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Vatican hosts Matteo Ricci exhibition

Updated: October 29, 2009 11:06 AM GMT
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The Vatican is hosting a major exhibition on Father Matteo Ricci, the famous Italian Jesuit missioner to China, as part of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of his death.


Father Matteo Ricci. He was a bridge between the West and China, promoting Christianity in the country while introducing its culture to the West.

Father Ricci died in Beijing on May 11, 1610. Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, is scheduled to open the exhibition on Oct. 29 in the Charlemagne Wing of the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The Chinese ambassador to Italy, Sun Yuxi, is expected to be among the many dignitaries present at the opening ceremony in honor of the man the Chinese know as Li Madou. The exhibition, titled “To the heights of history, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610): Between Rome and Peking,” will be open to the public from Oct. 30, 2009 to Jan. 24, 2010. An exhibition should be “both didactic and emotional,” Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums said at a Vatican press conference on Oct. 28. The exhibition presents Ricci’s life in two colors -- the upper floor in blue for his early life in Europe and the lower floor in red covering Ricci’s life in China. It includes original handwritten manuscripts by the missioner, paintings by great masters, various scientific instruments, a reconstruction of an altar to Confucius and much else. The upper level of the exhibition traces the priest’s early life from his birth in Macerata, Italy, 1552, through his entry to the Jesuits, his departure from Lisbon for India in 1578, and his ordination there before going on to Macau, then a Portuguese colony, and then to mainland China. It presents his life in the historical context of the Counter-Reformation and the period of absolutism in Europe, during the reign of various popes who had an impact on the Jesuits and their missions to Asia. The exhibition’s lower level portrays the second part of Father Ricci’s life: his entry to mainland China in September 1583, his publication of the first Chinese map of the world, his use of science to reach Chinese intellectuals and his first arrival in Beijing in 1598. It recalls too his later entry to the Forbidden City in 1601, thanks to a decree of Emperor Wanli, and the last eight years of his life in Beijing, where he died on May 11, 1610 and where he is buried. Professor Paolucci highlighted the place Ricci holds in Chinese history by recalling that only two foreigners are depicted in the new Millennium Building in Beijing –- Italian explorer Marco Polo and Father Ricci.

The tombstone of Father Ricci in Beijing. The Jesuit missioner lived in China for 27 years from 1583 until his death in Beijing in 1610.

Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata recalled how the priest’s “extraordinary adventure led him to build, for the first time in history, a true bridge of dialogue and of exchange between Europe and China.” “Ricci’s method of dialogue and inculturation is still relevant, and in many ways has not been surpassed,” he stated. Bishop Giuliodori revealed that the cause for Father Ricci’s beatification is making headway. He plans to lead a pilgrimage from Macerata to Beijing to pray at the priest’s tomb in 2010 and expressed the hope that the day would soon come when the Church will declare him a saint in recognition of “his missionary genius, his moral and spiritual stature, his openness and cultural far-sightedness.” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, expressed that same hope but added that he would also like to see the Jesuits’ first and perhaps greatest Chinese convert, Xu Guangqi, who worked closely with Father Ricci, canonized alongside him. The exhibition is organized by the Committee for the Celebration of the Fourth Centenary of Father Matteo Ricci in collaboration with the Vatican Museums, the General Curia of the Company of Jesus, and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

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