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Missionary who translated Bible to Bengali is no more

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Jesuit Father Christian Mignon, a Belgian missionary who translated the Bible into Bengali died recently in Kolkata. He was 93. Father Mignon translated the Bengali Catholic Bible, popularly known as the Mangalbarta Bible. This Bengali Bible was widely read by Bengali Catholics, both from West Bengal and neighboring Bangladesh. 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.

He took 12 years to translate the Lectionary-texts into modern Bengali, which he said‘my apprenticeship in the difficult art of biblical translation.’ Father Mignon was helped by SajalBanerjea from 1964 to 2003. ‘Banerjee had the last word in linguistic matters and I in whatever concerned the biblical meaning.’

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

However, one of the pioneers in Bengali Bible translation was William Carey, whose most notable work of translation of The New Testament was published in 1801. In 1844 Yates’ revision of Carey’s Old Testament was published. But Father Mignon’s Bangla Bible was most read.