by Benoit Vermander,S.J.
Within a few days of each other, two good friends of Renlai, who were also towering missionary figures of Taiwan, have left us. Their life accomplishment deserves to stay with us in memory. It is with emotion and gratitude that we remember these two French Jesuits who both gave more than fifty years of their life to Taiwan and its people.
Fr Jean Lefeuvre went peacefully to Heaven on the evening of Sep. 24, 2010 at the Cardinal Tien Hospital, Taipei. Born in France, in 1922 雷公 (as he was called by his Taiwanese friends) entered the Society of Jesus in 1940, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1952 at St. Ignatius Church, Shanghai by Msgr. Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei. In his book, “Les enfants dans la ville" (The children in the town) he has left a vivid description of this troubled period for the Church in China.
After arriving in Taiwan Fr. Lefeuvre became a founding member of the Taipei Ricci Institute, and worked closely with Fr. Yves Raguin. He became a world authority on oracle inscriptions, and later, on bronze inscriptions as well. He published several catalogues of oracle inscriptions as well as several learnéd articles and research tools on this very specialized field of knowledge. Fr. Lefeuvre was probably the most important collaborator and author of the “Grand Ricci" dictionary, in charge of its etymological section. He leaves a completed manuscript of a Dictionary of Bronze Inscriptions, which will be published after the due process of revision.
He was also a pastor, founder of several Christian communities, and exercised an far-reaching influence on the Taiwanese church. In the “Aurora Center", which he directed for decades, he was the first to welcome Taizé-style prayer groups.
Fr. Lefeuvre was passionate about bronze inscriptions. He saw in them the most ancient testimony of the concepts of “territory" and “ancestors’, central in the development of Chinese thought. His research made him also very sensitive to the spirit of popular religion, and he surprised many Taiwanese by his deep insight about the significance of Tudigong (土地公) or Mazu (媽祖) in the Taiwanese religious psyche. It is in these ways that one can call him a pioneer of inculturation.
Though handicapped during his last years by the loss of his hearing and the partial loss of his sight, he worked indefatigably until the end. Fr. Lefeuvre is mourned by members and friends of the Taipei Ricci Institute and Renlai. His absence will be deeply felt by all of us.
The departure of an advocate of inter-faith dialogue
A few days later, on September 30, it was another very close friend of Renlai, Fr. Poulet-Mathis (馬天賜) who left us. 馬天賜 was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1927. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1945, was ordained to the priesthood on July 30, 1958 and then came to Taiwan. He worked first as a student chaplain in Taichung and in FuJen. However, it was to be in interreligious dialogue that he found his true calling. 馬天賜 was friends with people of all religious backgrounds in Taiwan, especially with a great number of Buddhist masters. One can say that he was the most active and well-known among the clerics engaged in inter-faith dialogue in Taiwan. He had a keen enthusiasm for the variety of ways though which men look for the Absolute and their true nature; he was always anxious to hear about the specific research and questions of others. He cultivated friendship in the spirit of Mateo Ricci, and was faithful to his friends without any reservation. He also served as Jesuit delegate for inter-faith dialogue for the whole of East Asia.
His continuous travels and labors affected his health, and his last years were painful ones. He left us in peace, and the memory of a man of much sensitivity, always concerned by the welfare of the people around him will stay with us.
Farewell, 雷公 and 老馬! You have been faithful servants of God and great lovers of the earth of Taiwan. For everything you have given us, we thank you… and we confide you to the love and mercy of the God whom you followed all your life.