On the occasion of his 86th birthday, Pope Francis advanced the cause of 16th-century priest Fr. Matteo Ricci, one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China missions. Now, just a few months after the Portuguese missionary was proclaimed venerable, he has been honored in Beijing Cathedral with a solemn prayer vigil. The event precedes a planned institution of a pilgrimage route that would follow Venerable Ricci’s steps through mainland China.
According to Agenzia Fides, the vigil service was held on Monday, April 17. The Diocese of Hong Kong reportedly prepared a special prayer to ask the Lord for the beatification of Fr. Ricci, whose contributions to the Church include spreading the Catholic faith, as well as Western astronomical and calendrical sciences, to China.
The vigil was held in the context of the unusual official visit of the bishop of Hong Kong to Beijing.
In his lifetime, Venerable Matteo Ricci became the first European to enter the Forbidden City, where influence and education would see him rub shoulders with China’s societal elites. Several prominent Chinese officials were even drawn to the Christian faith by Ricci’s ministry, which lasted from his arrival in 1582 until his death in 1610. For his contributions to China’s sciences, Fr. Ricci was honored by The Wanli Emperor, becoming the first Westerner who was permitted to be buried in Beijing.
The prayer recited at the April 17 service reads:
“Through his outstanding example, rekindle our missionary zeal so that we may learn to practice the Truth in love in our daily lives and lead others, especially our Chinese brothers and sisters, to know and love you”.
The Agenzia Fides report notes that the Catholic community of Beijing Cathedral arranged an exhibition of pictures that document the work of the Jesuit missionary. This display was a preamble to a planned pilgrimage route that would see the faithful follow Fr. Ricci’s steps through China. Rather than a “sightseeing tour,” the route is intended to devoutly retrace an itinerary that would pass through many of the most significant places linked to Fr. Ricci’s mission.
Agenzia Fides outlines the route:
“From Zhaoqing to Nanchang (where he was appointed superior of the mission and received orders to go to Beijing), to Nanjing (where he met Paul Xu Guangqi, one of his most important friends and benefactors, who received baptism from Matteo Ricci) until his arrival in Beijing, where he was buried.”