UBS delegation meets with Pope Francis - United Bible Societies

16 February, 2023: Today, a UBS delegation visited the Vatican. This visit included an audience with Pope Francis and discussions with the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity relating to the Bible translation work which UBS has been coordinating for almost 80 years. Pope Francis expressed his appreciation and lent his support to the efforts of our global Fellowship.

The UBS delegation consisted of Elaine Duncan (Chair of the Global Council), Dirk Gevers (Secretary General), Robert Cunville (President Emeritus), Mathew Punnoose (Member of the Fellowship Council), Alexander M. Schweitzer (Executive Director of Bible Ministry) and Rosalee Velloso Ewell (Director of Church Relations).

The UBS delegation was met by representatives of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity: Cardinal Kurt Koch; Bishop Brian Farrell and Monsignor Juan Usma Gómez. At the invitation of Cardinal Koch, Dirk Gevers outlined the areas which the delegation intended to discuss during the audience with Pope Francis and presented UBS’ overall mission in clear and compelling words.

Since the young generation is one of the Vatican’s main priorities, Bishop Brian Farrell was particularly interested in the Youth New Testament developed by the Asia Pacific Catholic Affinity group. “Identity: Identified” is a youth Bible engagement programme, launched as a collaboration between Asia Pacific Bible Societies and in partnership with the churches in the region. It is aimed primarily at a Catholic audience, but churches of other denominations were invited to the launch last December.

Discussions on further collaboration in Bible ministry included the possible revision of the joint “Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible”. The Dicastery expressed its strong conviction that while technology is developing rapidly and influences the Bible translation process, the human and relational elements will have to remain key in this activity.

During the audience, Pope Francis reflected on the ministry of the early Christians who spread the Word of God to all corners of the world. He acknowledged that the persecution and hardship faced by Christians today are reminiscent of the time of the Apostles and the early Church.

Pope Francis thanked the UBS for their work to assist the spread of God’s Word around the globe:

“The ministry of the Bible by publishing texts in various languages and distributing them to different continents is a laudable work. I ask the Holy Spirit always to guide and sustain your service. He can reveal the depths of God, so that all who hear the sacred text may come to obedience in faith and the encounter with God through Jesus Christ.”

Elaine Duncan, Chair of the Global Council, said: “We had prayed together before our visit that it would be fruitful and that we would have a meeting of hearts and minds with those we met. I believe our prayers were answered. The UBS delegation felt warmly welcomed and listened to carefully during our visit to the Vatican. We shared a common passion for the Word of God and the Bible ministry to all corners of the world. Our prayer now is that as a Fellowship we will see some fruit from this visit in our relationships with the Catholic church in our different countries. We also recognised the key role the Bible plays across all churches and all cultures.”

Dirk Gevers, UBS Secretary General, shares his impressions: “The meetings were significant in that they further cemented the missional relationship between the Church (through Pope Francis and the Vatican) and UBS to the end of Scripture provision and engagement. It was reaffirmed that both Pope Francis and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity value the role that UBS and its member Societies are playing and can play in helping the Catholic Church to realise the aspirations expressed in Dei Verbum and Verbum Domini. We deeply appreciate the manner in which we were received by His Holiness, as well as Cardinal Koch, Bishop Farrell and Monsignor Usma Gómez It was also good to connect with Fr. Jan Stefanow, General Secretary of the Catholic Biblical Federation, to affirm the cooperation between UBS and the CBF. Internally, we were glad to spend some time with Mario Cignoni (General Secretary, Bible Society of Italy), over dinner.”

The time with Pope Francis was short but very meaningful. After the formalities of a greeting by Dirk Gevers and an address by Pope Francis, the Pope engaged in a very direct and warm face-to-face exchange including his personal positive experience with Bible Society work and its role in contributing to greater unity among Christians.

Different members of the delegation were also able to speak with the Holy Father in Italian or Spanish and to ask for his special prayers for our family, friends, and the UBS. The delegation also assured Pope Francis of our global family’s prayers for him and his ministry.

Following the audience, Father Usma Gómez showed the delegation around St Peter’s Basilica, generously sharing his time and knowledge.


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