Catholicism in Macau

Macau, “City of the Holly Name of God”, is a small territory placed in the Southern part of China. It has a strong Catholic tradition and a considerable catholic community.

In the beginnings of the sixteenth century the Portuguese’s reached for the first time Macau by sea and, in 1557, finally settled here, after an agreement with the Chinese authorities which involved an annual payment for using the territory. China was pleased with the help Portugal had given in the fights against pirates and, from then on, an international port was created, remaining for many centuries an important gateway not only for commercial exchange, but cultural and religious learning as well.

Macau, Sain Paul ruins

Macau, Sain Paul ruins

On 23 January 1576 Pope Gregory XIII, through the Bula Super Specula Militantis Ecclesiae, established the Diocese of Macau and gave it a wide jurisdiction over various ecclesiastical territories in the Far East, such as China, Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia. Macau became a major training and departure point for missionaries to different countries in Asia.

The first western college in Asia – the College of Saint Paul – was established in Macau by the Jesuits during the sixteenth century, for the training of missionaries . The frontal facade of their church (the only part still existing in consequence of a big fire) is nowadays the most well-known patrimony of Macau, being called Saint Paul Ruins.  The Seminary of Saint Joseph was established In the eighteen century to succeed the previous one and is still working.

Portugal had in its territories nearly all the religious orders, namely Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Jesuits, working under the patronage of the Portuguese Kingdom. The tremendous efforts that have been developed by the missionaries of these orders can be witnessed by the baptism in Asia of around 300.000 people just during the second half of the sixteenth century.

One name rises among the missionaries: Matteo Ricci. Arrived in Macau in 1582, Ricci started to learn Chinese language and customs, gathering Michele Ruggiere in that attempt. That was the beginning of a long project that made him one of the first western scholars to master Chinese script and classical Chinese. Moving to China in 1583, Ricci developed a remarkable work there, not only as a missionary, but on many different tasks, as the composition of the first European-style map of the world in Chinese, or the compilation of a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary, the first in any European language.In 1601, Ricci was invited by the Emperor to become an advisor to the imperial court, being the first westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City. Ricci died in 1610 in Beijing and, after a plea to the court, buried in a Budhist temple in China.

Matteo Ricci dressed in traditional chinese robes

Matteo Ricci dressed in traditional chinese robes

Missionaries, priests, friars and nuns from Europe gathered in large numbers in Macau, constructing here many monasteries and churches, part of them still existing. Along with the merchants, thousands of needy, lepers and others found shelter, refugee and comfort in this land.

One of the most dramatic period in Macau history occurred during China invasion by Japan, started in 1937. Macau was transformed in a refugee center, maintaining during that time the doors of “Portas do Cerco” – Macau frontier with China – opened to receive all those fleeing the war to find peace and security.

It is well known the post-war contribution of the Jesuit Luis Ruiz, arrived in 1951. He immediately developed a remarkable social work, particularly with the foundation of the “Center of Social Services Matteo Ricci”, which pledged to assist and help the arriving crowds of immigrants in difficulty.

The Catholic Church in Macau is nowadays hierarchically organized and structured into the Diocese of Macau, which follows the Roman (or Latin) Rite and currently covers only the territory of this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Bishop Jose Lai Hung-Seng is under the direct oversight of the Holy See since 2003 and, unlike mainland China, the communist authorities in Beijing do not directly interfere with the Church in Macau.

Portuguese and Chinese people established in Macau a common civilization that deepened the bonds of friendship between the two ancient nations. As before, Macau is well placed to foster the evangelization of neighbour Asian countries. That mission is always present in our community prayers!


Visit here the webpage of the establishment of our Community in Macau