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Beatification Process Begins for Chinese Missionary Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci

February 19, 2014 — More than 400 years after the death of Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest known for his efforts to evangelize China during the 16th century, the Vatican has received an official request for his beatification.

"The papers for the beatification process for Father Matteo Ricci have been received by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints," said Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of the Macerata diocese in southern Italy, where Ricci was born in 1552.

Ricci, who died in Beijing in 1610, was one of the first Jesuits to live in China. He introduced a new approach to spreading the Catholic faith in the country by adapting to the local culture. He studied the language and gained a reputation as a learned scholar, even receiving an invitation to Emperor Wanli's imperial court.

Despite Ricci’s initial success in evangelizing the Chinese, the Vatican remained skeptical of his method of mixing Catholicism with Chinese culture. Especially questioned was Ricci’s acceptance of Chinese ancestor worship as a legitimate, non-theological memorial that Catholic converts could practice. After decades of debate, the Vatican decided that the Chinese practice of ancestor worship rites was incompatible with Catholic doctrine and was forbidden. This caused the Chinese emperor to ban Christian missions from China in 1721, closing the door that Ricci worked so patiently to open.

The modern-day relationship between the two states is tenuous. China's communist regime broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association six years later, which does not recognize the pope as its head.

Bishop Giuliodori said the proposal to beatify Ricci comes as the pope attempts to build better relations with China. "I hope that thanks to Pope Francis' support, evangelization and dialogue with China will be stimulated," said Giuliodori. The pope has long admired Ricci and once dreamed of becoming a missionary in Japan as a young Jesuit priest.

Pope Francis also praised Ricci as an exemplary evangelist. "We must always ask forgiveness and look with shame upon the apostolic failures brought about by a lack of courage. I am thinking, for example, of the pioneering intuitions of Matteo Ricci which, at the time, were abandoned," he said in a speech in November 2013. [Sources: New Straits Times,]

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