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Virtual library boosts seminarians’ access to essential texts

The ‘Sharing the Word’ e-library boosts access to essential texts for more than 23,000 seminarians, clergy and theology students in developing countries. It now includes more than 14,000 catalogued volumes.

Sharing the Word is a virtual library founded in 2013 and funded by the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle (POSPA). It is a tremendous help to seminarians, clergy, and pastoral workers who are not able to afford hard copy texts essential for their ministry. There are now over 1000 monthly users, with a single access point to the spiritual and intellectual riches of the Christian Faith.

About the site’s creator

It is the brainchild of Hans Arns, a former librarian at the Veech Library in Sydney, who continues to coordinate the project. He has devoted much of his retirement to providing this integrated website that is available anywhere to anyone with internet access. This resource is particularly beneficial for Christians in developing countries who often lack access to adequate theological libraries. Now in his 80s, Hans is searching for the next generation of librarians to take over the project and secure its future. Hans Arns says his motivations behind maintaining the library for many years of his retirement is that “the intellectual and spiritual heritage” contained in this resource might be a remedy for “this age of amnesia of faith”.

Hans Arns with librarians with librarians at Pacific Regional Seminary in Fiji
Hans Arns with librarians with librarians at Pacific Regional Seminary in Fiji

Geared for Mission

The Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle was founded in 1889. It was set up to become part of the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies (Missio), whose members will soon celebrate the 200th anniversary of their official foundation originally as the ‘Association for the Propagation of the Faith’. Its goal was to assist in the education of the growing number of seminarians and religious vocations in the global south, originally providing bursaries for the building of seminaries.

Still true to its original mission, Sharing the Word was launched in 2013. It responds to the needs of today’s seminary libraries to modernize, particularly in countries where financial resources are scarce. The project has now automated libraries and trained staff in eighteen seminary libraries in countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, and Myanmar.

St Dominic's Theology Seminary, Zambia
St Dominic’s Theology Seminary, Zambia

Responding to a need

Pope Francis, in his Message for World Communications Day 2021 highlights how the internet “can increase the capacity for reporting and sharing”. In a similar spirit, the decision was made to develop this online Catholic e-library, supplementing the physical libraries of seminaries and theology faculties in mission territories. One of the motivations is the awareness that historically, many libraries in the global south had been provided by Western communities and mission societies, whose resources are now drying up. This free source includes carefully chosen books, periodicals and podcasts in fields such as philosophy, spirituality, and pastoral resources, all aimed at providing a solution for the many seminaries and religious congregations in the global south who cannot otherwise obtain them. Regrettably, many of these communities are unable to afford to purchase theological and philosophical textbooks which are published at unattainable prices in the West. Another reality is libraries and the books they contain may be damaged by poor storage conditions or insect infestation.   

Sharing the Word is a project of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle (POSPA) and is led by Catholic Mission (Australia). The free library can be accessed with the following address:

SOURCE: Vatican News by By Jack Ryan

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