Ricci (L) Dressed as Mandarin
As a continuation of our Lenten discussion of the Beatitudes, today we look at peacemaking(Matt 5:9). I have chosen to briefly analyze the method of a missionary to exemplify a type of peacemaker, Matteo Ricci, the Italian Jesuit missionary to China during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It may seem odd to equate being a missionary with being a peacemaker. Ricci did have an agenda, which was to preach the Gospel and bring Christianity to China, a culture so different and strange from his native Italy.

To understand his specific method I turn to the history of the westward movement of this country as a contrast. The Western movement as an example is full of stories of intolerance, ignorance and racism. We took Native American children from their families and tried to “Westernize” them in the hope that they would assimilate into white culture, such as it was. We marginalized their language destroying it before we understood its philosophical beauty. The ignorance of the meaning of the Lakota Ghost Dance and revenge over the losses at the Little Big Horn River eventually led to the slaughter at Wounded Knee. A true culture clash. It was not peaceful.

Sometimes our human nature responds with fear followed by violence when pushed up against something culturally different. We sometimes demand that others think and act as we do. We sometimes demonize them if they don’t respond positively to our way of thinking pushing the us-them mentality of division. (I too am guilty of this) It takes a peacemaker with patience and a presence of mind to take in all that is different and foreign and evaluate the commonness beneath and minimize the difference. Good people always find common ground. Ricci found common ground among the Chinese. He believed that Confucianism in its purest form was a philosophy open to Christianity. After his death, missionaries developed the so-called “Chinese rites” –Confucian-based social rituals involving ancestor veneration (similar to the Ghost Dance of the Lakota) and offerings to the emperor – which allowed Chinese converts to preserve elements of their heritage while being Catholic.

Peacemakers are always misunderstood and Matteo Ricci was not immune. Other Western Religious orders condemned his Chinese-rites tactics. Their approach to evangelization in China was based on denial of anything Eastern (rituals, thought or customs) and forcing Western culture on an ancient Eastern one. In other words, the Chinese had to become Spanish-like, or Portuguese-like or Italian-like to be saved. This argument made it all the way to Rome and finally the Vatican ruled in favor of the Western-leaning Franciscans and Dominicans and against the Jesuits. The rest is history. But the legacy of Ricci endured. His relationship with the Chinese “took place in the context of dialogue, with deep respect, never forgetting that his mission was to bring the Gospel.” The Chinese, to this day, still appreciate him.

It’s true that flash and muscle flexing are missing from Ricci’s type of peacemaking. Sometimes I think I would like the satisfaction of forcing peace on the other. But I wonder if the transformative factor far out weighs the satisfaction factor. The former takes a bit of time and acute listening skills where the latter is predicated simply on strength. One of the things I learned from the many years in the classroom is if I wanted to take the students somewhere else, transform them, I needed to go through their door first. I cannot force them to learn or change without understanding their culture, their thought processes and their values. It takes patience and time. But the very essence of transformative behavior is to have the person believe that the change I want is something they want. The decisions to reach for the stars as authentic human beings actually comes from them. Without recognition, I can step aside and allow them to move forward. This transformational approach flies in the face of the satisfaction approach. Peacemaking is tricky and takes practice but without a doubt the satisfaction derived from watching transformation makes all the difference.