Musical to celebrate missionary's Chinese journey

Hong Kong production will highlight the cross-cultural approach of Father Matteo Ricci
Musical to celebrate missionary's Chinese journey

Father Giovanni Giampietro, now 84, is the director of Matteo Ricci The Musical, to be performed in April 2019. ( photo) reporter, Hong Kong
December 6, 2018
A musical telling the story of Father Matteo Ricci's mission in China in the late 16th and early 17th centuries is to be performed in Hong Kong in April.

The Italian-born director, Father Giovanni Giampietro, 84, has sought to include local cultural elements in the production.

In an interview with, Father Giampietro, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said he had long been deeply moved by the story of Father Ricci, who was also an Italian.

He noted that the term "missionary" had for some come to convey negative connotations, including in relation to the imposition of Western culture and values. Images were often conjured of a bearded missionary priest in a white shirt holding thin or disabled children.

However, Matteo Ricci had avoided a patronizing approach.

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Father Giampietro pointed out that Father Ricci believed it would have been inappropriate and dangerous try to convince Chinese to accept Western culture. Instead, he sought to embrace the local culture during his evangelizing.

Father Giampietro said that Matteo Ricci knew it was more effective to use the written word, rather than speech, to get his message across as indigenous Confucians loved to read. He wrote books in Chinese, including one about friendship.

Father Ricci's house in Zhaoqing city in Guangdong province of southeast China, where religious statues and ancient books were displayed, was open to all, including Confucians.

Father Giampietro said that while the Jesuit was well versed in the subject of religion, he also imparted knowledge on mathematics, science and astronomy.

The musical to be performed in Hong Kong will also deal with Ricci's journey to China, first to Macau in 1582.

Ricci then went to Zhaoqing, Nanchang city in Jiangxi province, Nanjing city, Tianjin city and finally to Beijing in 1601, where he became the first European to enter the Forbidden City.

The missionary had viewed China as a top-down society, with the emperor at its apex.

Like Jesus travelling from Nazareth to Jerusalem, Ricci did not teach in a classroom but while journeying. He died in China in 1610.

"We hope to share with others how Ricci could achieve evangelization between cultural conversations through the musical," Father Giampietro said.

While modernity involved globalization, different cultures had their own values and, for example, not everyone loved fast food, he added.

Father Giampietro noted that while in the past there had been controversy about Matteo Ricci's methods of evangelization, in recent decades he had increasingly been given due recognition.

Father Giampietro was ordained in 1958 and later went to Hong Kong. He has sought to include Chinese culture in his mission work, not least through promoting the localization of liturgies.

Father Giampietro created Cantonese language songs for young believers and launched an online school on evangelization to help overseas Chinese use their mother tongue to impart church beliefs.

He also organized a large-scale St. Francis of Assisi musical five years ago.

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