ASIA/CHINA – Celso Costantini’s “prophecy”, 100 years after his arrival in Beijing

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ASIA/CHINA – Celso Costantini’s “prophecy”, 100 years after his arrival in Beijing

Pordenone (Agenzia Fides) – One hundred years ago Cardinal Celso Costantini, from the region of Friuli in northern Italy, arrived in Beijing after a long journey, sent to China by Pope Pius XI as the first Apostolic Delegate. A mission kept secret until his arrival in Hong Kong, to save it from the sabotage of European powers. “Especially towards the Chinese – Costantini would later write in his memoirs, recalling his arrival – I found it prudent not to arouse the suspicion that the Catholic religion seemed to be under the protection of European nations or worse, as a political instrument to be put at his service. From the beginning, I wanted to exercise my freedom of action in the field of religious interests and I refused to be accompanied before the local authorities by representatives of foreign nations. I should have been in China gives the appearance of being subordinate to these representatives”.
Exactly one hundred years after the arrival of Celso Costantini in Beijing, in a video made by Teresa Tseng Kuang yi for Fides (see link), is interviewed by Father Bruno Fabio Pighin, professor at the Faculty of Canon Law of Saint Pius X in Venice and episcopal delegate for the cause of canonization of Costantini himself.
Cardinal Celso Costantini (1876-1958), a pioneer of the Vatican dialogue with Beijing, was the first apostolic delegate to China from 1922 to 1933. During these years, Costantini succeeded in convening the first council of the Catholic Church in China (Shanghai 1924 ) and set in motion the process of ecclesiastical “decolonization”, the fight against the stubborn remnants of the protectorate and all forms of Catholic presence in China continued to impose European traits on the Far East, ultimately portraying them as the religious correlate of Western expansion in these countries. Thanks also to Costantini’s commitment, on October 28, 1926, the first 6 ordained Chinese bishops of modern times were consecrated by Pope Pius XI in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. In 1927, Costantini also promoted the founding of the Congregatio Discipulorum Domini (CDD), China’s first ecclesiastical religious institute. With his support, China’s first Catholic university, Fu Ren University, was founded, which is now based in Taiwan.
The apostolic delegation in Beijing was not elevated to the rank of nunciature until after the war, in 1946. In the same year, Pius XII established the Chinese episcopal hierarchy, recognizing its responsibility and autonomy of government from Western institutions. These results were also achieved thanks to the patient and far-sighted work of Celso Costantini, who had continued to support the flourishing of the indigenous Catholic Church in China, even from Rome, where in 1935 he had become secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide . .
Costantini served as Secretary of the Missionary Dicastery until 1953. Pope Pius XII created him Cardinal in the Consistory of January 12, 1953. He died in Rome on October 17, 1958. In September 2016 (see Fides 6/10/2016) the Episcopal Conference of the Italian region of Triveneto announced that it had issued a positive opinion “at the beginning of the beatification process of Cardinal Celso Costantini (1876-1958), a figure of considerable missionary enthusiasm and pastoral charity as well evangelizer of China from the diocese of Concordia-Pordenone”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 8/11/2022)


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