HONG KONG (SE): Father Gabriel Lajeune of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) passed away at St. Mary’s Home in Aberdeen on November 2 at the age of 92. He will be remembered as a pastor fully dedicated to his flock.
In order to help people get to know each other, and pray and cooperate, he reorganised the parishes where he served to stimulate the apostolic spirit. He was the superior of the MEP in Hong Kong from 1980 to 1993. He welcomed seminarians and young priests in his parishes, so that they in turn, could become pastors.
Although he was born in Poligny, the department of Jura, France, on 26 July 1926, Father Lajeune, spent most of his childhood in Quimper, in Brittany, where his parents had settled down. He had two sisters and one brother, who also became a priest.
After he completed his secondary studies, Father Lajeune joined the seminary of the Foreign Missions of Paris. He was ordained a priest on 28 May 1950 and was sent to the then-Apostolic Vicariate of Hung Hoa (the Diocese of Hung Hoa since 1960), in northern Vietnam. He studied Vietnamese in Son Tay and Nghia Lo, and in 1953 he was appointed assistant parish priest to care for a community of fishermen in the vicinity of Son Tay. In 1954 he was sent to the parish of Bach Loc as assistant parish priest, where he was in charge of the district of San Dang.
In 1957, the communist authorities, desiring to get rid of Father Lajeune, jailed him for several months, put him on trial and finally expelled him from North Vietnam.
After a short stay in France for medical treatment, he returned to South Vietnam and started to minister at Saint Francis Xavier’s parish, in Cholon, on the west bank of the Saigon River, whose population at that time was predominantly Chinese. Father Lajeune, was equally successful in mastering Cantonese and written Chinese as he was with Vietnamese.
He worked for 18 years at Saint Francis Xavier’s parish, twelve as assistant parish priest, and six as parish priest. When in 1975, North and South Vietnam were united, the country came under communist rule and 1976, Father Lajeune, like all the foreign missionaries, had to leave for good.
In 1977 he was welcomed by the Diocese of Hong Kong. A temporary assignment of several months in St Peter’s parish, in Aberdeen, helped him adapt to Hong Kong and in 1977, he was appointed parish priest of St. Jude’s parish, in Kam Tin, where he was joined by his old friend Father Fernand Billaud. Two years later Father Lajeune was made parish priest of Star of the Sea’s Church, Chai Wan, where he served for 16 years.
In 1995, Father Lajeune became assistant parish priest in Holy Redeemer Church, Tuen Mun, where he remained until 2013 except for one school year in Beijing (1998 to 1999) as chaplain of the local French-speaking Catholic Community.
In Hong Kong, he helped the local French and Vietnamese speaking Catholic communities, especially at the time when Vietnamese refugees were arriving in the city. As soon as mainland China reopened its borders to foreigners, he started to visit several places and established friendly relationships with bishops and priests in Cantonese speaking areas.
In February 2013, Father Lajeune was welcomed by the Little Sisters of the Poor as resident of St. Mary’s Home.
Although he disliked expresssing his feelings, he was a sensitive person, true to the people and to God. May God grant him eternal salvation.