Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest who played a key role in introducing Christianity to China in the 16th century, will take his next official step towards sainthood on May 11.
Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata, Ricci's hometown in central Italy, announced on Saturday that the Jesuit's beatification “process” will close on that date.
The initial process began in 1984 with the Jesuit being declared a “servant of God” but further progress stalled soon after.
The “process” was reopened by Giuliodori in 2010, during celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the Jesuit's death.
Following Church law, Giuliodori created a tribunal tasked with hearing witnesses and collecting information to ascertain whether people considered Ricci a holy man during and after his lifetime, and whether devotion to him still exists.
Jesuit Fr Tony Witwer was the Postulator, charged with bringing Ricci's cause forward.
The tribunal will officially wind down on May 11 and all documents will be sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where they will be evaluated by historians, theologians and cardinals.
A miracle is needed before the Pope can declare him “blessed,” and a second miracle is required for achieving sainthood.
For a miracle to be accepted, a Vatican medical commission must declare that a person was healed in a way that science cannot explain while praying for Ricci's intervention.
Speaking on Saturday, Bishop Giuliodori said that while there are “traces” of a miracle attributable to Ricci, there is not a clear picture.
Ricci, he said, “is not a man of the past but a prophet for the future.”
Born in Macerata in 1552, Ricci died in what was then Peking in 1610.
While in China, Ricci became the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City, acted as a court advisor on Europe and its culture, and obtained the Emperor's protection and support.