Pope at Audience: Matteo Ricci's love for Chinese people, a source of inspiration

At his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis praises the apostolic zeal of Venerable Matteo Ricci, one of the early Jesuit missionaries to the Far East whose love for the Chinese people remains a model of consistency for Christian witness.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Matteo Ricci's love for the Chinese people remains an enduring source of inspiration.

With this sentiment, Pope Francis described Venerable Matteo Ricci, one of the early Jesuit missionaries to the Far East, at his weekly General Audience on Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, as he continued his catechesis series on saints who personified apostolic zeal.

“His love for the Chinese people is a model; but what is a very timely one, is his consistency of life, his Christian witness. He brought Christianity to China...”

The Pope praised Ricci's excellence in various areas, but stressed his greatness, above all, lies in his being "consistent with his vocation, consistent with that desire to follow Jesus Christ."

Time in China

Last week, Pope Francis praised St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native priest of Korea and a martyr for the faith, who dreamed of reaching China, but was not able to fulfill that dream. This week, instead, he spoke of Ricci who did.

Reflecting on the saint to the thousands of faithful in the Square, the Pope remembered how originally from Macerata, in Italy's Marche region, Ricci studied in Jesuit schools and having himself entered the Society of Jesus. Enthused by the reports of missionaries, like many of his young companions, he asked to be sent to the missions in the Far East.

Father Ricci would go to China, and patiently go on to master the difficult Chinese language and immersed himself in the country’s culture. It would take 18 years, and unshakeable faith, to arrive in Peking, the Pope said, overcoming frequent mistrust and opposition.

Thanks to his writings in Chinese and his knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, the Jesuit Pope observed, Matteo Ricci became known and respected "as a sage and scholar."

An inspiring missionary

His vast learning and ability to engage in sincere and respectful dialogue, the Holy Father explained, were employed in the service of the Gospel.

"This opened many doors to Him," the Pope said.

Ricci, he noted, made the Gospel known not only in his writings, but by his example of religious life, prayer and virtue.

In this way, the Pope suggested, Ricci attracted many of his Chinese disciples and friends to embrace the Catholic faith.

Matteo Ricci died in Peking in 1610, at the age of 57, the Pope said, "dedicating his whole life to mission." Ricci was the first foreigner permitted by the Emperor to be buried on Chinese soil.

Great Missionaries

The Pope praised the strong prayer life of Ricci which propelled all his work, and that animates the life of missionaries.

Consistency and closeness to Christ, through prayer, the Pope suggested, is one of the greatest characteristics of the great missionaries, before inviting the faithful to ask themselves whether they are consistent in their Christian faith.

“Brothers and sisters, today we, each one of us, ask ourselves, within: 'Am I consistent, or am I a little so-so?'”