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Psalms and New Testament in Innu language off the press
BETSIAMITES, NORTHERN QUEBEC-Oblate Father Joseph Pirson was translating the texts of the different Masses in his little mission parish in the Diocese of Baie-Comeau in Northern Quebec when an idea dawned on him: "I realized that it would be good to have all the psalms translated in Innu language."
His work, started 20 years ago, has since been expanded to include the New Testament. The work of two decades has recently been published in two volumes: Aiamieu-Nikamun Mashinaikan, a translation of the Book of Psalms, and Sheshust-Kanisht: Inniun Uttaimun, a translation of the New Testament.
Fr. Pirson envisioned the book to be read at home by the native people.
"The Montagnais Indians do not have a lot of materials published in their language."
Two Montagnais women, Mrs. Celine Bellefleur and Mrs. Philomena Gregoire from Sept-îles, Quebec, did most of the work, says Fr. Pirson. "They were perfect translators. They know their own language very well as well as French."
The first book on the New Testament is the most important, says Fr. Pirson, and required more collaboration from the Innu community.
Fr. Pirson was born on April 20, 1924, in the town of Corbion sur Semois in Belgium. He took his first vows as an Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate on September 8, 1943, and served as a priest with the Diocese of Namur, also in Belgium.
He came to Canada in early 1949, and was assigned to Richmond Gulf, a mission on the East Coast of Hudson Bay for two years. Then his bishop, Bishop Lionel Scheffer of Labrador City-Schefferville in Newfoundland and Labrador, sent him to Davis Inlet on the Labrador coast to learn a native language-Montagnais-with another Oblate, Father Joseph Cyr.
"The next year," he says, "the bishop sent me to Northwest River also on Labrador coast, to establish a mission among the native people there, and where I stayed 20 years."
In 1972, he went back to Davis Inlet for two years.
In 1974, he left the Labrador coast to minister in the North Shore of St. Lawrence River, in a community called Sept-îles, or Seven Islands. After a year, he went to Betsiamites, a Montagnais community in Northern Quebec. He served for 30 years in these two missions, and went for brief stints to La Romaine (another native village), St. Augustine, and Mont Joli.
Working in Bestsiamites , a community of 3,000 people, had been "a very pleasant experience," he recollects. "Sometimes it was hard, but most of the time it was a happy time."
In all, Fr. Pirson has served the missions for 55 years. He says he would recommend others to do the same ministry. "More than ever, the people need to receive the good news of Jesus Christ. I was happy to be close to the people and to their life, and to fulfil my missionary vocation." Since his retirement in 2002, Fr. Pirson has been living in Betsiamites, Northern Quebec.
(Funding from Catholic Missions In Canada (www.cmic.info)
helped Oblate Father Joseph Pirson in coordinating the translation
of these two books for the Montagnais people.)