A statue of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci stands outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing in this 2007 file photo. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Italian journalist and Vatican veteran Sandro Magister reports:
already having canonized six new saints without waiting for a new
miracle to be certified for each of them after their beatification, Pope
Francis could soon proclaim another new blessed in accelerated fashion.
The new blessed would be the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the brilliant evangelizer of China.
Ricci is another of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's favorite early members of
the Society of Jesus, together with the Savoyard Peter Faber, whom he
has already proclaimed a saint by bending the rules, with what is called
the canonization “equivalent.”
But there is another predilection that Pope Francis shares with Matteo Ricci: a fondness for Asia and for China in particular.
has always prized the method Ricci adopted for proclaiming the news of
the Gospel to a civilization like that of China, far removed from
Christianity by religion and culture.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI
marked the 400th annivesary of the death of Ricci. Leading up to that
event, Dr. Anthony Clark, who has written widely on Catholicism in
China, wrote an Ignatius Insight piece, "Weaving a Profound Dialogue between West and East", on Ricci:
Pope Benedict XVI has asked the bishop of Macerata, Italy, Claudio Giuliordi,
to prepare for a Jubilee Year in honor of the four-hundred-year
anniversary of Ricci's death; Ricci died on May 11, 1610, at his small
church in Beijing's busy Xuanwu district. His impact on China was so
great that after his death the Ming (1368-1644) ruler, Emperor Wanli (r.
imperial land in Beijing to the Jesuits for his burial. Fr. Ricci was
the first non-Chinese ever allowed to be interred inside the Middle
Kingdom. His tomb at the Zhalan Cemetery, located today in the campus of
the Beijing Communist Administrative College, is an actively visited
sight in China's capital, and when Chinese Catholics pass his statue at
Beijing's South Cathedral, they bow and offer him a short prayer.
In China, Matteo Ricci is hailed as the Western world's greatest
"foreign guest" to China for his contributions to Chinese science,
cartography, calendrics, mathematics, and philosophy. While China's list
of accolades does not generally include an appreciation for Ricci's
religious beliefs, the Church remembers him as the "father" of the China
mission, one of the founders of Catholic apologetics, a controversial
accomodationist, and one of history's most brilliant thinkers.
One thing is certain, in the fields of Sinology, map making, mission
history, Sino-Western relations, linguistics, and Chinese history, among
the first and most significant names conjured will be Matteo Ricci; his
legacy in world history is enormous, even if too often overlooked or
Of Ricci's missionary methods, Clark wrote:
approach to preaching the Gospel in China was based on the idea that in
order to convert all of China the educated elite must first be
convinced of the truths taught in Christianity, and this meant that his
missionary method had to formulate an intellectually rigorous system of
presenting and defending Catholic belief.
He also considered
that in an intrinsically hierarchical society, the best way to convert
China would be to first convert the emperor himself. As Jean-Pierre
Charbonnier writes, "The Jesuits ... dreamed of a new Constantine for
China."  One of Ricci's approaches to Christian apologetics was to
explain how Christianity was in fact already latent in Chinese culture,
and even more, he set himself to accommodating Catholic liturgical and
devotional life to extant Chinese rituals and sensibilities.
people," observes Clark, "have ever mastered, no less written on, such a
wide array of topics: philosophy, astronomy, theology, friendship,
cartography, catechetics, apologetics, mathematics, and so forth."
Sandra Miesel, in May 2011, wrote a piece for CWR, "The Wise Man from the West," about Ricci:
only was Ricci well-versed in the “natural philosophy” of his era, he
deeply appreciated the complementary roles of faith and reason. Ricci’s
college studies with Christoph Clavius, the Jesuit who devised the
Gregorian calendar, had covered mathematics, astronomy, optics,
geography, and the use of scientific instruments. Such knowledge was
applied in the same spirit by his Jesuit successors in Peking who
brought the telescope, constructed a globe, and corrected the Chinese
calendar, among other accomplishments.
In 1603, Ricci published his key work, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu shiyi).
This pre-evangelization dialogue invites readers to escape the prison
of a merely natural existence to find lasting joy in God. (Well over a
century later, this book came into the hands of a Korean and sparked the
first Catholic evangelization of his country.)
became a minor celebrity at Peking. He was in constant demand at elite
dinner parties and candidates taking the imperial examinations flocked
to meet him. After a visiting Chinese Jew mistook Ricci for a fellow
Jew, he was invited to become the rabbi of a synagogue in Kaifeng. The
Wanli emperor may have considered Ricci an exotic pet. The Wise Man from
the West simply wore out in his silken harness. He died of a fever on
May 11, 1610. His tomb and those of other pioneer Jesuits still survive
undamaged in Bejing.
accommodations with Confucian culture alarmed later missionaries who
were hostile to the Jesuits. They claimed he promoted “idolatrous”
Chinese rites, a complicated matter debated in Rome for years, until in
1704 Pope Clement XI condemned reverence for Confucius and one’s
ancestors. He reconfirmed his decision in 1715. The formerly tolerant
Kangxi emperor banned Christian missions in 1721. His successor exiled
most of the Jesuits in Peking. Catholic evangelization in China was
hampered until Pius XII relaxed the former policy in 1939 to permit
civic and familial honors.
posthumous honors have continued for Ricci. A Jesuit colleague who had
worked in Japan praised him for doing “more with his death than with his
life.” Peking Buddhists revered him as the bodhisattva (“saint”) Li Madou pusa.
Ricci and Marco Polo are the only Westerners depicted in the Millennium
Building in Beijing. On January 24, 2010, beatification proceedings
reopened for Ricci in his home diocese of Macerata-Tolentino.
And now it appears that Ricci will soon be a "Blessed".