THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
A bimonthly missionary letter to foster prayers
- History of the Asian Missions - China Part 2
The Man from the West - Fr. Matteo Ricci
The Salvation of a Soul
For the Missions of Asia:
One Million Hail Marys Daily
- History of the Asian Missions China
- Part 2
are hard to deal with. Their convictions burn them up.
It is pointless to question the validity of their ideals.
Each of their acts has the purity of something from the fire and
can hardly be put into words that measure up to the fact.
There is an inevitability about them which, like of a fire out
of control, leaves little to be done but to record it. John
of Montecorvino was such a man, such a saintly man. The
fire which was his person and his flaming soul lit smaller fires
that burned on in Peking for a few decades after he himself burned
out. And that is much more than can be said for most Europeans
who went and lived there.
John was born in 1247 several years before Marco Polo saw the
light of Venice. After studying at a university, he entered
the Franciscan Order and gained the reputation of being "a fervent
devotee and follower of St. Francis, upright and austere."
Between the time of his ordination and his first mission abroad
he apparently gained some renown as a preacher and as a theologian.
By 1289, he had been in the Levant for some years and was then
a legate of the Pope at the court of the king of Armenia.
Friar John’s account of the state of friars in the Middle East
in 1289, the Pope saw a man determined and strong in missionary
zeal, with a heart set on the conquest of the souls of Asia.
He decided to send the right man to the right place. Equipped
with a battery of letters to almost every known ruler through
whose territory he might have to pass, John of Montecorvino was
sent off toward China about the beginning of 1291.
travels brought him first to Ormuz, on the Persian Gulf, then
by coastal navigation to Malabar, the southwestern part of India,
from which he sailed round the tip of the land to the Coromandel
or eastern coast at St. Thome, near Modern Madras. Here
he stayed for thirteen months near the shrine of St. Thomas, the
"doubting apostle". At the end of these thirteen months,
having converted some hundred faithful, Friar John left for China
his real destination.
next news we gave comes from Peking itself, in the second of Friar
John’s letters. Perhaps it is natural that he says nothing
of the voyage nor of the port where he landed in China, nor of
how he traveled to the great city; for the letter was not written
until he had been eight years in Peking and the strangeness of
his surroundings had worn off. The letter simply says: "...
And I proceeding on my further journey, made my way to Cathay....
To the emperor I presented the letter of the lord Pope, and invited
him to adopt the Catholic faith.... But he had grown too
old in idolatry."
John has the honor of being the first Catholic priest to set foot
in Peking, indeed the first to step on Chinese soil, so far as
we know. Marco Polo had departed only two or three years
previously from this city of Peking, and the Yuan dynasty was
still more or less in its heyday.
first obstacle he encountered were accusations brought against
him by the Nestorians (there were about 30,000 in China at the
time) that he was a spy, a magician, an impostor. That went
on for five years. "At last, By God’s Providence, through
the confessions of some individuals, the emperor came to know
my innocence and the malice of my rivals, and sent them with their
wives into exile." Fortune now seemed to smile on him, at
least for the moment.
"I ... was alone on this pilgrimage ... for eleven years until
Brother Arnold ... of Cologne came to me last year. I have
built a church in the city of Peking .... And this I completed
six years ago; and I also made a bell tower there, and put three
bells on it. I have also baptised there, as I reckon, up
to this time about six thousand persons." And, had the troubles
with the Nestorians not been so long, "I should have baptised
more than thirty thousand." What he does not tell us is
that, while his church was being built, the Nestorians attempted
sabotage every night on what had been accomplished during the
have bought one after another forty boys, the sons of pagans,
aged between seven and eleven years, who up to that time had never
learned any religion. I have baptised them and taught them
Greek and Latin, and our ritual; and I have written for them thirty
Psalters with hymnaries and two breviaries with which eleven boys
now know our office ... and take their weekly turn of duty ...
whether I am present or not. ... And the lord emperor
is greatly delighted at their chanting. I strike the bells
at the canonical hours, and with the congregation of babes and
sucklings I perform divine service, but we sing by ear, because
we have no service-book with music."
John even managed to build a second church about two and a half
miles across the city of Peking. "I have divided the boys
and placed part in the first church and part ... in the second;
and they perform service by themselves. But, I, as chaplain,
celebrate in either church by weeks, for the boys are not priests."
of Friar John’s last letter of 1306 was brought to the French
Pope, Clement V, at Avignon by a Franciscan called Thomas of Tolentino,
later to be martyred in India. Thomas probably collected
the actual letter, or a transcript in Persia. He seems,
however, to have had even more information about Friar John’s
work in Peking than the letter itself contained. The story
of that heroic struggle in China, told by him in the papal court
in Avignon, was sufficient to induce the opinion there that the
East was ripe for the Christian conquest. Clement at once
named Friar John the first archbishop of Peking and dispatched
seven bishops towards China to consecrate him. Later, probably
in 1308, three of the bishops only reached Peking. They
brought with them the papal bull appointing Friar John: "... Taking
... into very careful consideration your conspicuous diligence
in this holy work, We choose you ... to be Archbishop in the great
and honorable city of Khanbalig (Peking) in the realm of the magnificent
prince the great king of the Tartars ... committing to you the
full charge and care of all the souls living in the whole dominion
of the Tartars...."
the remaining twenty years of his struggle in Peking, Friar John
is silent. He writes no more letters to the West, or none
have survived. In 1328 he died at the age of eighty-one.
"This brother John the Archbishop", wrote a contemporary Dominican,
"converted there (in Peking) many men to the law of Jesus Christ.
was a man of very honest life, pleasing both to God and to the
world, and stood high in the favor of the emperor... To
his funeral and his internment came a huge multitude of Christians
and pagans, the pagans rending their mourning robes as the custom
is. And these Christians and pagans devoutly took pieces
of the Archbishop funeral pall and revered them as relics ...
They still visit his grave with extreme devotion...."
The story of the Franciscan mission in Peking and in China at
large had not long to run after the death of Archbishop John.
The whole soul-racking effort of the noble Franciscan vanished
with a puff of Chinese dynasty breath; and, come the Ming dynasty
in 1638, not even the wick of the lamp Friar John lit is there
to trail a little Roman Christian smoke in the astringent Peking
atmosphere. (From Barbarians and Mandarins, Thirteen
Centuries of Western Travellers in China, by N. Cameron, Oxford,
Hong Kong, 1993, pp. 90-106.)
Man from the West: Fr.
Matteo Ricci S.J.
the XVIth century was drawing toward its close and the august
dynasty of the Ming had run more than two-thirds of its course,
there came to China one of the most remarkable men of the age.
His name was Matteo Ricci and he was a Jesuit priest. Of
all the Europeans who attempted the task of understanding the
Chinese and their civilisation he was the most talented, the most
important. Among all the Westerners who sojourned in China,
he was the only one to whom the Chinese accorded unreservedly
their respect as a scholar in their own language and literature.
To achieve that position, Matteo Ricci had to become in all relevant
ways at least one-half Chinese himself.
between admiration and awe, or a mixture of both, is the natural
result of reading the story of his career in China and his own
voluminous writings from there. During the later part of
his stay in Peking it was with the same kind of respect that the
Chinese themselves, literati and ministers of state, seem to have
looked on this unique phenomenon in their midst. The earning
of their respect had taken Fr. Ricci the last twenty-seven years
of his life.
Ricci was an Italian born in 1552 in Macerata, a town near the
Adriatic coast, a few short miles from the famous shrine of Loreto.
At seven years old he joined the newly founded Jesuit school in
Macerata, and at sixteen was sent to Rome where, contrary to his
father’s wishes of legal studies, he continued his ecclesiastical
studies in the famous Jesuit college. The pioneering voyages
made by St. Francis Xavier to India, Japan and other exotic lands
had doubtless been recounted to the students, and Ricci probably
knew that the Saint had died within sight of China in the same
year as he himself was born. St. Francis had written:
"Opposite to Japan lies China, an immense empire, enjoying profound
peace, and which as the Portuguese merchants tell us, is superior
to all Christian states in the practice of justice and equity.
The Chinese whom I have seen ... and whom I got to know, are white
in colour ... are acute and eager to learn. In intellect
they are even superior to the Japanese... Nothing leads
me to suppose that there are Christians there." To Ricci,
words such as these must have read like an open invitation.
conviction that his vocation lay in the Orient strengthened day
by day as he studied under the Jesuits. But it was quite
another matter to be chosen for the Eastern missions. At
last, his name was chosen; he was twenty-five.
sailed from Lisbon, down the African coast, around the Cape of
Good Hope, up past Mozambique. Ricci’s first stop was Goa,
on the West coast of India. Not yet a priest, he resumed
his studies in theology, before finding himself a Latin and Greek
schoolteacher at the famous St. Paul’s College. After some
time he was sent to Cochin where he was ordained priest.
Finally, in the spring of 1582, Fr. Valignano, his former Novice
Master in Rome, now the Visitor for the Far East, called him in
Macao. He was thirty years of age. The story of his
life was just beginning.
soon after his arrival in August 1582, the young Fr. Ricci was
to discover that Macao, far from being the doorstep of the house
of China, was rather the prison to which the Chinese, with considerable
subtlety, had relegated those few ‘barbarians’ who were in some
ways useful and in others a continual nuisance to the Celestial
Empire. One day Fr. Valignano gazing out of the window of
the Jesuit College in Macao toward the continent of China "called
out in a loud voice, and the most intimate affection of his heart,
speaking to China: ‘Oh, Rock, Rock, when wilt thou open,
Valignano’s ideas of converting the Chinese were much more subtle
than his predecessors’ methods. What he proposed was a kind
of gentle cultural approach. And it was in applying this
idea that Fr. Ricci made his greatest contribution to Sino-Western
relations and understanding, and his most important conversions.
Providential door opening came in the summer of 1583 when the
governor of a town called Chao-ch’ing, some distance west of Canton,
having heard of Fr. Ruggieri’s mathematical skill invited him
and even hinted that a plot of land might be available where Ruggieri
could built a house. So, early in September that year, Fathers
Ricci and Ruggieri, two old friends, set out for China up the
muddy river to Canton. The ‘Rock’ of Valignano seemed to
have opened a fraction, just enough to let them inside.
Before leaving Macao, they shaved their heads and beards and put
on the rough, hooded cloaks of Chinese monks.
of the most significant action of Fr. Ricci in Chao-ch’ing was
the making of a world map. He describes what happened in
his own words: "The Fathers had hung up in their hall a
map of the whole world.... When the Chinese understood what
it was, never having seen or imagined such a thing before, all
the more serious-minded of them wanted to see it printed with
Chinese characters so as to understand its contents better.
So, the Father (Ricci) who knew something of mathematics, having
been a disciple of Clavius when in Rome, set about the task, helped
by one of the literati, a friend of his; and before long they
had a map of the whole world bigger than the one in the house...
It was the best and most useful work that could be done at that
time to dispose the Chinese to give credit to the things of the
strategy was the crux of the Jesuit approach to the East and it
was well adapted to Chinese attitudes. Expound and exhibit
the marvels and attainments of Western science and technology,
it went, make that sector of Western achievements respected by
the ruling classes. Then, like the pill in the spoonful
of jam, slip in morsels of Christian faith, and they will respect
these too. Thus, Fr. Ricci used his extraordinary memory,
his knowledge of mathematics, of astronomy, of clock-making, of
music, of optics, of geography, as means to bring the true faith
to this huge Empire.
a brief sketch of his life, it would be foolish to attempt to
detail all the events which occurred in the long haul before he
reached Peking, the ultimate goal of all who go to China.
the first twelve years of labour in the reluctant fields of China,
he harvested a mere fifteen converts in Chao-ch’ing and another
seventy-five in Shao-chou his next stop. Meanwhile, he was
mastering the Chinese language and became a scholar whose only
equals were the Chinese literati themselves.
Nanking, Linch’ing, Tungchow, he was nearing his goal gradually.
After an unsuccessful short stay in Peking, he returned to the
famous capital on January 28, 1601, in his forty-ninth year and
in the eighteenth of his stay in China, to remain there for the
remaining nine years of his life. Unfortunately, he never
saw the emperor Wan-li and very soon renounced the impracticable
dream of converting him. Nevertheless, during the remaining
years, he was astonishingly successful. At one time the
reputation of the Jesuit mission was such that their house was
the constant focus of visits from high officers of government
and of scholars of wide renown.
his last letter to Rome, dated February 1609, Ricci once more
underlined the importance of sending to China men who were not
only "good, but also men of talent, since we are dealing with
a people both intelligent and learned"
the following winter, prematurely aged, and very gray, he felt
his strength flagging. On May 3, 1610, he took to his bed
to rest. "On the sixth day of his fatal illness, he made
a general confession of his whole life, and the father who attended
him was so overcome by his lighthearted disposition, that he said
he had never in his whole life experienced more spiritual joy
than that which radiated from the gentility and the innocence
of the soul of Fr. Ricci." "I am leaving you on the threshold
of an open door that leads to great reward, but only after labours
endured and dangers encountered." Toward the evening of
the eleventh of May, 1610, sitting up in his bed, he closed his
eyes "as if falling asleep.... Father Matteo Ricci was dead."
Histoire universelle des Missions Catholiques, Paris, 1955,
vol. 2, pp.; Barbarians and Mandarins, Thirteen Centuries of
Western Travelers in China, by N. Cameron, Oxford, Hong Kong,
1993, pp. 149-194.)
Salvation of a Soul
Monday, November 6th 1989, a Society priest arrived in Singapore
coming from New Zealand. He said Mass daily for the group
of the faithful, and also held Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
after Mass. He was also asked to bless 7 homes and to enthrone
the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Wednesday, November 8th, the priest went to a hospital to give
the last rites to the mother of one of the group’s young men.
She was very ill and unconscious. It was 11 am.
administering Extreme Unction and after giving her the Papal Blessing
in articulo mortis, the priest noticed that beside this lady there
was a Chinese man lying in another bed who was obviously in a
desperate condition. He clearly had only a few more hours
to live in this world. He was probably in his late fifties.
priest went to his side and said to him: "I am a Catholic priest.
Would you like to become a Catholic? I am offering you life
everlasting". Then the priest asked him: "Do you believe
in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Catholic Church?" The poor
man could not speak, so bad was his condition, but he pressed
the priest’s hands twice, affirmatively. After that he could
answer no more questions. He was dying of cancer.
the end of the man’s bed was a notice carrying the man’s name,
"Hong Kee Koh". The faithful accompanying the priest told
him that that name could only belong to a non-Catholic.
priest then administered the sacrament of Baptism to the dying
man, and the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Papal Blessing
in articulo mortis. So he became "Hong Kee Joseph Horace
George Koh". Mr. Koh died eight hours later.
following day the priest was told that a few weeks previously,
Mr. Koh had asked the nurses to bring a Catholic priest to him,
because he wanted to become a Catholic. However, the nurse
did not do so. Moreover, Mrs. Koh, a non-Catholic, did not
want her husband to die a Catholic. But "man proposes, God
disposes". Mr. Koh died as a son of the One, Holy, Catholic
and Apostolic Church, by God’s infinite mercy. Laudetur
Ruben Horacio Gentili
Madrid, 25th November, 1989