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China-Church relations snag Ricci canonisation

VATICAN (Agencies) : Part of the beatification depends on the political relations between China and the Vatican,” Father Anton Witwer, the postulator of the cause of the Italian Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, explained.

Father Witwer told EWTN News in a May 15 interview, “It is possible to wait, even if all things are clear for a beatification, something like five years, to see if the political situation has changed and is more favourable for the cause,” 

Father Ricci was the first westerner invited into the Forbidden City, the sprawling imperial palace in which the emperor lived.

He also produced the first map of China in which Africa, Europe and the Americas are shown.

He avoided one big political difficulty by placing the oceans at the centre of the map, with all countries shown on the sides.

Father Witwer explained that the process toward sainthood began in 1985 in Father Ricci’s hometown of Macerata.

He said, “This was only a historical opening, so it was not sufficient. This is why we had to make a new process,” which was initiated on 24 January 2010.

The German priest, who is the general postulator of the Society of Jesus, also explained some of the considerations that can impact on the timing of Father Ricci’s beatification.

“First, a beatification has to help the local Church (in China) to sustain and grow in faith and, if there is a political impediment, it is sometimes necessary to choose the just time,” Father Witwer said.

In fact, the Vatican asked Father Witwer to introduce the cause of Father Ricci’s lay collaborator, Paul Xu Guanqi, because “for China, it would maybe be better if a European and a Chinese are beatified more or less together,” he explained adding that “this would be better for China because it is easier to accept a Chinese blessed and not only a missionary working in China.” 

But the Jesuit postulator explained that Xu’s beatification process is now on hold since it was introduced in Shanghai, which is currently without a bishop.

The diocese of Macerata finished studying the case of Father Ricci on May 10 and passed its findings to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints which will now examine the case to decide whether or not to give the missionary the status of heroic virtue.

Father Witwer said a document, known as a positio, would be drafted detailing the life, writings and virtues of the Father Ricci. 

It will be directed by the relator of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a “sort of thesis moderator, then studied by historians, theologians and finally by cardinals.” said Father Witwer.

The postulator added, “Maybe in two years we can finish the position, then several years will be needed to study it; and then a few more years may be needed before the beatification finally takes place.”

The next step in eventually proclaiming him a saint would be to beatify him, making him a blessed.

This, among other things, will involve a miracle being attributed to his intercession and having it certified as miraculous by separate panels of medical doctors, cardinals and the pope.


“We still have to wait for the beatification because we have to wait for a miracle, which we don’t have yet,” Father Witwer said.

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