Men on a mission

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-25 10:24

Men on a mission

Jesuit missionaries to China Matteo Ricci (Italy). [Photo provided to China Daily]

"The Society of Jesus, a religious congregation of the Catholic Church whose members are known as Jesuits, was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a nobleman from northern Spain, in the mid-16th century," Li says. "Soon after, Francis Xavier, one of the society's core members, made the very first attempt to reach China."

Xavier never set foot on the mainland, dying only a year after arriving on the Chinese island of Shangchuan, off the country's southeastern coast. Missionary work would not resume until 30 years later and lasted until the mid-20th century.

"In that time more than 1,000 Jesuits, not to mention other missionaries who had come under different banners within the Catholic Church, came to China," Li says. "But most of those buried here are either the forerunners of the Jesuit mission or its most active members."

Of all the 63 gravestones on the campus, three stand relatively apart, on a lot separated with the rest by a low wall. And their prominent position is indicated by the symbolic earth mounds behind each monument.

"The middle one belongs to Matteo Ricci, the Italian believed to have been the first Jesuit to enter Beijing," Li says. "To its left is that of Johann Adam Schall von Bell, a German whose eventful life mirrors the tumults of his time; and to its right is that of Ferdinand Verbiest, a Belgian who became a de facto mentor for Kangxi, one of Chinese history's greatest emperors and a contemporary of the Sun King of France.

"Among them they shared not only legends, myths and anecdotes, but also triumphs and travails, and here, their final resting place."


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