On December 17, 2022, Pope Francis signed a decree stating that Matteo Ricci lived the Christian virtues in an “heroic” manner, i.e. in an eminent and exemplary way, and can therefore be venerated by Christians. This is a first official recognition by the Church, which may be followed by even more solemn ones, namely, beatification and canonization, should God deign to permit this.
Fr. Ricci was already very famous. He was the first Jesuit missionary who, fulfilling a dream of St. Francis Xavier, was able to enter the Chinese Empire in 1583 and reach the capital Beijing, where he stayed from 1601 to 1610, establishing there a Christian presence that exists to this day. Other Christian missionaries had been in China in earlier eras, but their work had not lasted long, so Chinese Catholics recognize Ricci as the main initiator of evangelization in their country.
Ricci’s fame is also linked to the method he followed in the course of his mission, the in-depth study of the language, customs and culture of the China of his time, so that he became an interlocutor and friend to many influential Chinese and became esteemed in the imperial court itself. Having been trained in Western scientific and humanistic culture, he was an admired and popular figure for his knowledge and wisdom. When he died, his burial in Beijing was authorized by imperial decree, something that had never happened until then for a foreigner. He was truly a builder of lasting bridges of dialogue between East and West.