ASIA/CHINA - Franciscans in China: 1200-1977, 1,162 Friars Minor lived in China

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Roma (Agenzia Fides) - The Pontifical University Antonianum on January 15 held a study day on the Church in China in the 700th anniversary of Friar Giovanni da Montecorvino's ordination as Bishop of Beijing and Patriarch of the East, the first Bishop in China. Upon the occasion, Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, gave an extensive talk on Franciscans in China. "Francis and his friars understood the call to be preachers and evangelists as an act in return to the Lord for the gift of the Gospel received," said the Minister-General, highlighting that the first Franciscan missions to China, and particularly the figure of Friar Giovanni da Montecorvino, "have recently become the subject of new research."
The history of the Franciscan mission in China, according to the report of Fr. Carballo, can be grouped into 5 periods. In the first period, from 1245 until around 1370, the Friars Minor were sent to the Far East as Ambassadors of Peace and Ambassadors of the Faith. Of particular importance in this period was the educational work of Friar Giovanni da Montecorvino and his efforts for inculturation of the liturgy by translating the Psalms and New Testament into the language of the Tartars, who were the rulers at the time. According to a calculation later verified, in this period about 242 Friars Minor would go to China, among whom there were 3 Archbishops and 11 Bishops. With the seizure of power by the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Christian religion was rejected mainly because it was considered foreign doctrine.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, with the power of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the conditions for the missions again became favorable. The second period of the Franciscan mission in China was characterized by the problem of inculturation and various persecutions in waves, from the second half of the eighteenth century to the early decades of the nineteenth century.
The third period is the era of 19th century neo-colonialism. The second half of the nineteenth century also saw a revival of the Franciscan mission in China: many Friars Minor left Europe to spread the Gospel in China, where they also devoted themselves with great generosity to humanitarian work such as education of youth, institutions for girls who were abandoned and exploited, orphanages, care for the sick ... The diplomatic protection of the missionaries did, however, make the Church seem like an instrument of Western expansion, thus the proponents of the anti-Christian spread hatred against foreigners, provoking riots, killings, and destruction in various parts of China, which culminated with the Boxers Revolt in 1900. The the early twentieth century, the Friars Minor oversaw the care of 10 Apostolic Vicariates, from northern to southern China, with many Christian communities, and many missionary stations.
The Wuchang Uprising in 1911 led to the demise of the Qing Dynasty and to the proclamation of the Republic of China. This can be considered the fourth period of the Franciscan missions, with the greatest expansion and with the participation of a large number of missionaries. Also in this period, there were difficulties, including the role of the Catholic missions in the events of World War II. This was the period of the birth of the Catholic Church in China: Pius XII formed the Chinese Catholic Episcopal Hierarchy in 1946. In 1948, there were 706 Friars Minor in China, of whom 150 were indigenous, and they had 28 convents.
The last period is the Republic of China (from 1949 to present). With the rise of the Marxist-Maoist regime, the Catholic missions became the object of anti-foreigner hatred and was denounced as an instrument of Western imperialism. All foreign missionaries were expelled. The most difficult years, from 1966 to 1976, was followed by a period of gradual, though modest, opening that even allowed the return of the Franciscan presence in China. According to the obituary of the Friars in China, it is registered that from 1200 to 1977, 1,162 Friars Minor lived in China. (SL) (Agenzia Fides 19/01/2010)