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Beatification process begins for China-loving Italian cardinal

Process for the cause of Cardinal Celso Costantini will be slow due to divergent China Church-Vatican relations, experts say

Beatification process begins for China-loving Italian cardinal

Cardinal Celso Costantini was appointed the first apostolic delegate to China in 1922 and was secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples from 1935 until 1953, the year he was made a cardinal. (Photo supplied)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
China

August 31, 2017

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The process for the beatification of Cardinal Celso Costantini (1876–1958), the first apostolic delegate to China, will soon begin.

However, experts believe the process will be slow due to divergent China Church-Vatican relations.

The Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone, Italy, where Cardinal Costantini came from, will notify churches on progress.

The formal start of the process is scheduled for Oct. 17 at the cathedral in Concordia, where the cardinal served.

Postulators in charge of the process said the church in China was able to go underground and remain strong after the communist revolution mostly due to Cardinal Costantini's work, according to an Aug. 10 report of the Catholic News Agency.

The beginning of the beatification process is reviving discussion about difficult current relations between China and the Holy See, the Catholic News Agency report said.

The Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord, the first Religious male congregation in China founded by Cardinal Costantini in 1927, did not respond directly to the report.

Father John Chia, former superior general of the congregation, said that the process was explained at a seminar in Taiwan on July 8.

However, a church source, who asked not to be named, told ucanews.com that members Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord believed the beatification would not be completed any time soon.

Speaking at the seminar, Monsignor Bruno Fabio Pighin, an expert on the history of the cardinal, noted that the Oct. 17 commencement of the beatification process was also the 59th death anniversary of Cardinal Costantini.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted the application from the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone and named the cardinal as a "Servant of God" on June 24, 2016.

Under unsteady China-Vatican relations, there are always obstacles to the naming of a new Chinese saint.

In 2000, when the Vatican canonized 120 Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1, China's national day, it provoked a negative response from the Chinese government.

To avoid relations with China deteriorating further, the Vatican postponed (from 2002 to 2012) the beatification of Father Gabriele Allegra, an Italian Franciscan who produced the first full translation of the Catholic Bible in Chinese.

 

Great contributor to the China Church

Cardinal Costantini was born in 1876 and ordained a priest in 1899. He was appointed the first apostolic delegate to China in 1922 and was secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples from 1935 until 1953, the year he was made a cardinal.

He was lauded for his attempt to turn the China Church into a real local church by pushing for the ordination of the first six Chinese bishops in 1926.

Cardinal Costantini earlier convened the first Synod of Bishops in China in 1924. He promoted Chinese Christian arts and established church jurisdictions managed by Chinese clergy.

Alex Chen Tsung-ming, research director at the Ferdinand Verbiest Institute in Belgium, said the honor of beatification for Cardinal Costantini served as a good example to all members of the China Church and even the Universal Church.

He added that Cardinal Costantini's candidacy for beatification, if confirmed by the Holy See, would show China that the Vatican loves China as the cardinal did.

Chen said people might recall the contribution of Cardinal Costantini in localizing the church as the Chinese government is pushing hard for a "sinicized" church.

However, he cautioned that "sinicization" is based on a communist political ideology, which is different from "inculturation" that the church speaks of. Inculturation means to adapt the way church teachings are presented to a non-Christian culture.

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