Friar Beatified

A Franciscan missionary to China and a great scholar, who died in 1976, has been beatified.

Fr Gabriele Allegra, OFM, who devoted the greater part of his life to translating the Bible into Chinese, was declared “blessed” on 29 September in the Cathedral of Acireale, Catania, Sicily — the town where he entered the Franciscan minor seminary as a young boy.

Known as “the St. Jerome of China,” Fr. Gabriele was born Dec. 26, 1907 in a village in the province of Catania, Sicily, and entered the Order as a youth of 16. While he was studying theology at St. Anthony’s College in Rome, an academic conference was held there on the work of Giovanni of Montecorvino, a Franciscan who journeyed to China in the late 13th century.

Inspired by Giovanni’s attempts to communicate Christianity to the Chinese people, Gabriel sailed to Hunan Province shortly after his ordination in 1930, and as soon as he gained knowledge of the language, began translating the Bible into Chinese. This was a task that would consume the next 40 years of his life: facing many obstacles, he persevered, establishing the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Beijing in 1945. Forced to move to Hong Kong in 1948, he and his friar collaborators completed the translation of the Bible into Chinese with full commentary in 1968. He died in Hong Kong on Jan. 26, 1976.

Although known primarily as a biblical scholar, Fr. Gabriele was well-read in other areas of theology, becoming an expert on the thought of John Duns Scotus and a friend of the Jesuit Fr. Teilhard de Chardin. He also carved out time to help the poor, victims of war, and the sick, especially a leper colony in Macau, where he often spent his holidays. 

Perhaps Blessed Gabriele might be venerated as the patron of workaholics. He was fond of saying: “The most enviable fate for a Franciscan who does not obtain the grace of martyrdom is to die while he is working. . . . Everyone thinks I’m sick! I can still work — so let’s go on!”

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