Wuhan — Franciscans were present there over 100 years ago

One of the first designated hospitals to treat the Corona virus epidemic was the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital — whose predecessor was the Wuhan Infectious Diseases Hospital, which was named the Father Mei Memorial Catholic Hospital of Hankou when it was first established in 1926. Father Mei Zhanchun was the Chinese name given to an Italian missionary-friar Pascal Ange (Angelicus) Melotto, OFM (1864-1923) who was born in Lonigo, entered the order in 1880 (The Province of St. Francis), and came to China in 1902. “Mei” is the Chinese character for “plum”.

Melotto had become involved in some local conflict and was kidnapped in 1923. Being a foreigner, a large ransom was demanded and the Italian and French Embassies became involved. While he was kidnapped, he was moved many times between Hubei and Henan provinces and died three months later, when one of the kidnappers shot him in the stomach with a poisoned bullet. Shortly before dying, he had confided, “I am happy to die for the Chinese. I lived in China for the Chinese and now I am happy to die for them.

In the past, when a foreign missionary was killed, his home country would demand huge reparations from China, thus giving the impression that the Church was on the side of imperialism. In 1919, however, Pope Benedict XV had issued Maximum illud which warned against the union of colonialism and religion, and so the first Apostolic Delegate to China, Celso Costantini, insisted that instead of concessions being granted to the recently established government of Mussolini, a hospital should be built in honour of Melotto. His remains were eventually transferred to a memorial structure called the Plum (“mei”) Pavilion.

As one of five local Catholic Hospitals, Fr Mei Memorial Hospital played an important role serving the poor in Hankou. By 1949, there were 150 beds, two clinics, 20 Franciscan Sisters of Christian Doctrine, and 7 nurses. In 1952, when all missionaries were expelled, the hospital was confiscated and was renamed. In 2008, the original building was destroyed and the hospital moved to another location as the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. The Plum Pavilion has been dismantled, waiting to be reassembled one day…. and the Franciscan missionary presence also awaits the opportunity to continue where it left off!