Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
December 24, 2001
Re-igniting the biblical fire
Journey helped thousands of Catholics study the Bible; plans now call for it to be revised for a new era
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
The Journey program made quite a splash when it first appeared in the mid-1970s. It coincided with the renewal of the laity called for by the Second Vatican Council and was a great success throughout Canada and the world.
Journey was the result of an initiative by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that believed there was a widespread need for a correspondence course in Scripture. Although Catholic-based, Journey has also been used by Anglican and Protestant churches.
The conference approached Father Marcel Gervais, a professor at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., who was well known in Canada as a Scripture scholar and also the director of the Divine Word International Centre of Religious Education founded by Bishop Emmett Carter.
Carter later became the cardinal-archbishop of Toronto and Gervais is now the archbishop of Ottawa.
The story of Journey unfolded like a fairytale. News of its publication hit the Catholic press in March 1977, and within a few months subscriptions were in the thousands, although no lesson had yet been published.
Within a year the 20 booklets of the Old Testament section of Journey were written by Gervais with help from Divine Word staff and other scholars such as Father Walter Vogels in Ottawa, Father Carroll Stuelmueller in Chicago and Robert Bedecki, a specialist in correspondence education from Athabasca University.
In the next year Gervais wrote the 20 New Testament lessons with the help of such scholars as Father Joe Plevnik in Toronto, Father Fred Scinto in Kitchener, London Scripture professors Father Vince Van Zutphen and Father Thomas Collins (now archbishop of Edmonton), and Karl Kasmierski in Ottawa.
Journey was intentionally done in booklet format as it allows people to study Scripture any way they want For example, all 40 lessons can be done over the course of one or two years, or if there is a desire to focus on the book of Job or the Gospel of John just a few of the 30-to-40-page booklets could be ordered.
Parishes across Canada formed small groups that studied the Bible with the help of Journey. It was a significant development in the Canadian Church as lay people began to feel comfortable with the Bible for the first time in their lives.
Many lay leaders in the Catholic Church in Canada today can fondly recall the adventure of studying Journey.
For me, it was a life-changing experience. It fully woke me up to justice as a constitutive dimension of the Gospel. The Mass came alive as I was now able to put the Scripture readings in a context provided by Journey.
I have studied other programs and my personal opinion is that Journey is probably the best Catholic Bible study program available anywhere.
The success of Journey grew well beyond Canada. Paulist Press in the United States began advertising it and in Australia a Journey Centre started and imported 500 complete sets (20,000 booklets) of Journey every year for many years.
The same was true in many other English-speaking countries. Then came versions in French, Polish, Russian, a host of African languages and even Chinese.
With the passage of time interest in any Church program fades. So Journey continues today but in a more limited way. Although no longer advertised, it continues to spread slowly by word-of-mouth, and the office in the Diocese of London continues photocopying it.
Now new life is coming to Journey. Emmaus Publications is a small company started by one of the team that originally developed Journey. Guy Lajoie retired after working 23 years with the Diocese of London and, at the request of Sister Jocelyn Monet of the Catholic Biblical Association of Canada, started the publication company to make Journey available on the Internet.
The site will be called journeywithbible.com, and it will offer Journey in electronic format as well as discussion forums so that people can share with others online their discoveries and struggles with Scripture.
There is also a plan afoot for a new, revised version of Journey. A small team is looking at Journey to see what changes are necessary to make it attractive once again to the Christian community.
Gervais would like the language to be more inclusive. This was not a major concern when Journey was first written, but is now a sensitive issue. Sister Jocelyn wants a more visually attractive format. The committee hopes to produce a new version of Journey within a year.
There have been many Scripture study programs published since Journey was introduced, but it remains unique in the depth of its scholarship and its flexible and easy-to-use format that any group can tailor to their specific needs.
Judging by the continued worldwide spread of Journey, even without advertising, it is still a much-desired Bible study program. Lay people everywhere are ravenous for the Word of God to give hope, solace and meaning to their lives.
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