Prayer and esteem for the
Church and people in China
On Saturday, 29 May , in the Paul
VI Audience Hall, the Pope spoke to participants in a pilgrimage
promoted by the Diocese of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia and
other Dioceses of the Marches region, marking the 400th anniversary of
the death of the Italian Jesuit missionary, Fr Matteo Ricci (1552-
1610), born in Macerata, an important figure in the proclamation of the
Gospel in China in the modern age. The following is a translation of the
Pope's Address, which was given in Italian.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to meet you to commemorate the fourth centenary of the
death of Fr Matteo Ricci, SJ. I offer a fraternal greeting to Bishop
Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia, who is
leading this numerous pilgrimage.
With him, I greet my Brother Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of
the Marches and their respective Dioceses, the Civil, Military and
Academic Authorities; the priests, seminarians and students, as well as
the Pueri Cantores.
Macerata is proud of such an illustrious citizen, a religious and a
priest! I greet the Members of the Society of Jesus to whom Fr Ricci
belonged and in particular Fr Adolfo Nicolás,
Superior General, the Jesuits' friends and collaborators and the
educational institutes connected with them. A thought also goes to all
the Chinese. [In Chinese] Hello!
This great missionary
true protagonist of Gospel proclamation in China in the modern age,
following the first evangelization there by Archbishop Giovanni da
reached the end of his earthly life in Peking on 11 May 1610.
The extraordinary privilege he was granted, unthinkable for a
foreigner, of being buried in Chinese soil is proof of the high esteem
in which he was held, both in the Chinese capital and at the Imperial
Today it is also possible to venerate his tomb in Peking, fittingly
restored by the Local Authorities. The many initiatives promoted in
Europe and in China in honour of Fr Ricci show the keen interest that
his work continues to kindle in the Church and in the different cultural
The history of the Catholic missions includes figures important
because of their zeal and courage in bringing Christ to new and distant
lands; but Fr Ricci is a unique case of a felicitous synthesis between
the proclamation of the Gospel and the dialogue with the culture of the
people to whom he brought it; he is an example of balance between
doctrinal clarity and prudent pastoral action. Not only his profound
knowledge of the language but also his assumption of the lifestyle and
customs of the cultured Chinese classes, the result of study and its
patient, far-sighted implementation, ensured that Fr Ricci was accepted
by the Chinese with respect and esteem, no longer as a foreigner but as
the "Master of the Great West".
Among the important figures of Chinese history in the "Millennium
Museum", Peking, only two foreigners are recorded: Marco Polo and Fr
This missionary's work presents two dimensions that must not be
separated: the Chinese inculturation of the Gospel proclamation and the
presentation to China of Western culture and science. The scientific
aspects often attracted greater interest but the perspective with which
Fr Ricci entered into relations with the Chinese world and culture
should not be forgotten. It consisted of a humanism that viewed the
person as part of his context, cultivated his moral and spiritual
values, retaining everything positive that is found in the Chinese
tradition and offering to enrich it with the contribution of Western
culture and, above all, with the wisdom and truth of Christ.
did not go to China to take it the science and culture of the West but
rather to bring to it the Gospel, to make God known. He wrote: "For more
than 20 years, every morning and every evening I have prayed with tears
to Heaven. I know that the Lord of Heaven takes pity on living creatures
and pardons them.... The truth about the Lord of Heaven is already in
human hearts. But human beings do not immediately understand it and are
not inclined to reflect on such a matter" (Il vero significato del
"Signore del Cielo", [the true meaning of the "Lord of Heaven"],
Rome 2006, pp. 69-70).
And it was precisely while he was proclaiming the Gospel that Fr
Ricci discovered in those with whom he was conversing the request for a
broader exchange, so that the encounter motivated by faith also became
an intercultural dialogue; a disinterested dialogue, free from financial
or political ambition and lived in friendship. This makes the work of Fr
Ricci and his followers one of the loftiest and happiest peaks in the
relationship between China and the West.
The "Treaty of Friendship" (1595), one of his first and best known
works in Chinese, is eloquent in this regard. In Fr Ricci's thought and
teaching science, reason and faith find a natural synthesis: "Anyone who
knows Heaven and earth", he wrote in the preface to the third edition of
the world map, "can prove that the One who rules Heaven and earth is
absolutely good, absolutely great and absolutely one. The ignorant
reject Heaven, but knowledge that does not relate back to the Emperor of
Heaven as to the first cause is no knowledge at all".
However, admiration for Fr Ricci must
not lead us to forget the role and influence of his Chinese conversation
partners. The decisions he made did not depend on an abstract strategy
of inculturation of the faith but rather on events as a whole, on the
meetings and experiences that he continued to have, which is why what he
was able to achieve was also thanks to his encounter with the Chinese.
He experienced this encounter in many
ways but deepened it through
his relationship with a few friends and followers, especially his four
famous converts, "pillars of the nascent Chinese Church".
The first and most famous of them was Xu
Guangqi, a native of Shanghai, a literary man and a scientist,
mathematician, astronomer and agricultural expert who reached the
highest ranks in the imperial bureaucracy, an integral man of great
faith and Christian life, who was dedicated to serving his country and
occupied an important place in the history of Chinese culture.
It was he, for example, who convinced
and helped Fr Ricci to translate into Chinese Euclid's Elements,
a fundamental work of geometry, and who persuaded the Emperor to
entrust the reform of the Chinese calendar to Jesuit astronomers.
Li Zhizao, another of the Chinese
scholars who converted to Christianity, likewise helped Fr Ricci in
completing the last and most developed editions of the world map that
were to give the Chinese a new image of the world.
He described Fr Ricci in these words: "I
believed him to be a unique man because he lives in celibacy, steers
clear of intrigue in his office, speaks little, has an orderly conduct
and this is his daily practice
he cultivates virtue secretly and serves God ceaselessly".
Thus it is right to associate with Fr
Matteo Ricci his closest friends who shared with him the experience of
Dear brothers and sisters, may the
memory of these men of God dedicated to the Gospel and to the Church,
their example of fidelity to Christ, their deep love for the Chinese
people, their commitment of intelligence and study and their virtuous
lives be an opportunity to pray for the Church in China and for the
entire Chinese people, as we do every year, on 24 May, addressing Mary
Most Holy, venerated in the famous Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai; and
may they also be an incentive and an encouragement to live the Christian
faith intensely, in dialogue with the different cultures but in the
certainty that in Christ true humanism is fulfilled, open to God, rich
in moral and spiritual values and capable of responding to the deepest
desires of the human soul.
Today I too, like Fr Matteo Ricci,
express my profound esteem to the noble Chinese people and to their
1,000-old culture, in the conviction that a renewed encounter with
Christianity will bear abundant fruits of good, just as it then fostered
a peaceful coexistence among peoples. Many thanks.