CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Cardinal holds hopes for Matteo Ricci canonisation

ROME (SE): “China has already honoured him and now it is possible that the pope too will honour him declaring him a saint,” the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, said of the great Jesuit missionary to China, Father Matteo Ricci, who died in Beijing in 1610.

Speaking to Gerard O’Connell after the consistory in Rome for new cardinals in mid-February, Cardinal Tong said in an interview published in the Vatican Insider on March 7 that he hopes that just as China has honoured Father Ricci, the Church will honour him in its own way, by declaring him a saint.

“China has already honoured him at the Millennium Monument in Beijing,” the cardinal pointed out.

Father Ricci is one of only two foreigners, along with Marco Polo, included in a long fresco at the monument celebrating individuals who have made a significant contribution to the progress of civilisation in China over the past 5,000 years.

He is recognised as a pioneer of cultural exchange, as the first person to introduce western culture and science to China.

The first and one of the most vital stages of an investigation for sainthood was completed in the Italian town of Macerata, Father Ricci’s home diocese, in May last year.

His cause for first beatification, and possibly canonisation at a later date, is now with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican.

“Our new pope is a Jesuit,” Cardinal Tong pointed out to O’Connell, “and he is really interested in China. So too is his right hand man, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state (for the Vatican), who also loves China and, in a recent interview, mentioned Matteo Ricci.”

Cardinal Parolin has a significant history in Vatican negotiations with China, as he was a vital part of the Vatican diplomatic team during the 1990s.

Cardinal Tong went on to say that he too has great respect for Father Ricci and for writings.

“I like his writing, particularly his book on Friendship, which I first read a long time ago. In that booklet, one can see how he presents the western idea of friendship, the Christian concept of friendship and the Chinese concept of friendship,” Cardinal Tong said.

“He put all three elements into one,” he explained, adding that he also used Cicero’s concept describing friendship as “not to benefit oneself, not to be egoistic, rather it entails that you should also help the other person to become better and, finally, contribute to society at large.”

Cardinal Tong points out that Father Ricci drew on the prophet Samuel, as well as St. John’s gospel, where he describes friendship as, “Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friends” (and) “You are my friends if you love one another.”

He combined these ideas with the Chinese concept of avoiding egoism or focussing on the material, knowing how to help others and building up virtue.

He said that Father Ricci’s thinking moved in much the same way as Confucius, who emphasised care for family, contributing to society and to world peace.

Cardinal Tong said that these ideas are not dated and it would be good to import them back into our own day. He added that he believes this can happen under Pope Francis, “Who has much in common with Ricci. He is a Jesuit and has the same love for China and its people as Ricci had.”


He concluded by saying that he believes that Pope Francis can show friendship for the Chinese people and this can be appreciated by Beijing.

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