“The Catholic community of Wuhan has suffered greatly during the era of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and through that time they hid the tombstones of Saints Perboyre and Clet to protect them, because of their deep devotion to those martyrs,” Clark said.
“While I was there I visited the seminary where the two tombstones are now displayed for veneration; the Catholics of Wuhan have a great devotion to the Eucharist and to the Vincentians, such as Perboyre and Clet, who died for them, and shed their blood on the soil of that city,” he added.
Many missionaries left for China in the 19th century with the knowledge that they would never return.
“I don't know what awaits me on the path that opens before me: without a doubt the cross, which is the daily bread of the missionary. What can we hope for better, going to preach a crucified God?" St. Perboyre wrote in a letter during his journey to China.
Perboyre’s remains were eventually moved to Paris to the Vincentian motherhouse. Today his tomb is located in a side chapel in the same church where St. Vincent de Paul’s incorrupt body is located. He was beatified in 1889 by Pope Leo XIII.
“St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a special devotion to Perboyre and kept a holy card dedicated to him in her personal prayerbook,” Dr. Clark pointed out.
At Perboyre’s canonization in 1996, St. John Paul II said: “Along the streets where he had been sent he found the Cross of Christ. Through the daily imitation of his Lord, with humility and gentleness, he fully identified with him. … After being tortured and condemned, reproducing the Passion of Jesus with extraordinary similarity, he came like him to death and death on a cross.”
St. John Paul II canonized St. Francis Regis Clet in October 2000, along with 33 other missionaries and 87 Chinese Catholics martyred under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Michael Fu Tieshan, a bishop of China’s state-run church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, called the canonization a “public humiliation” in an interview with state-run television, AP reported at the time.
The first “patriotic bishop” named by the Communist government in China in 1958 was from Wuhan. Dong Guangqing, who died in 2007, was president of Patriotic Catholic Association of Wuhan and vice president of the National Administrative Committee of the Chinese Catholic Church.
Today, Catholics in Wuhan have a particular devotion to St. Francis and the Sacrament of Penance, Clark observed.
Catholics in Wuhan are “known to make long lines near the confessionals of priests who are most faithful to the authentic teachings of the Church; they are a beautiful witness,” he said.
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“It is rare to find a church without a statue of St. Francis, and sometimes a devotion to St. Vincent de Paul. The faith there is strong, and has even flourished especially during times of persecution,” Clark added.
“I have indeed heard from some Catholics during this time, and they are, like all of us, turning to the Lord and his mercy as we all confront our own frailty,” he said. “I recently heard from a Wuhan Protestant who remarked on the sadness of witnessing elderly members of their church passing away. The trauma within Wuhan's Christian community has been greatly aided through the powerful faith of Christians in that area.”