(AsiaNews) - In
May 2013, the first stage of the cause for beatification of Matteo Ricci was
completed in Macerata, Ricci's home diocese. The file is now with the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. Calls for the
beatification and canonization of Ricci have been recently amplifying.
Ricci amply deserves to be canonized constitutes a fact that is beyond doubt.
The rectitude of his character, the unwavering patience, perseverance and
humility he showed all along his Chinese journey the fruits reaped from his
mission - all this amply testifies to the sainthood of a man who is very much
respected and even loved by many Chinese.
question is: should he be beatified alone, or does his cause open up
opportunities for a new approach on such matters?
started his Chinese pilgrimage by publishing a little booklet entitled "On
Friendship.' His beatification process should reflect the spirit under which he
conducted his missionary endeavor.
other words: do not beatify Matteo Ricci without beatifying Xu Guangqi at the
are three reasons for uniting the two friends into a common cause. First, Xu
Guangqi is also a man whose life speaks of sainthood. Second, this will change
the way missionary history is ordinarily presented. Third, this is by far the
best gift Rome could make to the Chinese Church and China proper.
Guangqi (1562-1633) is known in China as an outstanding scholar and public
servant, the author of an encyclopaedic treatise on agricultural techniques, a
patriot who was witnessing the progressive weakening of the Ming dynasty and
trying to defend it against aggressions, and a mathematician and astronomer.
Still, these humane qualities would not been enough for proclaiming him a
saint. So, what else does he have to show for himself? First, let us note that
Xu fully involved himself into practical pursuits only after his conversion
experience, the depth of which seems impressive: his baptism, in 1603, was
prepared by long meditations over the Chinese Classics, repeated experiences of
failure and grief, a dream, in 1600, of a temple with three chapels,
interpreted in 1605 as an image of the Trinity, and deep-felt emotion when
seeing an image of the Madonna with the Child in Nanjing. Once baptized, he
brings his whole household to the new faith ¬ not only relatives and servants
depending upon him, but his own father as well. His descendants, especially his
granddaughter Camilla Xu, will protect and foster the Shanghainese Christian
the thirty years that separate his baptism from his death, Xu Guangqi
continuously protects, advises and even guides the missionaries, while
developing a spiritual life anchored in self-examination and dialogue among
traditions. Among other testimonies, we possess the one of Longobardo, a Jesuit
who was quite opposed to Ricci's acculturation strategy: through a kind of
"counter enquiry" on Chinese converts' orthodoxy, Longobardo
unwillingly lets us appreciate the depth and inner freedom of Xu's spiritual
the way Xu translated his faith into courageous and practical plans of action
reminds us of Ricci's moral character: both men are less prone to write about
their feelings than to engage into what they sense to be their calling. This
may also recalls us of the beginning of the "Contemplation for attaining
love" in the Spiritual Exercises: "Love ought to show itself in deeds
over and above words ¬ and love consists in interchange between two parties ...
So that if the one has knowledge, he gives to the one who has it not."
Such style of interchange nurtures the friendship that Xu developed with Ricci
and inspires his attitude throughout his career. If Xu did not experience
martyrdom, as Saint Thomas More did, his style, courage and achievements are
very much reminiscent of this other great lay Catholic saint.
joint beatification of Ricci and Xu would therefore change the way missionary
history is often told ¬ not a history of passive reception but rather of active
collaboration. It would show that the first converts displayed exceptional
openness and fortitude when working with missionaries in the building of the
local church. It would also show that these converts brought in from the start
the riches of their traditions. It will tell the faithful that all charismas
are needed and must associate when grounding a Christian community into the
life of the Spirit.
a common beatification would be much more meaningful for contemporary Chinese
people ¬ including Chinese Catholics ¬ than the one of a lone missionary would
be. It would send a message of friendship, collaboration, and spiritual
equality. Even more importantly, the multifaceted figure of Xu - one of the
"three pillars of the Chinese Church" (along with Li Zhizhao and Yang
Tingyun) - can operate reconciliation among all sectors of the Church as well
as between Church and society. Besides, the association of Xu and Ricci will
speak of a Church that strives towards universality in the midst of a dialogue
between local cultures and in the variety of life experiences.
remains true that the present difficulties met by the diocese of Shanghai make
the cause of Xu's beatification much slower and more complicated than the one
of Ricci. But these very difficulties should prompt Rome to instruct the case
with even more diligence ¬ and there are many roads through which such case can
be advanced. More than four hundred years have passed since Ricci went to
Heaven. I am convinced that he would willingly wait a few years more, so as to
be recognized Blessed and Saint in the company of his friend Xu Guangqi.
first appeared on eRenlai Magazine.