The Atlantic magazine just published an article about a move within the Vatican to canonize Matteo Ricci, the first Jesuit missionary to China, titled "Can Matteo Ricci's beatification mend China's rift with the Catholic Church?"
When Matteo Ricci walked the streets of Beijing more than 400 years ago, he was a celebrity. The Jesuit was the first Westerner to enter the gates of the Forbidden City. He impressed the emperor by predicting solar eclipses. He created an enormous map that gave Ming dynasty Chinese a sense of the rest of the world for the first time. He spoke and read Chinese well enough to translate Euclid.
And even though, after 13 years in China, he began to dress in the garb of an imperial scholar-official, his goal was to convert the Chinese to Catholicism, which he did with some success and considerable flair.
Now all he needs is a miracle or two. Literally.
In May, the Vatican body that oversees canonization pushed ahead the case for making Ricci, who died in 1610, a saint. The Catholic Church has collected hundreds of documents that provide evidence of his "heroic virtues" and has dubbed him a Servant of God, which puts him on the first rung of four steps toward full-fledged sainthood. In order for him to advance, Ricci's supporters must now find evidence of popular devotion to Ricci, that prayers to him have cured fatal illnesses, or that his body hasn't decayed in the 403 years since his death.
The article then goes on to give a good overview of the issues that remain sticking points between the Vatican and the Chinese government, and the likely impact conferring sainthood on Matteo Ricci would have on Sino-Vatican relations.
In 2010 I wrote a post for my blog about visiting the Matteo Ricci exhibit at the Capital Museum in Beijing to commemorate the 400th year of Ricci's death. You can read it here.
Protestant or Catholic, anyone serving in China today is standing on the shoulders of Matteo Ricci.
Further Reading on Matteo Ricci:
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, by Jonathan Spence
A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci, 1552-1610, by Po Chia-Hsia
"Matteo Ricci" (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)
Image credit: Philip McMaster, via Flickr
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio