Catholics in India’s south copy Bible by hand during lockdown

Some Catholics in India’s southern state of Kerala have been copying the Bible by hand as they wait out the nation-wide lockdown put in place to suppress the spread of COVID-19.

One of the copiers is Rejin Valson who reproduced the entire set of the 73 books of the Bible in just 113 days.

Writing in his native Malayalam language, Valson accomplished the feat to celebrate the prospect of becoming a father.

“For the birth of a healthy child and to be a good father, I took up the exercise,” said Valson.

The 28-year-old, who works in the Fire and Rescue Department at Cochin International Airport, said the lockdown reduced his duty hours which allowed him to devote 3-4 hours or more to writing each day.

“I used 2,755 full [A4] sheets on both sides and 32 pens to copy the entire scripture,” he said.

The effort began April 1 and by June 30 he’d finished transcribing the Old Testament. Then the 27 books of the New Testament took just three weeks to write, he said. It was finally completed July 22.

Rejin Valson poses in front of his handwritten copy of the Bible at St. Anthony’s Church, Karamukh in Kerala’s Trichur district. (Photo supplied)

Valson said the Old Testament required more concentration and was a bit tough with some names being difficult to spell and some books were more captivating than others.

After a week of writing his fingers began to hurt so he started wrapping his pen with cloth to get a better grip and ease the pain.

“My wife, who is a professor at St. Mary’s College Thrissur, and my mother were a great support. They encouraged me and ensured I did not have to do anything at home but concentrate only on my writing work,” he said.   

“While copying the Holy Bible you experience a more reflective engagement with God’s Word. I really felt many blessings as I went over each page, reading every word carefully. Today I can proudly claim I have read and written every word of the scripture. For me it is a great achievement,” said Valson who is the eldest of two children of Sheeba and V D Valson who is working in Oman.

Valson is also a catechist and a member of the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement.

He presented his handwritten version of the Bible to his parish St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Karamukh, in Kerala’s Trichur district on July 28, the feast day of St. Alphonsa.

His local parish priest Father Finosh Keetticka said Valson wrote the Bible on his own accord. “It was a decision we welcomed. Our blessings were with him,” the priest said.

Valson hasn’t been alone in his endeavor.

Celine Benson, a teacher from Fatima Girls High School in Kochi, handwrote the New Testament during the lockdown.

“After lunch I would spend 2-3 hours every day writing,” Benson said. “Staying focused requires a lot of discipline. Housework was being shared. My husband and children were very supportive,” she said.

Benson, who belongs to Cochin Diocese, said she finished the manuscript in 90 days. 

Celine Benson of Our Lady of Life Church, Mattancherry in Kerala’s Kochi city posing with her handwritten New Testament. (Photo supplied)

Competitions on reproducing books from the Bible by hand are often held in Kerala to familiarize the faithful with scripture.

Last November the Cochin Diocese announced a competition on handwriting the New Testament with cash prizes and a deadline of June 30, said Father Mathew Puthiyat, director of the department of Catechism for the diocese.

He said not many people initially joined the competition; adding that it was the COVID-19 lockdown that gave people the time to actually read, write and reflect on the Bible passages.

“The idea behind the competition is when they write they get inspired and hopefully will imbibe the Bible’s precepts,” said the priest.   

“Copying the scripture is more of a focused activity. What one writes remains in memory for longer and as one continues to read one understands better the passages,” he said.

Nearly 250 people wrote the whole of the New Testament by June 30.

“There are still others on the verge of finishing the task, so the deadline was extended,” he said.

In March this year, a family from Kerala, now based in Dubai, entered the Guinness World Records for the largest handwritten Bible, the media reported.

Manoj Varghese, his wife Susan, and children Karun and Krupa wrote the entire Bible on A1 sized paper in 153 days. The handwritten Bible weighing 151kg, has more than 1,500 pages and approximately 800,000 words.

See a news report about that effort below:

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