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Belgian Jesuit translator of the Bengali Bible dies

Father Christian Mignon tried to use a language that Jesus would have used, were he a modern-day Bengali

Belgian Jesuit translator of the Bengali Bible dies
Father Christian Mignon when he was still translating the Bible. He is surrounded by different translations of the Bible, at his room in St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. (Photo supplied) 
Julian S. Das, Kolkata
India

October 20, 2017

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Jesuit Father Christian Mignon, a Belgian missionary who translated the Bible into the local language for people in the Indian state of West Bengal has died. He was 93.

Father Mignon translated the Bengali Catholic Bible, popularly known as the "Mangalbarta (Good News) Bible."

The Bible is commonly read by the Bengali Catholic people today both in West Bengal and neighboring Bangladesh which uses the same language. Father Mignon’s translation of the Bible is also used in the local Catholic Church’s liturgy.

Father Christian Mignon, came to the Bengal mission at the age of 25. He was to make a unique contribution to religious life in Bengal, translating the Bible into Bengali over a 40-year period. The task, in which he was helped by Hindu poet and teacher, Sajal Banerjea, was completed in 2003. 

He had previously translated liturgical texts after the Second Vatican Council, which opened the way to the use of local languages in the Mass.

Earlier, Father Mignon, told ucanews.com that when the Second Vatican Council had taken a momentous decision to replace Latin with local languages for liturgy, the then Jesuit provincial had told him to start at once, and he got down to the job of becoming a Bible translator.

He took 12 years to translate the Lectionary-texts into modern Bengali, which he called "my apprenticeship in the difficult art of biblical translation."

Father Mignon was helped by Sajal Banerjea from 1964 to 2003. "Banerjee had the last word in linguistic matters and I in whatever concerned the biblical meaning," he told ucanews.com.

Born in Belgium, Father Mignon entered the Society of Jesus in 1942. Wanting to commit his life to work as a missionary, he arrived in India in 1949 where he spent his initial years teaching at St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Showing a keen interest in learning the local Bengali language, he began studying it, and after his ordination in 1956 continued his formal education in the language.

While continuing to work in parishes and later teaching Bengali at St. Xavier’s College Calcutta he began writing Christian literature in Bengali, including the translation of the Bible into Bengali which he began in 1976.

Four years later he stopped parish work and teaching to devote himself to translation work from his residence in St Xavier’s College Calcutta where he lived until he died Oct. 20.

So engrossed was he in translation work that he was forced by the then provincial to take his first holidays to Belgium from May to October 1985.

His first completed work was the translation of the New Testament. Father Mignon said he had tried to use a language that Jesus would have used, were he a modern-day Bengali.

When Pope John Paul II visited Calcutta in 1985, Father Mignon and Banerjee presented the pope with the first printed copy of the New Testament during a public function at St. Xavier’s College.

One of the best contributions of Father Mignon in the translation are the detailed footnotes he added, for people to understand the Word of God in the right perspective, said a priest from the Calcutta Jesuit Province

After he completed translating the entire Bible and it was published, Father Mignon began to put together his earlier works and published three volumes of spiritual writings in Bengali.

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