Born in Ghent in 1877, Vincent Lebbe was sent as a missionary to China in 1901.
He immediately fell in love with the country and its inhabitants, eventually going so far as to adopt Chinese nationality.
He took the name LEI MING YUAN, “The Thunder that sings in the distance”.
Throughout his life, he was to combat colonial interference on the part of the western powers and the Japanese, who had been gradually settling in China since 1848. He established a newspaper created by the Chinese for the Chinese and promoted a local Church directed by an indigenous clergy. He even obtained the ordination in Rome of six Chinese bishops in 1926, a genuine revolution in missionary practice.
When Japan invaded China in 1937, Father Lebbe contributed to the setting up of a highly efficient service manned by Chinese stretcher-bearers and the creation of a special unit responsible for awakening a sense of patriotism.
The Chinese said of him “He loves China more than we ourselves do”.
By the time of his death, in 1940, he had become a national hero. Today he is the only foreigner to be honoured in Taipei (Taiwan) on the memorial for the heroes of the Sino-Japanese war.
Passionately involved in the events of his time, he profoundly influenced the Catholic Church, giving it a more universal dimension.
He left behind him an extremely demanding spiritual program which he summed up as follows:
Cardinal Suenens said of him: “He was wholly at the service of the Chinese, wholly self-forgetful, expending all his strength on their behalf. This is the lot of those who are prophets ahead of their time. He was one of the persons who inspired the Second Vatican Council. He gave the Church the character of an organization truly wholly open to all peoples of the world”.