Forgiveness for Missionaries' Errors Is Asked
John Paul II Makes Plea in Wake of Beijing Criticisms
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2000 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II said this morning that by proclaiming the sanctity of 120 martyrs, killed in China between 1648 and 1930, the Church does not «legitimize the conduct of governments of the time, which were very weighty in the history of Chinese people.»
The Pope made this statement when he received pilgrims who were in Rome for Sunday's canonizations in St. Peter's Square.
The Communist government in China has been fiercely critical of the Holy See, saying the canonizations were an «attempt to distort the verdict of history on colonialism and imperialism.» Many of those martyred were killed during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 that targeted foreigners.
The Holy Father today asked China for «forgiveness» for the possible «limits and errors» of the 33 European missionaries who were proclaimed saints along with the 87 Chinese Christians.
«All of you know that the majority of the 120 martyrs spilled their blood during historical moments that are of particular significance for your people,» the Pope said during the audience, addressing Chinese pilgrims in particular.
«In reality, these were dramatic situations characterized by violent social disturbances,» he said. «With this canonization, the Church most certainly does not want to pass an historical judgment on those years nor, much less so, legitimize some of the conduct of the governments of the time, which were very weighty in the history of the Chinese people.»
«On the contrary, what she desires is to bring to light the heroic fidelity of these worthy children of China, who did not allow themselves to be terrified by the threat of a ferocious persecution.»
Referring to the European martyrs killed in China, the Holy Father acknowledged that «there are those who with a partial and not very objective reading of history see only limits and errors in their action. If they happened - is there any man exempt from defects? - we ask for forgiveness. However, today we contemplate them in glory and we thank God, who makes use of poor instruments for his grandiose works of salvation.»
The Bishop of Rome added: «They announced the saving Word with the gift of life, and they undertook important initiatives of human development.»
«With their witness,» he added, «they point out to us that the authentic way of the Church is man: a way intertwined with profound and respectful intercultural dialogue, as Father Matteo Ricci taught us with wisdom and skill.»
Father Ricci, a Jesuit missionary (1552-1610), is considered a national figure even by the Communist Party in China. He took the European wisdom and science of the time - specifically, trigonometry - to the great Oriental empire. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: «Probably no European name of past centuries is so well known in China as that of Li-ma-teu (Ricci, Matteo).»
His cause for beatification has been completed at the diocesan level.
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