Pope Francis reflected on the experience of Venerable Matteo Ricci, a man of science, to point out a recipe for evangelization.
With dialogue and friendship: This is how a missionary begins, according to Pope Francis.
The Pope continued this May 31 his catechesis series on sharing the Gospel — apostolic zeal — today considering the example of another Jesuit: Matteo Ricci. Ricci died in the year 1610, but his cause for canonization is still underway and he was just recognized as Venerable a few months ago.
The Pope noted that after the attempt by Francis Xavier to reach the East, which he spoke about earlier this month, another 25 Jesuits had tried to enter China, without success.
But Ricci and one of his confrères prepared themselves very well, carefully studying the Chinese language and customs, and in the end, they managed to settle in the south of the country. It took 18 years, with four stages through four different cities, to arrive in Peking, which was the center. With perseverance and patience, inspired by unshakeable faith, Matteo Ricci was able to overcome difficulties and dangers, mistrust and opposition. Think that, in that time, on foot or riding a horse, such distances … and he went on.
The Pope then considered “Matteo Ricci’s secret”:
He always followed the way of dialogue and friendship with all the people he encountered, and this opened many doors to him for the proclamation of the Christian faith. His first work in Chinese was indeed a treatise On friendship, which had great resonance.
Ricci began to dress like the intellectuals of society, and studied the classical texts of his host country. “He thus was able to present Christianity in positive dialogue with their Confucian wisdom and the customs of Chinese society.”
Pope Francis noted that in the Church, this presentation of the faith within the local culture is called “inculturation.”
“This missionary was able to ‘inculturate’ the Christian faith, as the ancient fathers had done in dialogue with Greek culture,” he said.
Ricci shared his “excellent scientific knowledge” and introduced the Chinese to maps that showed them the world was more extensive than they thought.
The mathematical and astronomical knowledge of Ricci and his missionary followers also contributed to a fruitful encounter between the culture and science of the West and the East, which went on to experience one of its happiest times, characterized by dialogue and friendship. Indeed, Matteo Ricci’s work would never have been possible without the collaboration of his great Chinese friends, such as the famous “Doctor Paul” (Xu Guangqi) and “Doctor Leon” (Li Zhizao).
A message he lived
But Ricci’s deepest motivation was the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pope continued.
With scientific dialogue, with scientists, he went ahead but he bore witness to his faith, to the Gospel. The credibility obtained through scientific dialogue gave him the authority to propose the truth of Christian faith and morality, of which he spoke in depth in his principal Chinese works, such as The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven – as the book was called.
And his teaching was supported by his testimony, particularly the Pope said, his life of virtue and prayer: “These missionaries prayed.”
They went to preach, they were active, they made political moves, all of that; but they prayed. It is what nourished the missionary life, a life of charity; they helped others, humbly, with total disinterest in honours and riches, which led many of his disciples and friends to embrace the Catholic faith. Because they saw a man who was so intelligent, so wise, so astute – in the good sense of the word – in getting things done, and so devout, that they said, ‘But what he preaches is true, because it is part of a personality that witnesses, he bears witnesses to what he preaches with his own life.” This is the coherence of the evangelizers. And this applies to all of us Christians who are evangelizers. We can recite the Creed by heart, we can say all the things we believe, but if our life is not consistent with this, it is of no use. What attracts people is the witness of consistency: We Christians must live as we say, and not pretend to live as Christians but to live in a worldly way. […]
The missionary spirit of Matteo Ricci constitutes a relevant living model. His love for the Chinese people is a model; but the truly timely path is coherence of life, of the witness of his Christian belief. He took Christianity to China; he is great, yes, because he is a great scientist, he is great because he is courageous, he is great because he wrote many books – but above all, he is great because he was consistent in his vocation, consistent in his desire to follow Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, today we, each one of us, let us ask ourselves inwardly, “Am I consistent, or am I a bit ‘so-so’?”