Conceived in Macau, a guide for young Catholics in Portuguese-speaking countries

Marco Carvalho

It was an unprecedented initiative in Macau. In late November, the local subsidiary of the Claretian Publications and the Portuguese-language pastoral team of the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady launched the book “Evangelho Diário para Jovens”. The tome – the Portuguese-language version of “Children’s Daily Word” – was conceived by a team of lay people coordinated by Father Daniel Ribeiro.

Seen as an important addition to the spiritual education of the younger generation, the book was conceived in Macau but will reach several Portuguese-speaking countries such as East-Timor, Angola, Portugal, Cape Verde and Mozambique. A former member of the board of directors of the Monetary Authority of Macau, António Félix Pontes was part of the team that translated and adapted the book. A renowned economist, Mr. Pontes spoke with O Clarim about this unique experience.

This editorial project needs to be seen for what it is: a breath of fresh air, in many respects. On the one hand, because it is not very often that we see books of this kind being published in the Portuguese language. On the other hand, because the task of translating and adapting the book into Portuguese was entrusted to a lay persons’ taskforce. You were part of that team. How did this challenge come about and why did you decide to accept it?

António Félix Pontes: Well, in fact, my wife was the one who was involved in the process from the earliest beginnings. After the idea came into being, a meeting brought together Father Jijo Kandamkulathy and the lay members of the team that were entrusted with the adaptation of the book. In that meeting, it was agreed that the first texts would have to be sent to Father Jijo in English. There was, thus, the need for those texts to be translated.

I happened to be at that meeting and Father Daniel Ribeiro invited me to join the group. My contribution as a translator, he told me, would be appreciated. And that’s how I joined this project! But, in addition to translating, I also gave my wife a helping hand in the redaction of quite a few daily advices and I joined various other meetings whenever I had the chance.

Mónica Tavira Neves later joined the group. She is a catechist who has a very close connection with the Catholic Diocese of Macau and her decision to join the group strengthened the team. There was my wife, Luciana, who is an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, there was also Irina Carvalho, who is also a catechist and there was me. I became, in a certain sense, sort of an assistant.

At a certain point, Father Jijo came to me and told me, “Without financing, we won’t be able to publish this book”. I am a member of the Holy House of Mercy, so I contacted Mr. António José de Freitas, the President of the Board of Trustees of the Holy House and he was impeccable from the very first moment. He put a request forward to the Board of Trustees of that prestigious institution and sponsorship was granted.

It was the Holy House of Mercy’s patronage that allowed this book to published. As you know, the Holy House of Mercy has a Catholic matrix and it shares principles that are pursued by the Christian faith. Its patronage was, therefore, fundamental and we are very grateful for its help.

How much of a challenge was to translate and adapt this book into Portuguese? What were the biggest difficulties that the group had to endure?

A.F.P: There were quite a few, actually. Father Jijo gave us all the original material in English and I took on the responsibility to translate eight months’ worth of texts and Irina Carvalho translated the remaining four. There was, nevertheless, a minor issue with this first round of translations: we made use of several different Bibles. Later on, we realized that, for the sake of consistency, in order to have a consistent language, a single Bible should be adopted and our choice fell on the so-called “Capuchin’s Bible”. Due authorization was requested from the Bible’s publishing entity and after authorization was granted, we resumed work. The decision was, obviously, appropriate, but it meant that I had to change almost the entire set of verses. Some, I even know them by heart!

When the translation work was already done, we entered the second stage of the process, which was proofreading the Portuguese language contents. Father Daniel Ribeiro was the project coordinator for the Portuguese part. He is one of the busiest people I know. He was literally on his way to Brazil and he was helping us define the final draft of the text. He was already at the airport, in neighbouring Hong Kong, and we were still exchanging audio messages, with his corrections and suggestions for each of the 12 months. He was already on the plane and I was still getting messages with adjustments to make to the months of November and December. We settled on the final draft in late June, when the Macau authorities declared partial home confinement of Macau’s population.

We arranged for a meeting with Father Jijo. He was the one in contact both with the printing press and the person in charge of the book design, who is Chinese. He had no knowledge whatsoever of the Portuguese language and I was supposed to oversee the process, but I couldn’t, due to confinement orders that were enforced by the Government. We had no other alternative than do what little we could via WhatsApp and other messaging apps. The day before confinement was imposed, I went to Father Jijo’s office, in the Inner Harbour area, to rectify some of the texts. From then on, we exchanged a lot of text messages, with a large part of this task being conducted in the early hours of the morning. It was, therefore, during the partial confinement that we had to deal with the most challenging part of this process.

It would have been obviously preferable to take care of this directly with the printing press, as it was originally our intention. We need to keep in mind how challenging it was for an individual who does not understand the Portuguese language to accomplish this task: it was a challenge to get the graphic accents rights, to verify all the words with cedillas or to explain that the dash must be repeated whenever we need to complete an already divided word in the following sentence. Technology solved the problem, nevertheless. Father Jijo found a software program that made it easier for us to complete our mission.

The spiritual needs of the Portuguese-speaking Catholic community in Macau was, first and foremost, the reason behind the conception of this book, but this publication will also reach other territories and nations where people pray in the Portuguese language. Does this mean that the Catholic Diocese of Macau will, once again, play an important role in terms of Evangelization?

A.F.P: Well, the book will also be distributed to young people in countries such as Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Portugal and East Timor, as a gesture of fraternity from Macau towards the Portuguese-speaking countries. This is a feature that we want to promote once again in the future. The hypothesis of having the book distributed in Brazil is still being considered.

Initially, our intention was to send a significant number of copies to Brazil, where there is a very large Catholic population. However, the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for this aim to be achieved. Nevertheless, very early on, in a meeting we had with Father Daniel Ribeiro, the hypothesis of remitting the book to Portuguese-speaking countries was put forward and, from that moment on, the idea was endorsed by everybody and contacts began to be made.

Lawyer Álvaro Rodrigues helped us to find a partner in Cape Verde. Father Jijo and I took on the responsibility to contact people we knew in Angola, Mozambique and East Timor and Mónica was in charge of establishing contact with Portugal. As for Brazil, Father Daniel is still trying to understand if there is an opportunity to publish the book there.

As I previously told you, the 2023 edition of the book was sponsored by the Holy House of Mercy. With regard to the 2024 edition, in addition to the countries I’ve just mentioned, we hope it might also be distributed among young Catholics in countries such as Brazil, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe, thus reaching the entire community of Portuguese Language Countries. Unequivocally, the distribution of this volume in the Portuguese-speaking countries offers the Catholic Diocese of Macau a certain prominence in the evangelization of young Catholics who have Portuguese as their mother tongue.

What I infer from your words is that this is an initiative to be repeated. Is there any other project of this kind in the pipeline? Or was this Portuguese language project a once-in-a-lifetime kind of venture?

A.F.P: I already answered this question in my previous answer. Yes, the initiative is to be continued. This book is a valuable tool for young Catholics, whether they are from Macau, from Maputo or from Lisbon. It has been widely accepted by Chinese-speaking children and youth, as you may infer from the number of copies that were printed: note that the Claretian Publications printed 3,000 copies of the 2023 edition of the Chinese-language version of the “Daily Gospel” and in 2024 that number will increase to 5,000 copies. As for the Portuguese version, as this is only the first time it is published, Father Jijo decided that 1,000 copies would be enough.

Twenty thousand copies were also printed in English to be distributed in places such as the United States of America, the Philippines or Sri Lanka. But, undoubtedly, this is a project that should be endorsed. We are already working on the 2024 edition. In addition to being published in Portuguese, Chinese and English, the book will also be translated into Spanish. Concerning this Spanish-language edition, I believe Father Eduardo Aguero is the ideal person to coordinate the project. Being an Argentinian, he is fluent in Spanish and he will know what to do.

I didn’t mention before, but the book is not only aimed at those that are already being catechized, but also at other young Catholics that no longer see themselves as practicing Catholics. Adults are also invited to take a look and, maybe, recall a few things that they learned in the past.

Other educational projects that I am aware of? The Macau subsidiary of the Claretian Publications is also considering the elaboration of a second Portuguese-language volume whose purpose is to help young people to prepare for Confession and their First Holy Communion. I am not exactly involved in the preparation of this book, but it should be launched in 2024 in Portuguese, Chinese and English.

A second book that is being prepared is the biography of Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest and Conventual Franciscan friar who died during the Second World War. When he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, some of the prisoners attempted to escape. Some of them were arrested and the Nazi selected 10 people to be starved to death as a punishment. Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe volunteered to die in place of one of those men.