A statue of Paul Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) - the man of letters from the Chinese Ming court who became the first disciple of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and is considered the initiator of the Catholic community of Shanghai - has been standing since yesterday next to a "twin" image of the great Jesuit missionary on the façade of the cathedral of Macerata, Ricci's birthplace.
The inauguration - which took place during a Eucharistic celebration presided over by the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Piero Parolin - is a visible fruit of the bonds of friendship that have grown in recent years between the city of Macerata and the Chinese Catholic community: the two statues were in fact specially made in China and donated to the Italian diocese.
Although Matteo Ricci and Paolo Xu Guanqi "belonged to distant and very different cultures," recalled Card. Parolin recalled in his homily - they met in friendship and generated social friendship, not pretending to be equals but drawing closer in mutual esteem. Matteo Ricci was strong, humble, unarmed and courageous,' he added.
"He was a great patriot, that is, he wanted the good of his people. At the same time, he was a convinced believer with an exemplary Christian life. Father Matthew and Dr Paul with their friendship gave China the priceless gift of the Gospel."
The Vatican Secretary of State added, 'this is the path that can also illuminate the path to peace-building "in such a difficult moment as the one we are experiencing". Recalling that the peace given by God is "the remission of sins offered to us sinners through the Son, it is being one with Him and knowing how to forgive all, even our enemies".
The first idea of the gift of the statues that materialised in these days in Macerata dates back to 2011: after a conference held in Naples on the figure of Xu Guangqi, the enterprising councillor for culture of the city of Shanghai Song Haojie visited Macerata, suggesting an exchange between Shanghai, Xu Guangqi's hometown, and Macerata, Matteo Ricci's homeland.
Don Giovanni Battista Sun, director of the Li Madou Study Centre (Ricci's Chinese name) in Macerata immediately set about realising the project. In 2014 and 2015 a bust of Ricci left Macerata for Shanghai, and in 2015 a bust of Xu from Shanghai arrived in Macerata.
But Fr Giovanni Battista Sun did not stop. To realise the idea of placing two statues in the façade of St John's, he involved numerous Catholic communities in China, starting from Beijing (where Ricci is buried) and Shanghai as well as communities in Shanxi province. The large white marble statues were made under the guidance of Catholic sculptor Su Jianqiao at a company in Quyang (Hebei Province).
In involving the Catholics of Shanghai, it was Dr Rachel Zhu Xiaohong, whom Bishop Aloysius Jin had commissioned to lead the beatification commission of Xu Guangqi, who was decisive.
The creation of the statue, the first in which Xu is portrayed in full, required extensive research into the dress of the mandarins of the time. St. John's Cathedral stands on the site of the old Jesuit college (now the Mozzi-Borgetti library) where Matteo Ricci did his early studies. It has been restored to its former glory after years of closure for restoration.