CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Seeking a fuller picture of China’s missionary history

HONG KONG (UCAN): An academic conference on the missionary history of the Paris Foreign Mission Society was described as filling a few gaps in the modern understanding of the development of the Catholic Church over the centuries in China.
Organised by the Catholic Studies Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Beijing Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture and running from July 26 to 27, the papers presented pointed out that much of the documentation on China’s mission history centres on the work of the Jesuits, which leaves a lopsided view of history.
Father Louis Ha Ke-loon, the director of the centre, said that many scholars over the years have focussed their research interest on the Jesuits around the late Ming (1386 to 1644) and early Qing (1644 to 1912) dynasties.
He added that while the work of the Jesuits is important and must be part of the picture, it is not the whole story, as several other missionary societies made significant contributions that are oftentimes overlooked.
While many of the names that have survived the mist of years are those of the Jesuits, as they are far more widely known than just within the Catholic Church, they represent only one example of the presence of the Church during the era.
Father Adam Schall von Bell and Father Matteo Ricci were well known figures in civil society in Beijing for their academic work and Brother Giuseppe Castiglione is affectionately remembered for his beautiful paintings depicting life in the imperial court.
However, Father Ha said that in fact there was a much wider missionary activity on a totally different level going on in China at that time.
“If there is only research on the Jesuits, it would not give a comprehensive picture of the missionary history and Catholicism in China. So, this conference was a very innovative thing to do,” Father Ha explained.
The centre at the Chinese University has held previous seminars on the contributions of six to seven religious congregations and missionary societies in Hong Kong.
However, this was the first time it has held an event totally dedicated to the history of the contribution of one individual missionary society in the context of its service and development in China.
The Paris Foreign Mission Society entered China in 1658. It was one of the main presences of the Catholic Church in the country during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Its priests and brothers spread their wings as far as the southwestern Tibetan Plateau and the mountainous regions of Guizhou and Yunnan provinces.
About 80 academics, including guests from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and further abroad joined the conference.

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