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Each in His Own Language
Rachel Zawila
Source: St. Anthony Messenger
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012

The release of a single-volume edition of the complete Bible in colloquial Japanese from the original languages on August 1, 2011, marked the end to more than a half-centur y of work by Franciscans around the world.

Bernardin Schneider, OFM, originally of the Cincinnati province, who was chosen to lead the translation project that began in the early 1950s, says it would have taken even longer had it not been for the guidance of Father Linus Odaka, director of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (Franciscan Biblical School or SBF) in Japan.

“To have the completed Bible as originally planned would have taken another five
years,” Father Schneider says. “Only [Father Odaka] could have accomplished this.”

Born in 1942 in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, Father Odaka discovered Catholicism in his teens. He was baptized at age 17 and a few years later he “began to feel a call to serve the Lord full-time,” he says. Attracted to St. Francis by his simplicity—“He was not attached to things, not even to himself, and he was so full of life”—Father Odaka joined the Order of Friars Minor in 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1975.

Since earning a doctorate in theology from Sophia University in Tokyo in 1984, Father Odaka has been teaching at St. Anthony Seminar y, where he was made rector in 1996. Six years later, he became the director of the SBF, a Bible translation project entrusted to the Friars Minor by the bishops of Japan in 1956.

At that time, the Church in Japan was beginning to recover from World War II through an influx of new missionaries. Then-Archbishop Maximilien de Fuerstenberg, the papal legate in Japan, saw the need for a new Bible with explanatory notes and references to be made into modern Japanese from the original languages.

With aid from Father Schneider’s province and other benefactors in the United States, work began on the project, with translators coming from Italy, Mexico, and France to work alongside Japanese Franciscans and lay Catholics, as well as scholars from dioceses and other religious congregations.

The SBF published the Book of Genesis, translated from the original Hebrew, in December 1958. By 1979, all of the books of the New Testament had been completed and published in one volume. Following work delays, the 37th and last volume, the Book of Jeremiah, was published in September 2002.

In preparation for the publication of the single-volume edition, Father Odaka was named SBF director that year “because it was judged that a Japanese person should be in charge of the next step, which was to unify the terminology and polish up the Japanese expressions,” he says.

Nine years later, the single volume was released, and “the task assigned to the Friars Minor 55 years ago was successfully completed,” says Father Odaka. Or so he thought. Because of the Bible’s immense popularity (the first printing sold out quickly), requests have led to work on a separate publication of the New Testament this year and improvements in layout style for future printings.

And the Franciscans’ good work continues.

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