09/27/2012, 00.00
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Fr Allegra's beatification and his influence on Chinese Catholics

by Joseph Zhang Wenxi *
Franciscan Fr Gabriele Maria Allegra will be beatified on 29 September at Acireale. He dedicated his entire life to the translation of the Bible in Chinese. The Dean of Hebei Catholic Major Seminary explains what impact the translation has had on China. It has allowed communication to flow between the cultures of the West and the East, reawakened the faith of the clergy and believers alike, and favoured the renewal of the liturgy and evangelisation. Translating the Bible means helping God become incarnated in a people. (Translation from the Chinese by AsiaNews)

Beijing (AsiaNews) - We give thanks to God for the beatification of His faithful servant of the Word Fr. Gabriele M. Allegra, which will be celebrated on September 29 at Acireale Cathedral in Catania, Italy.  This is surely significant for the Church in China and the universal Church as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The Chinese Bible that the Chinese in Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas use for their personal prayers, Bible sharing, liturgy celebration is the Bible that was translated by Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, which was founded by Fr. Allegra in Beijing in 1945.  In fact, Fr. Allegra came to China in 1931for the great mission to translate the Bible into Chinese.  "I will go to China to translate the Bible."  "He was determined to give the whole Word of God to this great nation."  Nearly all his years from 1931 to 1968, he dedicated himself and invited his confreres to concentrate on the Bible translation.  I admire his great zeal and love for the Word of God.  I show my deepest respect for his love of the Word, the great nation of China and Chinese, the Chinese culture.  The challenging task of translation requires great zeal, strong motivation, perseverance, and years of tedious and complicated endeavors.  Because of the Fr. Allegra's significant contribution to the Chinese in Bible translation, he is called "Jerome in China."

Fr. Allegra's Chinese Bible translation is a process of Incarnation.  This time the eternal Word of God is incarnated into Chinese, Chinese characters, Chinese culture.  We Chinese can encounter the loving Father who sent His only Son to show His great love to us through the translated word of God in Chinese.  The barrier that separates us from listening to God's word is destroyed.  By reading the Bible in Chinese, we can see the beautiful face of Jesus in the Gospels. We can listen to Paul as he preaches in different places.  We can learn from our ancestors in faith.

Fr. Allegra's impact of his Bible translation is significant.  By translating the Bible into Chinese, it enriches our understanding of our faith and our Lord Jesus Christ for the universal Church.  Jesus now has a Chinese face and put on the yellow color.  For us Chinese, when we read Bible in Chinese, we feel the Bible is so close to us, the image of the Father is so real and the portrait of Jesus is so clear.  We love the Jesus that has been presented in the Chinese characters.

Fr. Allegra's translation of the Bible into Chinese is also an exchange of two great cultures.  Bible is the foundation of the western culture and civilization.  In the same way, China has long history, great culture and civilization.  Fr. Allegra bridges the two.  He shows great respect of Chinese culture.  He knows Chinese classics and he is influenced by the New Culture Movement as well.  His Chinese style is similar to the koine Greek (popular spoken Greek), which is popular to the wide readers of different levels of education.  In this way, he made the Good News to touch everybody' life and Jesus is approachable to all.  In this way, the Chinese literature is enriched as well. 

During the Second Vatican Council, our Church recognized the importance of inculturation.  I think to translate Bible into the vernacular langue is the first step of inculturation.  Because of Fr. Allegra's translation of the Bible into Chinese, we have some Chinese theological terms, expressions, and idioms, etc.  This is really the first step and a huge step to make the Good News relevant to the Chinese and to start any kind of inculturaion, liturgical renewal, and new evangelization.  We cannot imagine if there is no Chinese Bible and we still use Latin Bible.  The beautiful fruits of the Second Vatican Council would be very limited for the Church in China.

Because there is Chinese Bible, it becomes possible to start the liturgical renewal.  Priests can say Mass in Chinese, lectors can do the readings in Chinese.  In this way, the faithful can fully participate in the liturgy and to be nourished by the Word of God.  If there is no unified Chinese Bible translation, the liturgical renewal becomes impossible.  The spirit of the second Vatican Council cannot be practiced in China.

If there is no Chinese Bible, the proclamation of the Good News to the Chinese would be very difficult.  In fact, there would not be the strong motivation for evangelization among the laity.  It has strong impact of new evangelization in China.  When there was no Chinese Bible, the Mass was said in Latin.  Laity did not know the Word of God and they did not care about the Word of God, for it was written in Latin, read in Latin.  They could not understand in any sense.  That is why they separated themselves from doing evangelization.  They regarded that it was not part of their business.  It was the business of the clergy.  Lay people were very passive in evangelization.  In fact, they knew very little about the Good News.  They could not encounter the living God in reading the Bible in Chinese.  How could they build a close relationship with God and be inspired to proclaim the Good News to their neighbors?  For the Chinese intellectuals, they have heard the Bible. Yet they could not read it, for it was in Latin.

I think the most significant impact of the Chinese Bible is liturgical renewal and strong sense of mission for the laity to do evangelization.  In 1980's and early 1990's, it is because of the liturgical renewal that keeps the Church in China to lay a foundation for the young people.  From 1990s up till now, it is because of the Bible reading, Bible sharing, Bible study, Bible prayer group that brings the Church new energy, new vigor and new blood.  In some dioceses, they have the Bible study group for more than twenty years.  The members of these groups become the backbones of the local communities.  Many of them read Bible everyday and they are inspired by the Word of God and they go to different places to proclaim the Good News.  The active participation of the lay people in evangelization is surely the fruit of Chinese Bible translation.  Give the Word of God to the people.  Let the Word of God empower them, inspire them and sends them to go to evangelization. 

Because we have the Chinese Bible, I think we could have better formation of the future priests.  They can focus on studying the Word of God in their language.  The laity and the seminarians read the same Bible.  They have to know the Bible and study it well.  They have to prepare themselves to proclaim the Word of God to the laity, who has the Bible at their hands now.  In the years of formation of the priests, we now put much emphasis on the Bible, for the Word of God is the soul of theology.  If there is no Chinese Bible, I really do not know how much we can learn about the Word of God.

It is great to see that Bible plays a key role in our Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program and continuous formation of the laity.  To know Jesus through the Word of God, to invite people to have the access to encounter the Loving Father and Jesus through the Word of God makes the faith vibrant.  The Chinese Bible also opens the door for all those who want to know Jesus and/or join the Church.  Each year thousands and thousands adults join the Church through RCIA program, especially in big cities.  I think Bible plays a key role in their conversions.  Some of them admire the values that the Bible presents and they have been influenced by the teachings of the Bible, although they are not ready to accept the faith yet.  Hundreds of book titles related to Bible have been published in Chinese.  I think all these owe debt to Fr. Allegra's Chinese Bible translation.

Fr. Allegra's translation of the Bible into Chinese is the first step of many things for the Church in China.  It is surely a huge step.  In some sense, it is like human first step on the moon.  It is the first and huge step to make Jesus incarnated into Chinese culture and characters, to make Jesus step on the Chinese soil.  It is the foundation of inculturation, liturgical renewal, and new evangelization.  For all these contributions, we give thanks to God for this faithful, humble servant of the Word of God, who is down to the earth, not money, power, or fame seeking.  Rather, he chose to work in his small cell quietly, unnoticeably, hours and hours, days and years to savor the sweetness of the Word of the God, to explore the treasure in the Word of God, to make Jesus grow in Chinese flesh and blood.  He did not seek human applauses, titles, honors, pensions, glamours or successes in his lifetime.  He chose to abandon all these things and to follow Jesus-the living Word of God-faithfully.  Is this the meaning of Fr. Allegra's beatification?  Is not this that we should learn from him in our lives?

From 1930's to the end of 1968, Fr. Allegra translated the Bible into Chinese.  From 1980's to 1990's, the Church in China printed Bible and made Bible available to all the Catholics.  From the Jubilee year to up till now, our mission is to open the Bible, to read the Bible, to pray with the Bible, to proclaim the Bible.  We need to open the Bible to interpret the Bible so that everyday can be nourished by the wonderful banquet of the Word of God.  Are we ready to carry on the torch?  Are we preparing ourselves to continue the mission that Fr. Allegra left for us?  "O, Blessed Fr. Allegra, please pray for us and watch over us in heaven so that we can continue your mission to make the word of God-the message of peace, justice, and love-to all the Chinese, whom you love so much and to be faithful servants of the word of God, which you dedicated your whole life to, which you lived it out in your whole life.  Blessed Fr. Allegra, pray for us."

*Father Joseph Zhang Wenxi (Ph.D in Biblical Studies, Dean of Hebei Catholic Major Seminary).


For more information on the beatification, click here.

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