ROME – Next week, Pope Francis will lead the first celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God, which he instituted as a yearly occasion to celebrate and study the Bible.

Francis wants to “stimulate all Christians not to place the Bible on the shelf as one of many books, perhaps filled with dust, but as an instrument that awakens our faith,” said Italian Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella on Friday.

“It is an evangelization initiative that can help Christian communities and also priests not to improvise when it comes to communicating the word of God,” Fisichella said at a press conference in Rome. “The people of God have a right to listen to the word of God and to receive an explanation from the priest [in his homily] that is coherent with the word of God and not a free interpretation of it.”

As head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, Fisichella has been tasked with organizing the celebration, to be held worldwide next Sunday. In Rome, it’ll be celebrated by Francis with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Fisichella also said that the initiative, entrusted to the whole Church by Francis with his document Aperuit illis, is an opportunity for the Christian community to “concentrate on the great value that the Word of God occupies in its daily existence.”

Fisichella defined the occasion as an opportunity to renew the understanding Christians have of “the endless richness that comes from God’s constant dialogue with his people.”

During the papal celebration on Jan. 26, the image of Our Lady of Knock, patron of Ireland, will be placed next to the altar. It will be brought to Rome for the occasion by Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam.

Fisichella said the choice of the image is because when she appeared in Knock, the Virgin was accompanied by St. Joseph and St. John, one of the apostles and the writer of one of the four Gospels.

The archbishop also said that at the beginning of the papal Mass, there will be “solemn enthronement of the Lectionary that was used in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.”

At the end of the Mass, Francis will give a copy of the Bible to 40 people who are meant to represent many others, “from the bishop to the foreigner, from the priest to the catechist, from the consecrated person to the policeman, from the ambassadors of various continents to teachers of all grades, from the poor to journalists, from the police officer to the prisoner serving a life sentence.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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