Much of the outside world's relations with China have centered around religion. If trade and manufacturing became the chief axes of western-Chinese interaction in the modern world, even then missionary activity meant mission hospitals and schools, including the ancestors of Nanjing University and Nanjing Normal University. One of the earliest missionaries to China, however, was Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an Italian Jesuit who first labored in Portuguese Goa then traveled to China in the 1580s. If his first years here kept him for the most part in southern China (beginning with Macau), his last years found him in Beijing where he found special favor with the emperor.
Less well-known, perhaps, is that Ricci also visited Nanjing several times in the 1590s, and bought a house here where he founded Nanjing's first Christian "church." After Ricci's death and the formal turn against Christianity, this property was torn down and, so far as I know, it had no successor for some time.
But in the nineteenth century Catholicism revived here and led to the founding in Nanjing in 1870 of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. With interruptions from the Northern War in the 1920s and again during the Cultural Revolution, this church has maintained a Catholic presence in Nanjing. Indeed, it is apparently the only Catholic church here. At the suggestion of a friend who had visited the church a few years ago, Jill and I decided to find it. Also known as the Shigu Road Cathedral, the church is not far from the university campus, so we were able to walk there in about 20 minutes.
Tucked in behind a wall and enclosed on most sides by commercial enterprises and on its rear by a huge open space evidently destined for new construction, the Romanesque building makes a pleasant first impression.
since the elevation of Pope Benedict XVI, there seems to have been some moderation, including the pope's accession to Chinese appointment of several Chinese bishops. Wikipedia reports that Francis Xavier Lu Xinping was appointed head of the Nanjing diocese in 2000, but without papal approval; he was later reconciled with Rome, it seems, and Wikipedia reports him as still heading the diocese.
At any rate, visitors to the church will find hanging on the rear wall portraits of both recent popes.