Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saint Luigi Orione’s Asian Contacts and Dreams (3): China


            Regarding China, we can find some texts dealing with different topics and ideas, such as accepting some houses there, the question of inculturation, martyrs and missionaries.
            In a letter to Fr. Manna[1], St. Luigi Orione wrote about two missions which had been offered to him in China.
The first of them was a seminary, offered by Mgr. Celso Costantini[2], the apostolic delegate to China, an offer that Orione was unable to accept due to problems with personnel.


The other proposal concerned a technical school, and was suggested by Mgr. Martino Chiolino[3], PIME[4], the Apostolic Vicar of Northern Honan, China. Regarding this second proposal, Don Orione wrote to Fr. Manna thanking him for the proposal and saying that he would put in a request for it and give him an answer. From the context of the letter, it is clear that Fr. Manna worked with Mgr. Chiolino.
As for the seminary, he wrote to Mgr. Scavizzi that he could not accept that house, because the congregation was not yet in a position to take it over.[5] 
Concerning the question of inculturation, there were two interesting letters written to two people on the same day, in which St. Luigi Orione talked about China and the missionaries.
In a letter to Fr. Pensa, Don Orione wrote about adapting religious images to the mentality and customs of the people “to save souls”, as missionaries had done in China[6] and other places.
In a letter to Fr. Biaggio Marabotto[7], he spoke about Fr. Matteo Ricci sj[8], a Jesuit missionary in China, whose methods and practice of inculturation were considered excellent examples of how Chinese culture, language and customs could be adapted, though his ideas were misunderstood by other missionaries and the ecclesiastical authorities. 
Don Orione compared him to Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slav peoples, who are examples of the use of inculturation, and who also suffered misunderstanding. 

Fr. Matteo Ricci

         In two letters, one about the bishop who had been born in the diocese of Tortona[9] and the other about vocations among poorer families, he mentioned Mgr. Luigi Versiglia[10], bishop of Shiuchow (China), who was martyred in Linchow (China) February 1930, who had also been his classmate at the Salesian Oratory in Valdocco[11].

Bishop Luigi Versiglia, SDB

            But Mgr. Versiglia was not the only missionary in China known to the Founder. He also knew Fr. Attilio Garre, his former student, who “grew up in Tortona, at the house of Divine Providence” [12], as he wrote in a leaflet. The founder also spoke of the fact that Fr. Garre had been sent to the missions,[13] as well as publishing one of Fr. Garre’s letters[14]. Then Don Orione invited him to preach a triduum in honor of the feast of the Holy Cross, in addition to giving some retreats[15].
The Founder told how Fr. Garre had got sick in China and had had to return to Italy, and that he was teaching theology in the Foreign Mission in Milan at the time[16].
In two letters about sending some sisters to the missions, dated November 30th, 1930 he talked about some missionaries who had been massacred in China[17]. It is not possible to be specific about exactly which persecution or murder in China he was referring to, but it should be remembered that Msgr. Versiglia was martyred in that year. On the other hand, the decade from 1927 – 1937, known as “the Nanjing Decade”, was a time of disturbances, social and political unrest, and the rejection of foreign people and institutions.
On the occasion of the death of one benefactor, Cavalliere Salviucci[18], he asked that it should be made known that with the money received from him, Don Orione had already finished paying “l’Istituto del Divin Salvatore pro Missioni all’Estero”[19] (the Divine Savior Institute for foreign missions), where religious were prepared for the missions in China and the East in a true missionary spirit.
He wrote about different missions and how they were developing to Fr. Sterpi[20], speaking about the possibility of requesting a mission in China in the near future, because the situation in Albania was unclear.
Lastly, he expressed concern because most of the children in China were not baptized[21] and talked about a lecture which had been given by Fr. Mario Grimaldi s.j., delegate of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Liguria (Italy), about the missionaries in China at the shrine of “Our Lady of Safe Keeping”[22]

Map of China

There is evidence that St. Luigi Orione received at least two offers to go to China to open a house, and that he knew something about the reality and the situation of the missions, as well as some missionaries who worked there.



[1] Tortona, February 11th, 1927.
[2] Mgr. Celso Benigno Luigi Cardinal Costantini (1876 – 1958) was Apostolic Delegate to China (1922 – 1931), Apostolic Administrator of Harbin, China (1931 – 1935); Secretary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and Chancellor of the Apostolic Chancery
[3] Mgr. Martino Chiolino, P.I.M.E., (1877 – 1948) was and Vicar Apostolic of Northern Honan, China (1921 – 1929)  and Vicar Apostolic of Weihweifu, China (1929 – 1948)
[4] Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
[5] Letter to Mgr. Scavizzi. Tortona, January 9th, 1934.
[6] Tortona, August 5th, 1920.
[7] Tortona, August 5th, 1920.
[8] Macerata (Italy) October 6th, 1552 – Beijing (China) May 11th, 1610.
[9] Letter to Colonel Arzano. Tortona, July 2nd, 1925.
[10] Mgr. Luigi Versiglia (Oliva Gessi, June 5th, 1873 – Linchow, Febraury 25th, 1930) arrived in China as leader of the first group of Salesian missionaries in that country. He was appointed as  Apostolic Vicar of Shiuchow in 1920, and ordained as bishop in 1921. He was martyred together with Fr. Callisto Caravario. In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized them both.
[11] Quotation from a printed letter sent to different addressees. Tortona, September 20, 1920. Scritti  93,035; 108,066 and 115,289.
[12] This letter has no date. Scritti 83, 104; 83,204; 70, 208 and 70, 219. He also wrote about Fr. Garre at other times. Scritti 98, 023c and 98, 034.
[13] Magazine “l’Opera della Divina Provvidenza”. February 19th, 1913. Scritti 71, 204 and 71,175.
[14] Letter to Fr. Sterpi. Rome, June 29th, 1913.
[15] Meeting, July 21st, 1932 afternoon. Reunioni p.253. See also letter to Fr. Sterpi. Rome, July 1st, 1933.
[16] June, 17th, 1932. Parola, 5, 79.
[17] Farewell to six missionary sisters (November 30th, 1930) and letter to the benefactors of the “Piccolo Cottolengo” of Genoa (Genoa, December 3, 1930).
[18] In Italian Cavalliere= knight.
[19] Nowadays, known as “via Sette Sale, 22”
[20] Letter to Fr. Sterpi. Buenos Aires, October 2nd, 1935.
[21] This text is undated. Scritti 87,115.
[22] This text is undated. Scritti 91, 121 and 91,141.

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