CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Musical about Matteo Ricci attracts thousands

HONG KONG (SE): A two-and-a-half hour long Cantonese musical, Lei Matau (Matteo Ricci the Musical), telling the story of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci’s mission in China in the late 16th and early 17th centuries was performed in Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre in Tsim Sha Tsui, from April 20 to 28. The musical is the brainchild of Father Giovanni Giampietro, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who holds great admiration for the 17th century missionary. 
 
In an interview given to the Fountain of Love and Life, Father Giampietro said he had a great fascination for Matteo Ricci, whose writings were considered “forbidden books” before Vatican II. When Pope St. Pope John XXIII lifted the ban on those books, he got hold of them and finished reading them at one go! 
 
“Ricci teaches me how to respect and learn Chinese culture and to see the presence of God in Chinese culture. This was his most special attraction to me,” Father Giampietro said. 
 
Father Ricci lived in China for 28 years and did not want to go back to Europe. 
 
The Italian-born Father Giampietro, who recently turned 86, and has spent over 60 years of his life in Hong Kong, quoted Father Ricci, saying, “I want to stay in China until I die!” 
 
The play, produced by Johnny To Kei-fung and Damian Lau Chung-yan, and directed by Lau, is a result of over two strenuous years of dedicated hard work by a chosen band of popular theatre artists lead by Jonathan Wong Chee-hynn, who played the role of Father Ricci and Singaporean artist, Kit Chan, who played the female lead.  
 
The grand opening on April 21, Easter Sunday, saw many government officials, celebrities and leaders from the Church attending the show. 
 
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and apostolic administrator of the Catholic diocese, John Cardinal Tong Hon, and many popular artists including Sheren Tang Shui-man, Janice Vidal as well as John Chiang Tai-wai were among the luminaries who attended the grand opening.
 
During the run-up to the musical, Father Giampietro noted in an interview with UCAN that the term missionary had, for some reason, become imbued with negative connotations, including in relation to the imposition of western culture and values. But Father Ricci believed it would be inappropriate and dangerous to attempt to convince Chinese to accept western culture.
 
Instead, Ricci sought to embrace the local culture during his evangelising. He wrote books in Chinese, including one about friendship. He knew it was more effective to use the written word, rather than speech, to get his message across as indigenous Confucians loved to read. His house in Zhaoqing city, in Guangdong province, southeast China, where religious statues and ancient books were displayed, was open to all, including Confucians. 
 
Matteo Ricci, being a smart scholar and proficient in maths and science, made use of his skills to evangelise his adversaries through mathematics and science and astronomy. His missionary endeavours which began from Macau in 1582, ended in Beijing with his death in the year 1610, surrendering his whole life for the mission in China. 
 
The musical was staged 12 times in a period of nine days, each time before a packed audience. The Grand Theatre of the Cultural Centre accommodates 1,800 people and the total audience attendance was calculated at over 21,000 people. 
 
The organisers had to improvise on the scripts, as the viewers refused to leave the hall but stood up to clap for the artists. After the long minutes of applause, the entire cast together with Father Giampietro appeared on the stage and Father Giampietro gave a synthesis of the play and challenged the viewers to appreciate the values of Father Ricci. 
 
The handout given to all the participants included dry grains of wheat. “Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24). 
 
Explaining the play, Father Giampietro said that the grain symbolised the mission mandate that each one has received. Just as Father Ricci offered his life and death for China, its rich culture and for its people, the play must help people to appreciate and get immersed in the Chinese culture, language and lifestyle.
 
The play takes the viewer through numerous powerful scenes to guide them through the process of transformation of Don Matteo Ricci into Lei Matau even at the cost of being misunderstood and sanctioned by his own mother Church. 
 
The life of this great missionary is best expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:22—“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some” 
 

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