I must confess this has been the most puzzling book presentation in my whole life.
On Monday, 4th of December 2017 I took a Jetfoil to Macao, to assist to the presentation of the book “Macao’s College and Church of St Joseph. Splendour of the Baroque in China” by Dr. Cesar Guillen-Nuñez, published by the Cultural Institute of the Macao SAR in collaboration with the Macau Ricci Institute.
Dr César Guillén-Nuñez, a researcher for the Macau Ricci Institute, is an art historian and author, with studies in London, Munich and Madrid. He is known as the top expert in the world on some of Macao’s landmarks, such as the Church of Saint Paul. He was born in Panama, then had landed in Hong Kong in the 70s working for the Hong Kong Museum of Art as Assistant Curator of Historic Paintings and Contemporary Hong Kong Art. He then joined the Macao Museum of Art, then known as the Luis de Camöes Museum in the Casa Gardens, which was in the process of expanding.
I was looking forward to his presentation because I had visited the St Joseph seminary and the Church attached to it together with historian Gianni Criveller and I wanted to know more about such Baroque jewel hidden in Macao.
In a sad note, before the presentation, Dr. Guillen Nuñez had told me that he was set to leave Macao for good on next January. A certain bitterness perceived in his voice told me that he was not really looking forward to it and I thought immediately that it is really a folly for cash-rich & culture-poor Macao to let such a man depart.
The presentation was set to start at 5 pm and to end at 7 pm. It started on time, with the director of the Macau Ricci Institute, Stephan Rothlin s.j. announcing that the author would have to cut down the time of his presentation because the Bishop was coming to say mass. He then asked why the year 1668 was so important for China. No one could answer. It was important, he said, because some Church fathers meeting in Canton, had dedicated China to St. Joseph. That historic gathering is known as the “Canton Conference.”
Later the author poured some light irony on this conference, asking us to step back for a second and think about those few fathers in Canton, deciding that St. Joseph, a figure appearing in only two of the four Gospels, was going to take care of China, without consulting the natives.
Dr. Nuñez first gave a panoramic survey of the XVIII century and then, after half hour, when he was touching the St Joseph College itself and its baroque Church he was stopped in his tracks by Fr. Rothlin who declared the presentation over and if we had questions for him we could raise them directly with the author, after the mass.
The author took it with grace and together with us – while some heathens and protestants left mumbling words which I could not really catch – we entered the beautiful church described in his book and we proceeded to an hour-long mass, celebrated in Cantonese.
A buffet dinner follow in the basketball court of the College, with the author sitting in a dark corner, not really in the mood of taking questions.
The arrangement for such important presentation was awful and disrespectful for the spectators in primis and for the author in secundis who has spent years researching it.
Last August the Macau Ricci Institute had lost its 25.000 books in a typhoon, and at this time they should be more friendly and open, mistreating the spectators who had made the long trip from Hong Kong to Macao is not really helpful.
It seems an irony that the newly ordained Bishop of Macao, fifty-nine-year-old Stephen Lee Bun-sang, is an architect. He had studied architecture in England and then, in 1984, after two years of work as an architect in Hong Kong, he had entered the international seminary of Opus Dei at the University of Navarre, Spain, where he was ordained a priest on 20 August 1988.
Was the good bishop-architect aware of the interruption of the presentation of such wonderful and pivotal book, dealing with architecture, caused by his presence? No, I believe he was not.