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Italian Missioner Who Translated Bible Into Chinese Honored On 100th Anniversary Of Birth


January 03 2008

A signature campaign to reopen the beatification cause of a Franciscan friar who pioneered translation of the Bible into Chinese highlighted the celebration of his birth centenary.

About 200 people attended a special Mass at St. Bonaventure´s Church on Dec. 26 in honor of Venerable Gabriele Allegra, who founded Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a biblical institute and bible publisher in Hong Kong.

Before the Mass started, many signed a petition at the church entrance for the reopening of his beatification cause.

Venerable Allegra was born in 1907 and joined the Order of Friars Minor at the age of 16. After his priestly ordination in 1930, he went to China as a missioner and served as rector of Hengyang Minor Seminary in Hunan province.

Known for his linguistic skills and biblical knowledge, Father Allegra worked to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into Chinese, and to produce an accompanying commentary and introduction. He set up Studium Biblicum in Peking (Beijing) in August 1945 to pursue this work. The institute relocated to Hong Kong in 1948.

Father Allegra accomplished his goal of translating the entire Bible in 1968. In 1975, Studium Biblicum also published a Bible dictionary. The Italian missioner, who directed the institute and served as superior of the Franciscan community based there, died in 1976.

The Holy See opened the cause for his beatification in 1984 and declared him "venerable" 10 years later. A Decree of Beatification was promulgated after the Holy See in April 2002 recognized a miracle attributed through the intercession of Venerable Allegra. The beatification was set for Oct. 26 that year but then postponed indefinitely.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong presided at the Dec. 26 birth-centenary Mass, which seven Franciscan and three other priests concelebrated.

In the homily, Cardinal Zen acknowledged Venerable Allegra´s accomplishments: "He was a very hardworking person who accomplished the translation of the Bible with his confreres´ help."

The cardinal said he hoped Venerable Allegra´s beatification cause, which "has been suspended for a while," would be restarted, and added that the Italian friar loved China.

He also noted that Dec. 26 is the feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. "We must also remember (Catholic) brothers and sisters in mainland China who have lost their freedom, were imprisoned, or who might be detained at any moment because of their faith," he said.

The prelate asked for prayers for Chinese Catholics, who he said could learn from the examples of Saint Stephen and Chinese martyr-saints. Chinese Catholics, he added, should follow Pope Benedict XVI´s instructions to live according to Church principles and work for religious freedom in a peaceful way.

After Communion, the congregation sang the Magnificat in Chinese, a hymn Venerable Allegra often sang when he was alive.

Franciscan Father Placid Wong Kwok-wah, present director of Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, asked the congregation for their "prayers for Venerable Allegra´s beatification and canonization causes, and the work of Franciscan friars, especially in serving the word of God."

He added, "We hope the word could be really alive among the Chinese people."

Lucilla Fu, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order who attended the Mass, told UCA News she believes that declaring Father Allegra a saint would result in more people getting to know his accomplishments and how the Bible came to be translated into Chinese.

Also among the Massgoers were several members of a pilgrimage group that visited Venerable Allegra´s hometown in Sicily, Italy, in August.

Jacob Thoe Kan-woon, a Protestant, told UCA News: "It is really a miracle that a foreign missionary translated the Bible into Chinese. I believe that it was through God and his Holy Spirit that Venerable Allegra could complete the work."

In the Catholic Church, a person is declared a saint after a three-stage process. The prelude to this process begins with the Vatican granting the candidate the title "servant of God," after which the candidate may be declared venerable, then proclaimed blessed and, lastly, canonized a saint.

Usually, for candidates who are not martyrs, a miracle certified as due to their intercession is required for a venerable to be beatified. A second miracle, after beatification, is then required for canonization.


(Accompanying photos available at here)