Pope receives representatives from University of Macerata Pope receives representatives from University of Macerata  (Vatican Media)

Pope: Be inspired by 'great champion’ Fr. Matteo Ricci

Pope Francis invites college students and professors from the University of Macerata to look to the Macerata-born Jesuit missionary Fr Matteo Ricci who dedicated his life to mission, dialogue, and education in China. The Pope also recalls the wisdom of St. John Henry Newman and suggests investing in education is the best way for a country to invest in its future.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

All academic institutions should feel inspired to follow in the footsteps of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J., who was always ready to engage and educate.

Pope Francis gave this encouragement to University of Macerata students and faculty on Monday in the Vatican.

The public university located in Italy’s Marche region on the Adriatic Coast was founded in 1290, making it one of the oldest European universities still operating.

Listen to our report:

The great ‘champion’ Father Matteo Ricci, S.J.

The Holy Father recalled that the great Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, who brought Catholicism to China, was born in Macerata in 1552 and died in Peking in 1610. After the initial efforts of St. Francis Xavier, S.J., thirty years later, Ricci and others succeeded in advancing the missions of the Jesuits in China.

The Jesuit Pope encouraged those before him to recall Ricci as an example, and learn from his ability to dialogue with and educate others.

Macerata, the Pope said, gave birth to Father Matteo Ricci a great “champion” of the “culture of dialogue.”

Ricci, the Pope said, "is great," not only for that which he has done or written but, that in being "a man of encounters, who went beyond being a foreigner and became a citizen of the world."

"Certainly the university is a privileged place for this encounter. Macerata was the birthplace of this great champion."

“I congratulate you for not only preserving his memory and promoting studies on him, but also trying to update his example of intercultural dialogue. What a need there is today, at all levels, to resolutely pursue this path, the path of dialogue!”

The Pope stressed the importance of universities as places where the mind is, or should be, “opened up to the horizons of knowledge and the horizons of life, the world, and history.”

Pope Francis receives group from University of Macerata
Pope Francis receives group from University of Macerata

God knows each person fully

Speaking about the universe, the Pope observed that each student who crosses the threshold of, and attends, university, is, in themselves, "a universe."

In the university, two universes meet, the Pope said: one being that of the world and of knowledge, and the other being that of man. “Not man in general, who does not exist,” the Pope clarified, “but that person, that young person,” with his or her history and personality, dreams, intellect, moral and spiritual qualities, and limitations.

“Every single person is a universe, which only God knows fully, with incomparable respect.”

The challenge of the university, the Pope suggested, is to bring together these two horizons so they may dialogue, and from this dialogue, humanity grows.

What is indispensable, the Pope stressed, is the growth of the student's own person, “which is formed, maturing in knowledge and freedom, in the capacity to think and act, to participate critically and creatively in social and civil life, with its own cultural and professional competence.”

St. John Henry Newman’s great insight

The Pope recalled the recently-canonized and beloved English saint, St. John Henry Newman.

“I am reminded of St John Henry Newman's reflections on the university, where he writes that in the university environment the young person forms 'a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom.'”

The English saint and scholar, Pope Francis continued, goes on to say: "Then I would assign as the special fruit of the education furnished at a university, as contrasted with other places of teaching or modes of teaching. This is the main purpose of a university in its treatment of its students." (The Idea of the University, 1873, V, 1).

The Pope stressed that the university needs to be humane, and not just a place where one's head is filled and then they have no idea how to use their mind, hands, or heart. "This human idea of the university is important," he said.

Investing in education is the best way for countries to invest in their future

This maturing of people and their minds, the Pope highlighted, can only have a positive impact on society.

“Therefore, investing in training, in schools, in universities is the best investment for the future of a country.”

He said we know this and often hear it repeated, “but we do not always take coherent decisions.”

The Holy Father concluded, thanking the students and faculty for their visit and reminding them to be inspired by Father Ricci’s example.

“I bless you and the entire academic community with all my heart. And I ask you please not to forget to pray for me,” he said.

09 May 2022, 12:30