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Monday, December 5, 2016
Remembering the first westerner who became truly Chinese
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¬†MISNA translation of an article by Father Giulio Albanese If you ask a Chinese person who Marco Polo was, he or she may not be able to answer. However, curiously almost all Chinese citizens know of 'Li Ma Du', the 'Wise man from the West', or Father Matteo Ricci, the anniversary of whose death falls today. A Jesuit who lived between the 16th and 17th centuries, and the first to build a bridge of profitable relations between East and West, he was a great missionary. Born in 1552, the eldest of seven brothers and four sisters, Matteo came from one of the richest families in Macerata, where he studied in the Jesuit college. In 1568, his father sent him to the Roman University of Law, but after serious reflection he opted to begin his noviciate in the Company of Jesus in Rome. In 1577, he expressed the desire to become a missionary and he set sail from Genoa for Lisbon, from where he left for Goa the following year, before arriving in Macao in 1582. Here he learned Chinese and began his adventure 'ad gentes', one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of evangelisation. The first great Sinologist in history and the first to introduce theology, philosophy, literature, arts and western science to China, it must be admitted that his reputation, especially in Italy, still does not match his real depth both as a religious man and as an intellectual. Father Ricci was the first westerner to become truly Chinese, writing and speaking the language fluently, and translating texts on astronomy and mathematics into Mandarin, including the first six books of Euclid's Elements: a work which intellectuals of the time considered fundamental for the rebirth of mathematics in China. It was he who revealed to the Chinese that the earth is not square, but round. His teaching was condemned under the Inquisition due to theological differences in 1704 but his reputation was restored by Pope Pius XII in 1939 and fully re-evaluated following the Second Vatican Council. The inter-cultural approach to history, the link between cultural traditions and development and the meeting between these traditions and the modern world are certainly among the clever intuitions of Father Ricci. There is no doubt that the person and the work of the Jesuit represent a serious reprimand for the proponents of any kind of ethnocentricity. He immersed himself in Chinese time, without worrying continually about the future, as westerners often do. When asked how many souls he had converted, the missionary would answer that it was not "the time to harvest, but to toil the land" and that it would have been more appropriate to ask him to how many people he had announced the Good News for the first time. This "strange" man ≠ as the Chinese used to call him, referring to his extraordinary human and intellectual virtues ≠ has left an indelible trace in the history of the oriental country. Father Ricci died on 11 May 1610 and the Emperor Wan Li declared a day of national mourning for the occasion, also granting him the privilege of a burial place and officially recognising the Christian religion in his honour, ordering a stele to be built on his tomb. In the era of globalisation, in which the clash of civilisations appears to be an inauspicious metaphor for our time, the great missionary invites all of us to build bridges between cultures, between East and West. Source: MISNA
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