A French priest chose to stay in China as a silent witness of his faith, evangelizing not by preaching but by living through his daily life the teachings of the Gospel. He was an extraordinary man of action, rather than of words.
PUBLISHED ONMay 2018
Jean, as people called him, was a priest, but nobody knew it, or at least pretended not to. In 1976, when China started opening to the outside world, he – already in his fifties at that time and with an extensive academic experience– offered himself to set up a French departmente in a university in Central China. The Chinese government granted him the visa but he had to live as a normal person, since foreign missionaries are not accepted in the country.
He peacefully accepted to live his priesthood as a silent witness and his life choices. The eyes of the teachers and of the students were on him, one of the few foreign professors living in China in those times. They soon discovered that this unassuming French guy was indeed out of the ordinary.
Having already a salary given by the French Ministry of Education, he refused to receive a second salary from the poorly funded university, so that more academic materials might be purchased. As if was not enough, he also used a large part of his salary to support poor students, and to assist the most gifted of them to pursue further studies abroad.
Mysteriously, every evening he would ride his bike in the streets around the university. Someone followed him only to discover that he went around daily giving alms to the beggars and to the destitute old people of the area!
He soon had good friends who tried to understand more what was in the heart of this peculiar foreigner who loved China so much that he decided to remain there, alone, even after retirement, doing research both in Chinese culture and medicine.
Generous to the last, Jean donated his body for medical research after he passed away at the age of 96 in 2015, in the same small room in the teachers’ quarters he entered 40 years before. This was the last wish of Jean for his ‘adopted’ country, a gesture of self-donation which is quite unusual in China.
Even though he could not preach the Gospel by words, his life and example inspired many.
Students took turns to take care of him in the last years of his life, when he was not self-sufficient. Some others joined charitable organization to help the poor. Some professors even decided to imitate Jean and signed the necessary documents to donate their bodies for medical research after their death.
His faith lived out by example was louder than words. Both students and teachers, one by one, are already making Jean’s love bear fruits into their own lives.