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Catholic youth who shuns distractions to translate Bible

Andrew Heanngam Pamei from Manipur aspired to be an Indian civil service officer, but fate had it that the 27-year-old now spends his time translating the Bible to Rongmei, his mother language, widely spoken in Manipur and in other northeastern Indian states.

The native of Ramtan village in Churachandpur district has secured distinction in theology at Distance Education Program in Theology conducted by Delhi’s Jesuit-managed Vidyajyoti College of Theology.

He shared his passion for God’s Word with Jesuit scholastic Joseph Jerald during a recent visit to Vidyajyoti.

Andrew Heanngam Pamei from Manipur

How did you get inspired to translate Bible in your language? Who has helped you in this venture?

In 2018, I was preparing for the Civil Services Exam conducted by [Union Public Service Commission] in New Delhi. One evening, my parents made a video call asking me to join a family prayer. During the prayer, my dad read a passage from the book of Sirach in English. When my mother searched for the same passage in Rongmei Bible, it was missing. I realized that we have been using the Bible translated by the Baptists. I felt a burning desire to translate the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament to Rongmei language for the family prayer.

In 2020, during COVID-19 pandemic, Father Ningmei Thomas of the Imphal archdiocese requested me to translate the Deuterocanonical books. It came as a surprise and I gladly accepted it. Due to my profound interest in Eschatology, I also showed much interest in translating the book of Revelation to Rongmei language.

Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal approved ‘Rongmei Catholic Bible Translation Committee,’ The committee included Catholic intellectuals such as C. Mathew as president and John Dangmei as general secretary. I am one among many who are into the translation work. The proofreading of the translated text is done simultaneously by the committee. By the Grace of God, the Rongmei Catholic Bible will be released this year.

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What are some of the important challenges you faced in translating the Bible and how have you overcome them?

I often have difficulty to find equivalent words in Rongmei. Equivalent words don’t necessarily mean synonymous words. I search for words that convey a meaning closest or similar to the fourfold sense, namely literal, allegory, tropology, and anagogy. When translating, we select Rongmei words that can encompass these four biblical senses of the Scripture. I utilize St. Jerome’s translation method known as “Dynamic Equivalence,” [a translation method that prefers words similar in meaning], which aims to render “sense for sense.”

Whenever I don’t find suitable equivalent words, I begin to create new compound words in Rongmei that align with the fourfold sense of the scripture. However, in passages that has a Typological sense of scripture, I employ a different translation method called “Formal Equivalence,” which translates “word for word.”

One big challenge I encountered while working as a Bible translator was dealing with tons of distractions along the way. Being young, I’m surrounded by lots of tempting stuff like movies, gatherings and hanging out with friends. But I had to say ‘No’ to all of that because there’s something more important deep down inside me. It’s a commitment to fulfil the task God has entrusted me. I would like to say ‘Yes’ to God all the time.

In what way your contribution would help the Christians to grow in faith?

The source language of my translation is the NRSV Bible. When any Rongmei Christian reads my translated text, regardless of their denomination, they will find it familiar and easy to understand. Moreover, during the translation process, I make sure to use only common Rongmei vocabulary. This ensures that even the youngest or least literate individuals can read and grasp the biblical text. Such an approach enhances comprehension for readers, enabling them to derive the fullest meaning from the given biblical passages.

What do you recommend to those involved in the mission of proclamation?

For laypeople, I want to stress three fundamental principles that I see as essential for any ministry: personal prayer, humility, and self-discipline. Despite the many distractions we encounter, it’s crucial not to overlook personal prayer during ministry. This is because personal prayer serves as the source and foundation of grace, strength, and comfort. The virtue of humility is key for maintaining a right relationship with both God and His people. Humility keeps us grounded and nurtures authentic connections in our ministry efforts. Self-discipline is crucial for propelling the ministry forward. It helps us stay focused, diligent, and effective in our service.

Regarding priests, deacons, brothers, and nuns, I want to express my utmost respect and honour for each of them. I’d like to share an excerpt from a homily delivered by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a preacher at the Papal house, in the presence of the Pope and cardinals. He said, “Apostolic succession doesn’t guarantee Apostolic success.”

Do you think your work can bring about unity among various Christian denominations?

In a ministry like Bible translation, establishing common ground with other Christian denominations or religions is made easier through our engagement with culture and tradition. As we explore the etymology of the target language we’re translating into, we uncover the subtle nuances of every word, each enriched with traditional and cultural significance that cannot be ignored.

In adapting these words, we initiate a dialogue with the culture and tradition of other denominations or religions. Through translation and literary works like this, we discover it’s easier to find common ground with other faiths and engage in meaningful dialogue, thus promoting unity.

What do you think is the need of the hour today for those preparing to become priests?

Engaging in theological studies, or any intellectual pursuit, may naturally lead to a certain level of intellectual pride. However, it’s crucial not to overlook the fact that it is the Lord who grants wisdom. This perspective is not exclusive to me; rather, among laypeople, there’s a shared understanding that while there may be many theological experts and intellectuals among priests and theology students preparing for priesthood, true wisdom, in a strict biblical sense, is a rare gift.

Wisdom is undeniably a gift from the Lord. Hence, those training for priesthood should humbly pray for this grace. It is through God-given wisdom that a priest can serve their parishioners effectively. Laypeople frequently discover that they gain more from a priest’s wisdom than from their intellectual abilities, especially during homilies or interactions within the parish community.

What are your future plans for your Christian community?

As a follow-up to the Bible translation project, I am preparing myself to translate the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the auspices of the Rongmei Catholic Bible Translation Committee. I also plan to collaborate with the Kohima Jesuits and Vidyajyoti to write a series of twenty Biblical commentary books. This series will provide a “Verse by Verse” exegesis of all the twenty-seven New Testament books in Rongmei language. As a result, I need to learn professionally all that would help me to be competent in accomplishing the above.

Moreover, after completing the commentary series, I intend to write four additional books on Systematic Theology in the Rongmei dialect. These books will cover the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The synopsis of all these books have been prepared and are ready to be presented to the Archbishop of Imphal for Ecclesiastical permission. I pray that God may bless all our work. May the Word of God reach the unreached.

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