By Robin Gomes
The fight against the spread of Covid-19 across the world has its downside. It has resulted in increased misery, poverty, stress and even domestic violence because of the loss of jobs and livelihood and closing down of businesses. Even after the easing of the lockdown, jobs, businesses and the economy have not picked up as desired.
Restricted to the home and family, many have used the extra time available to be creative and do things differently.
Rejin Valson, a 28-year old employee at the Fire and Rescue Department at Cochin International Airport in Kerala state, has done just that. He has copied the entire Bible by hand during the country’s 113-day lockdown.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown on March 24, limiting the movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India. It was extended three times until May 31, following which the nation began easing the lockdown in phases.
Entire Bible in 113 days
With the lockdown, the work schedule of Valson, a parishioner of St Anthony's Church in North Karamuck, belonging to the eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, was reduced to 24 hours a week.
This provided him with some 3 to 4 hours daily, which he used to handwrite the 73 books of the Bible in his native Malayalam language.
He accomplished the task in 113 days, using 2,755 sheets of A4-size paper and 32 ballpoint pens. He began transcribing the Old Testament on April 1 and finished it on June 30. He then took up the 27 books of the New Testament and completed it by July 22.
Encouraged by family and friends
A friend, Syam Mohan, a carpenter, helped him bind the entire work in elegant wooden panels, which together weighs over 13 kg.
Valson’s wife, Choice, who is a professor at St. Mary’s College Thrissur, is pregnant with their first child, to whom Valson dedicated his effort. He acknowledges the great support he received from his wife and his mother saying, they encouraged him and ensured he was not burdened with work at home but was concentrated only on his transcription.
“I was able to finish my work only thanks to fervent prayers and the full support of my family, friends, and parish priest,” Rejin told AsiaNews.
According to St Anthony's parish priest, Father Finosh Keettikka, Valson is a very active member of the parish. “He is a member of the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM) and teaches catechism on Sundays,” the priest said.
Valson presented his hand-written Bible in his parish church on 28 July, the feast day of Kerala’s native Saint Alphonsa. On July 31, Father Keettikka accompanied Valson and his wife and mother to present his work to Archbishop Andrews Thazhath and Auxiliary Bishop Tony Neelankavil of Thrissur and receive their blessing. The volume was handed over to the parish.
Hand-written Bible not new to Kerala
The love for the Sacred Scripture is not new to Kerala, where Christians account for nearly 20 per cent of the state’s population. At the national level, Christians make up only a little over 2 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion population, which is largely Hindu.
Kerala’s eastern-rite Christians trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who, according to tradition, came to India in 52 AD and where he was martyred.
The two Kerala-based Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches, along with India’s Latin-rite Church, together form the apex body of the country’s Catholic Church, known as Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
However, Valson’s handwritten Bible is not the first nor only one of its kind.
Other handwritten Bibles
Mathew Abraham, a retired college professor from Kottarakkara, was gifted with a dummy Bible with blank pages, perhaps because of an error. He, however, made the best of it, by starting to write on it by hand in 2013 and completed it in 2017. He took that long because in transcribing the 1,168 pages of the Malayalam Bible printed by Bengaluru's Bible Society of India, he rigorously maintained its format, font size and even the line count per page on both sides of the 13 x 21 cm sized Bible paper. He was so meticulous that it took him an hour to complete two pages.
Sister Rosette of the Missionary Sisters of the Queen of the Apostles undertook to write the entire Bible by hand in September 2018 and completed it in October 2019, taking 387 days.
Celine Benson, a teacher from Fatima Girls High School of the Latin Diocese of Cochin, handwrote the New Testament in 90 days during the recent lockdown.
Competitions in transcribing the Books of the Bible are common in Kerala to help acquaint the faithful with the Word of God. Last November, some 250 candidates wrote the New Testament as part of a competition organized by Cochin Diocese.
On March 13, this year, the Dubai-based Keralite Christian family of Manoj Varghese entered the Guinness World Records for the largest handwritten Bible, measuring 85.5 x 60.7 x 46.3 cm.
Last year, expatriate Keralites organized a handwritten Bible exhibition in Muscat, Oman.