Meeting Ricci again

More than twenty years ago, back in 1984, I found myself forced to audition for a role in a play by the famous Fr. James Reuter on Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci.  The name of the musical was “The Bridge,” and the role assigned to me gave me a three-minute appearance on stage, and a couple of lines mostly punctuated by “No, no, no, no!”  I played the role of Ricci’s Chinese teacher who was increasingly exasperated by the Italian’s inability to get the Mandarin tones.

Fast forward to 2010:  “Facing Frontiers in Fire and Friendship:  The Chinese-Filipino Apostolate Convention” just concluded here in Cebu.  I had to give an introductory talk on the first day just to contextualize the discussion on frontiers.  A couple of insights emerged:

First:  We are all products of accidental frontiers.  China was an accidental frontier for Francis Xavier, who heard about the Chinese when he was in Japan and who could only dream of this frontier when he died in 1552.  Matteo Ricci reached that same frontier in 1601 when he became the first foreigner to be invited to the Forbidden City.  The Chinese-Filipino Apostolate was another accidental frontier that the Jesuit missionaries expelled from China stumbled into when they found themselves in the Philippines in 1949.

Second:  The products are now being invited to be partners in the Chinese-Filipino apostolate, for this convention, to help find the new frontiers for the work.  Frontiers, after all, change precisely because the world changes.

During this convention we discussed four frontiers for the Chinese-Filipino apostolate. We called the 4 Is.

1.  IDENTITY:  What does it mean to be Chinese and Filipino today–in a word, Chinoy?

2.  INTERSECTIONS:  What are the tensions and contradictions in the place where our Christian faith meets our Chinese culture?

3.  INSERTION:  Are we doing anything “missionary” in terms of reaching Chinoys we haven’t yet reached, as well as the 新僑, the new Mainland Chinese migrants in the country?

4.  IMPACT:  What are the ways that we can help in the formation and preparation of leaders and ministers in this apostolate?

Some fresh insights and ideas emerged from the two days of discussion.  Today when we discussed the bigger picture of the frontiers, and when we broke into institutions to identify priorities, some exciting stuff came up.  To wit:

1.  IDENTITY:  Multiple factors shape our identity, but which of these factors truly define us as Chinese Filipino? Maybe there’s a need for us to reflect on these factors and identify which ought to define both.

  • Being Filipino, for example, may consist of my citizenship, where I was born, where I live, how much I enjoy adobo or kare-kare, how well I speak Filipino and how often I use the language, whether I’m proud to be Filipino–but isn’t doing my share to build the nation the most important factor?
  • What about being Chinese?  I can point to my Chinese blood, my name, my schooling, how well I speak, read, or write in Chinese, the Chinese traditions that I observe (giving ang pao during the Spring Festival, playing dice and eating mooncake at the Mid-Autumn Festival), the Chinese rites that I practice (pai pai, feng shui, etc.)–but what about their rationale and meaning behind them, as well as the Confucian work ethic and other Chinese values?  Do these not define me more profoundly and essentially?


  • We can do more in the important milestones in the lives of our people–especially during wakes.  A specially designed Chinese Prayer Service has been suggested for use by our students and alumni when they visit wakes.  Our wake Masses can also more deliberately include Chinese rituals that are meaningful and tasteful.  During these liturgies and para-liturgies, we must take pains to explain the rationale and meaning of what we do and transform the occasion into a teaching moment.
  • There are so many Chinese practices that we don’t understand and that confuse us, such as:  syncretic practices during visits to Taoist/Buddhist temples (tiu chiam, pai pai), feng shui, geomancy, numerology (wedding dates), and Chinese zodiac (tui chiong).  How did these beliefs and practices originate?  What were their rationale and meaning? What values lay behind them that if compatible with our faith, we can: (a) make explicit to educate others, and (b) adopt and openly embrace.


  • Zulo, in the homily, spoke of our failure to insert ourselves into the leadership of the local Chinese community.  I know how tough this is since I’ve tried to attend meetings of Family Association and the Principals of Chinese schools.  You get a migraine just trying to make sense of their Mandarin or worse, Hokkien!
  • We have the unreached in our own backyard, our Chinese teachers especially from the Mainland.  A couple have converted on their own, but we have exerted no deliberate effort to win them over.  Ricci’s strategy was friendship.  We could certainly learn from him!

It’s strange how it took us forever to stop and think about these important issues.  I’m really hoping that we can move forward to these frontiers.


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