since some obstacles to missionary effort would be prejudices, memories of historic injuries and perceived vested interests.  It is part of evangelical work to heal the memories of historic wounds at the ethnic, cultural, national and even civilizational levels” – he said.

 He also said that “As long as the more challenging dimensions of the Gospel are seen as arbitrary clerical impositions, they become hard of acceptance.  But if they can be presented as evangelical demands essential for personal and community growth, acceptance becomes easier.”

 2. “Biblical Formation of the Laity for New Evangelization” by Archbishop John Ha of the Archdiocese of Kuching, Sarawak,  Malaysia.

Archbishop Ha talked about New Evangelization as used by Pope John Paul II by which he meant proclaiming the Gospel with new ardour, new method and new expression.  The idea behind it is to make the Gospel relevant to the current generation. The scope of the new evangelization ranges from pre-evangelization to primary evangelization to re-evangelization and to on-going faith formation.  But the content of the new evangelization does not change – it is the same Gospel which Jesus Christ proclaimed and entrusted to His apostles to proclaim more than two thousand years ago.

He further explained the elements for understanding “New Evangelization” and the New Evangelization in the Acts of the Apostles.

He shared the four-week lived-in Youth Formation (K.A.Y.A.) which stands for Kuching Archdiocesan Youth Apostolate.  They have been running this program every year for the past 21 years and it is getting very popular.  It aims at forming participants into Christ’s disciples and evangelists through self-knowledge and knowledge of Christ.

They have also a Bible Course for the Laity.  It is a 3-year course run on a two-hour class per week for 3 years and leading to a Diploma.  The course has 3 levels: basic, intermediate and advance.

Another study program is “The Great Adventure Bible Study Programme” designed by Jeff Cavins and his team. It starts off with a “Foundation Series” and continues with studies of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  The lecture does simple text analysis, with cross-references to other relevant biblical texts and references also to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as Church practices especially the Liturgy.

From these three experiences of biblical pastoral ministry that he has in the Archdiocese of Kuching, it has become increasingly clear that biblical formation of the laity must balance academic knowledge with spiritual application to make the Scripture come alive as the Word of God for life.

3. “Spreading the Gospel of Christ through the ‘Little Rock Scripture Study’ Program  in Mainland China” by Fr. John Mi Shen of Zhaoxian Diocese, China.

The Little Rock Scripture Study began in the seventies of the last century that was developed by the laity of the Diocese of Little Rock in Arkansas, in the United States.  The program consists of 40 modules, drawn from the whole Bible.  Learners are encouraged to take “repeated reading” and do “exercises” of related passages so that the Word is instilled into the learners’ heart and life and change their lives.

In 2008, the Little Rock Scripture Study program was first introduced into Mainland China by Anthony Ng and his team, all belong to a Malaysian Chinese Catholic Group Mustard Seed Evangelization Center.  They started in Guanzhou and Xi’an.  The shortage of Chinese materials and lack of follow-ups, the program was launched without success.

In August 2010, with the assistance of Fr. John Mi Shen of Zhaoxian diocese (Hebei province),  the Mustard Seed Center has brought LRSS program back to China again and received positive responses.  Several graduates of Yiwu community volunteered to promote the LRSS program elsewhere in Mainland China.

Since this way of Bible-reading and doing exercises counts mostly on the efforts of individuals, it was found that it could be convenient way for Catholics living in urban areas.  The large group gatherings and sharing will highlight the communal dimension of the Little Rock Program, enabling a more effective way to witness the learners’ experience and interpretation of Scripture.

A member of the group of Fr. John Mi Shen shared with the participants with Fr. John as the interpreter, how Scripture and the program, has changed his life and his outlook in life that he wants to continue to be an apostle of the Word.  That was really a touching sharing that was appreciated by the participants.

4. “St. Paul New Evangelization and Biblical Pastoral Ministry” by Fr. Thomas Manjaly of India.

For St. Paul, to ‘evangelize’ was to “bring about the accomplishment of the Gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:9) or “to make the Word of God fully known” (Col 1:25), because in the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom 1:16)

The parental responsibility required of Paul that he nurtured his ‘children’ through personal example for imitation (1Cor 4:16).  As their ‘father’ he tried to embody Jesus in himself and give visibility to Christian life for his ‘children’ to see and to imitate.  Hence, he could make a genuine claim that he was mediating Christ and appeal to the communities.

Evangelization, therefore, is a person to person approach sharing a Christ-experience.

5. “Cross Cultural Bible Apostolate in Thailand” by Prof. Kirti Bunchua of Thailand.

Doing Biblical Apostolate in Thailand considers the Thai philosophy and way of thinking.  Bible Apostolate is a means to understand God.  To understand God is not the same as to love God.  To love God does not require to know Bible Apostolate but requires something of God.

There is a need for a dialogue between the Buddhist way and the Christian way.  Words may be misinterpreted or misunderstood but a living witness to Christ can say everything.

6. “Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis:  Orientations for Biblical Apostolate” by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Diocese of Pampanga, Philippines.

“Biblical Apostolate” as such does not really figure among the concerns of the Pope Francis in his post-synodal exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  The lengthy part that he devotes to the Scriptures in Chapter Three of the said document has to do, not with Scriptures as such, but with the challenge to evangelize anew, i.e., to proclaim the Word of God in the contemporary setting, especially in the pastoral task of preaching.  In that chapter, Pope Francis reaffirms what the earlier Vatican II Dei Verbum and the Post-synodal exhortation Verbum Domini already did—namely, the call for “a greater ‘biblical apostolate’, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work”.  (DV 24, Propositio 30 Synod 2008, VD)

“New Evangelization in the Light of the Scriptures”.  It is evangelizing that must draw light from Scriptures, not the Scriptures from evangelizing.

In the Bible you have the greatest stories ever told—the story of salvation.  Our mission is to teach people how tell the tragic and otherwise absurd stories of their lives into stories of salvation by viewing them in the light of the story of Jesus, God’s story of redemption.”   Hope is something all people look for in the midst of the great temptation to despair.  Hope is what evangelization is about, not proselytization; it is what evangelization really has to offer—a  good news!

New evangelization is about helping people reflect on human experience with the basic aspiration:  “How do I make sense of it? What is the meaning of it all?  What is God saying to me/us?  How am I/are we invited to respond?”  The Scriptures are there to help us hear God speaking to us in contemporary human experience.  They are like a hearing aid that mitigates the human deafness to God’s voice, God’s messages.

7. “Biblical Apostolate and New Evangelization 50 years after Vatican II” – Insights on Roads of the Word Ahead” by Fr. Ludger Feldkaemper, SVD of Germany.

Fr. Ludger had been very much involved in the Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF) as General Secretary for many years.  He had increased the number of members of CBF during his term, inspiring and encouraging more people and groups to be engaged in the Biblical Pastoral Ministry.  CBF was born in 1969 to assure that the directives of the Vatican Council II concerning “Sacred Scriptures in the Life of the Church” (Chapter 6 of Dei Verbum) would be put into practice.

After Dei Verbum was Pope Paul’s Ad Gentes then Evangelii Nuntiandi on Evangelization in the Modern World.  In 1993 the document on “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” – a commentary for all practical purposes on chapters III and VI of Dei Verbum was a special interest for those involved in the biblical pastoral ministry.  In 2008, the Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Pope Benedict fulfilled the CBF desire since its Plenary Assembly of Bangalore in 1984.  The post synodal exhortation Verbum Domini published on September 30, 2010 can be considered the handbook for the implementation of the Council’s directives on Sacred Scripture not only on the Life but also the Mission of the Church!

Now, we have the “Joy of the Gospel” which fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. We are all “missionary disciples”!

8. “Greening the Catholic Church Today: Bringing to the Fore a Biblical Eco-Spirituality in the Era of the New Evangelization” by Prof. Lysander P. Rivera of the Philippines.

Prof. Rivera spoke about the global phenomenon of Climate Change with its effect on several calamities that affected the different parts of the Philippines and its recent strong impact with Typhoon Haiyan.

Pope John Paul II paved the way for the ecological awareness and conversion to take its rightful place in the Social Teachings of the Church.  In 1971, through the Social Encyclical Octagesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI identified environmental issues as an urgent and wide-ranging social issue that concerns the whole human family and thereby urged all Christians to take responsibility for the future.

Star del Mar