The Vatican on Friday received a request to beatify an Italian Jesuit priest favoured by Pope Francis whose attempts to evangelise China in the 16th century were thwarted by the Church."The papers for the beatification process for father Matteo Ricci have been received by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints," said Claudio Giuliodori from the Macerata diocesis in southern Italy, where the Jesuit was born in 1552.
Ricci, who died in Beijing in 1610, has been held up several times by the Jesuit pontiff as an exemplary evangelist.
"We must always ask forgiveness and look with shame upon the apostolic failures brought about by a lack of courage. I am thinking, for example, of the pioneering intuitions of Matteo Ricci which, at the time, were abandoned," Francis said in a speech in November.
During his lifetime, Ricci embodied a new approach to spreading the Catholic faith into the local culture in China.
One of the first Jesuits to live in the country, he studied the language and culture and gained a widespread reputation as a learned scholar -- even receiving an invitation to Emperor Wanli's imperial court.
But despite his initial success in spreading the Christian word, the Vatican distrusted his idea of mixing Catholic dogma with Chinese culture.
The modern-day relationship between the two states is fraught with tension. China's communist regime broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and six years later set up the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not recognise the pope as its head.
Giuliodori said the bid to beatify Ricci comes as Francis tries to build better relations with China.
"I hope that thanks to Pope Francis's support, evangelisation and dialogue with China will be stimulated," he said.
Francis is particularly interested in Asia, which he believes offers great opportunities for evangelisation. As a young Jesuit priest, he dreamed of becoming a missionary in Japan.