ASIA/CHINA - Chinese Scholars rediscover the relevance of Celso Costantini, First Apostolic Delegate in China

Friday, 23 December 2022 mission   evangelization   university   local churches  

by Martha Zhao
Beijing (Agenzia Fides) - Exactly one hundred years after his arrival in Beijing, the figure of Cardinal Celso Costantini, the first Apostolic Delegate in China, is being rediscovered and his topicality is reinforced also in the Chinese academic world. On the morning of today, Friday, December 23, a Seminar dedicated to the theme of Sino-Vatican relations during the Republic of China, centered precisely on the figure of Constantine, was organized at the History Department of the East China Normal University, (ECNU), founded in 1951 in Shanghai. The seminar, followed through the Voov Meeting platform and organized by the multimedia center of the university department, culminated in an academic interview between Dr. Xie Sijie, professor of the department of history of Sun Yat-sen University, and Dr. Liu Guopeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute for World Religion Studies, China's largest institute devoted to the study of religions. Dr. Liu Guopeng is also deputy director of the Center for Christian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and author of a recent volume devoted to the theme of the seminar and centered on the figure of Celso Costantini. The conversation between the two scholars, moderated by Professor Zhang Rui, a scholar at ECNU, traced the events of this important period in Chinese history, focusing on the prophetic role played by the first apostolic delegate in fostering the flourishing of a local Church in China, capable of carrying out its apostolic mission without being conditioned by the influence of external powers.
Bishop Celso Costantini of Friuli (1876-1958), sent by Pope Pius XI as the first apostolic delegate to China, arrived in Beijing on December 29, 1922. His mission had been kept secret until then, to avoid any sabotage by the European powers. "Faced especially with the Chinese," Costantini would later write in his memoirs, referring to his arrival in Beijing - I judged it appropriate in no way to accredit the suspicion that the Catholic religion seemed to be placed under the protection and, even worse, as a political instrument at the service of European nations. I wanted, from my first acts, to claim my freedom of action in the field of religious interests, by refusing to be accompanied before the local civil authorities by representatives of foreign nations I would have given the impression of being in China subordinate to these "Representatives".
One hundred years after the arrival of Celso Costantini in China, in a video made for Fides by Teresa Tseng Kuang y (see Fides, 8/11/2022), Father Bruno Fabio Pighin, professor at the Faculty of Canon Law of S. Pio X of Venice and Episcopal Delegate for the cause of canonization of Costantini himself, emphasizes the prophetic role assumed by the figure of the first apostolic delegate in the events of Chinese Catholicism. From 1922 to 1933, during the years he spent in China as an apostolic delegate, Costantini managed to have the first National Council of the Catholic Church in China celebrated (Shanghai 1924) and to launch the process of "decolonization" Church, fighting the stubborn remnants of the Protectorate and all the forms that continued to impose European traits on the Catholic presence in the Far East, ending up presenting it as a religious correlate of Western expansion in these lands. Thanks also to the efforts of Costantini, on October 28, 1926, the first 6 Chinese bishops ordained in modern times were consecrated by Pope Pius XI in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
In 1935, Costantini became secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, a position he held until 1953. Pope Pius XII created him cardinal during the Consistory of January 12, 1953.
The History Department of ECNU, in which today the important academic act dedicated to Costantini took place, collaborates with prestigious universities and research institutes in Italy and abroad, including the University of Florence, Harvard University and University of Cambridge.
(Agenzia Fides, 23/12/2022)