Chinese NGO Aids Italy as Continuing 17th Century's Friendship between Paul Xu Guangqi and Father Matteo Ricci

Supplies purchased by "Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi" were ready to be sent to Italy in March.
Supplies purchased by "Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi" were ready to be sent to Italy in March. (photo: Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi)
By Catherine ZhengMay 7th, 2020

In the global fight against coronavirus, a Chinese non-governmental group called “Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi” has joined in supporting Italian hospitals and parishes.

It was founded in March to commemorate the great friendship dating back to 400 years ago, between the Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci and the first Catholic in Shanghai, Paul Xu Guangqi.

The group began with a Fudan University professor in Shanghai, Rachel Zhu Xiaohong. As a Catholic, she learned that Gemelli Hospital in Rome was in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) on March 21. She also wanted to donate 10,000 medical masks to the hospital and contacted her friends and students for help.

According to the group's official website, "Once the news was spread through Wechat, more friends joined them in making donations. Catholic donors were urged to increase and multiply their donation targets when they learned that over 60 priests had died of the horrible plague and ecclesiastical communities were seriously lacking the PPE needed to respond to the pandemic.  A WeChat group with more than 500 people was formed in order to make the details of donation open and transparent."

The first two parcels of 7,000 medical masks arrived in Italy on March 30 and 31, under the name of “Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi”, which became the name of their group.

On the outside of the parcel there was a note in traditional Chinese calligraphy that said, “a friend is nothing more than the half of myself; good friends are supposed to help and support each other because the world is an unpredictable place.” The note, also translated in Italian, was a quote from a work by Paul Xu Guangqi, “On Friends”.

Speaking of friendship, the relationship between Father Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu influenced history some 400 years ago. Paul learned Latin, agriculture, geometry, natural science, and astronomy from Ricci, and became the first to introduce advanced scientific knowledge from Europe to China. They translated Euclid's Elements into Chinese and the Confucian classics into Latin for the first time. Matteo Ricci's lifetime of evangelistic work in China played an important role in Paul’s faith journey, resulting in him becoming the first Catholic in Shanghai. 

According to statistics on the official website of “Initiatives of Paul Xu Guangqi”, a total of 316,750 masks, 65,000 pairs of gloves, 4,310 pieces of protective clothing, and 2,500 pairs of goggles were sent by April 23. They were sent to numerous places, including the Sacred Heart Hospital in Rome and the pension and social service agencies affiliated with churches in Italy and Spain.

Rachel Zhu said, "From our original intention of donating only 10,000 masks, the efforts of everyone in the group resulted in so much more being given. We are grateful for the generosity of so many donors, for the employees of logistics and freight forwarding companies, for the drivers of cargo carts, and many persons who contributed who have not been seen at all. The silent dedication of the people ... I can only say that the whole journey is full of miracles every day. There is so much gratitude in our hearts."

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