CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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First Shanghai Catholic praised on 450th birthday

SHANGHAI (UCAN): Mainstream media in China heaped high praise on Paul Xu Guangqi on April 24 to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth in a series of reports on commemorative events in Shanghai.

Xu was born in 1562 and was the first person from Shanghai to receive the sacrament of baptism. A close friend and collaborator of the famed Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, who baptised him, the Holy See is currently reviewing the cases of both men for beatification. Xu died in 1633.

Xu is widely known in China as the first Chinese person to introduce advanced European scientific knowledge into the country in the late Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).

He is also famous as a scholar-official, mathematician, astronomer and agricultural scientist.

The Shanghai Daily, the most influential English newspaper in the commercial centre of China, published a report on Xu’s birthday describing him as “one of China’s great men of applied science.”

The report featured an interview with Huang Shulin, an official on cultural affairs, who said Xu’s “clear and open mind to all advanced knowledge and technology was very precious at his time and is still a legacy for Shanghai people today.”

On April 23, the Xuhui district government held an assembly under the theme, Remembering the sage of Shanghai, showing patriotic aspiration, in Guangqi Park, on Nandan Road, where Xu is buried. Two steles were unveiled, which carry his life story and a memorial essay.

A symposium is due to take place on May 11. The Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing daily in Hong Kong, reported that experts and scholars will present papers on the contribution Xu made to cultural exchange and “explore his scientific spirit, learn his patriotism, promote history and civilisation, and the building of a harmonious society.”

Later in December, according to the Shanghai-based Chinese newspaper, the Dongfang Daily, two new statues of Xu, which depict his achievements in agriculture and the introduction of western scientific instruments, will be erected in the Guangqi Park.

Together with the original two statues—astronomical observation and discussion with Ricci—the local government aims at turning the graveyard into a theme park in memory of Xu.

After suffering serious damage during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), the graveyard was restored and expanded by the government in 1983, the 350th anniversary of the death of Xu. It was named Guangqi Park at that time.

Some media reports also mentioned that Xu was a Catholic convert and spoke of his friendship with Father Ricci, but in a relatively brief and less prominent manner in comparison with his scientific and patriotic attributes.

Meanwhile, Catholics in Shanghai held a gathering to pray for the beatification cause of Xu.

The Shanghai diocesan website reported that all 86 diocesan priests and dozens of people gathered at Guangqi Park to pay their respects to Xu on April 24.

The vicar general, Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin, recalled the story of how Xu brought the Catholic faith to Shanghai in his address at the gathering in the park.

“Xu spared no effort to spread his faith, not only in words and writing, but also in his charitable deeds. He also tried his best to protect the missionaries and defend the Catholic faith,” he said.

He called on all Catholics to follow Xu’s example and to pray for his sainthood cause.

Some priests laid wreaths in front of Xu’s tomb. The ceremony ended with a visit to the Xu Guangqi museum in the park.

Xuhui district, the name originated from the village of Xu’s family lived. Today, it is the heart of the Catholic Church in Shanghai.

St Ignatius’ Cathedral, built in 1910 and featuring a pair of 56-metre-tall bell towers, used to be the tallest building in the area, but is now buried amongst high-rise shopping centres and office buildings, as the district has been redeveloped into one of the busiest commercial zones in the municipality in recent decades.

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