1995-04-28 00:00:00

Bishop Charles Lemaire, the former superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) who served in northeastern China for 15 years, died in Hong Kong of natural cause April 22. He was 95.

At the funeral Mass April 26, Father Raymond Rossignol, MEP superior general, recalled Bishop Lemaire´s service in Jilin (Kirin), northeastern China, 1930-1945 as the time when the bishop learned to love the Chinese.

"Until the end of his life, the Chinese people and the Church in China were still in his mind and his prayers," Father Rossignol said.

Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung of Hong Kong concelebrated the Mass with 30 priests. More than 300 Catholics attended the Mass for the late bishop. His body was buried in Hong Kong.

Bishop Lemaire was born in 1900 in northern France. He entered the MEP in 1925 and was ordained a priest in 1929. He left for China in the next year, becoming assistant and then parish priest of Jilin cathedral.

In 1937, he was appointed rector of the minor and major seminaries. In November 1939, he was ordained coadjutor bishop in Jilin to assist Bishop Auguste-Ernest Gaspais, then vicar apostolic of Jilin.

In 1945, Bishop Lemaire was appointed MEP superior general. He then left for Paris to head the missionary society until 1960. Among his first acts was to send a few dozen priests to China, according to MEP Father Gabriel Lajeune.

Father Yan Taijun, vicar of Jilin diocese, told UCA News April 25 by phone that the diocese, informed of the prelate´s death, had offered daily Mass and prayers for him from April 23 to April 26 with an average attendance of 100.

On behalf of the Catholics of Jilin, Father Yan, who heads the diocese, sent Chinese-language condolences to the MEP house in Hong Kong April 26.

The message described the late bishop a "good bishop and good pastor," who was "humble, prudent, broad-minded, honest and kind" and "led a simple life."

They will "learn and carry forward his virtues and good deeds to express remembrance of the bishop," and "transform grief into strength so as to contribute to the evangelization work of the Church."

At the funeral, Father Lajeune recalled that the happiest news Bishop Lemaire received in recent years was of the growing Church in northeastern China. A few years ago, five young priests from Jilin visited the bishop.

They gave him an immense joy by telling him in Mandarin, which he could still speak, that old Catholics in Jilin remembered him, said MEP Father Sylvain Rabiller.

When his term as MEP superior general ended in 1960, Bishop Lemaire came to Hong Kong because he could not return to the mainland under Communist rule.

He became extremely active in the service of several religious communities, said Father Rabiller.

In his last few years, the retired bishop lived at the Saint Mary´s Home for the Aged run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, near the local seminary.

UCA News interviewed Bishop Lemaire in 1991. At that time the bishop spoke in Mandarin: "I cannot go back to China now as I´m too old to travel. But I always remember my diocese and the faithful there in my prayers."

The bishop could write some Chinese characters, including his name "Hui Huamin" and "Jilin."

China-appointed Bishop Liu Huanbo of Heilongjiang, and two other late China-appointed bishops, Li Xuesong of Jilin and Wang Ruihuan of Heilongjiang, in northeastern China were his former students.


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