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Floris De Ley

Floris De Ley

Born in Essen (B), on March 7, 1917. First Vows, on September 8, 1936. Ordination to the Priesthood, on August 3, 1941. Missionary in China (1947-1952), in Belgium (1952-1954), in Haiti (1954-1963) and in the Dominican Republic (1963-2001). Died in Halle (B), on March 1, 2016, at the age of 98.

“In answer to Jesus’ words we are going to distant lands to bring the holy Gospel”, Flor himself used these words when he prepared his death notice. And throughout his long life his actions matched with his words!

Flor was the son of Joseph Huibrecht De Ley and Paulina Celina Peeters. He was the seventh of 12 children. In his Christian family he got the taste to work for the Kingdom of God. These are also his own words. Therefore, he chose to join the CICM missionaries. He was ordained priest in 1941, but because of the war he had to wait till 1947 to be able to leave for the distant China.

Flor was always very punctual. He prepared everything in detail. But in China he soon found out that he could not fix everything the way he wanted. With a dozen other CICM fathers he was placed under house arrest until he was expelled from China 370 days later. Five years later he was back in Belgium.

In Belgium, he worked for the mission animation, but the desire to leave again for a mission country was too strong. In 1954, he left for Haiti where he faced the harsh reality in which the Haitians were living during President Duvalier Papa Doc’s regime. Flor was a man of principles. He was convinced that God’s word should go hand in hand with justice. His words were not always heard, let alone accepted. From the parable of the Good Samaritan, he learned that it is not enough to heal the wounded and the victims or to care for them. He had also to make sure that violence and attacks would stop. So, he wanted to fight the causes of the actual calamities. Flor left for the Dominican Republic in 1963 to devote himself to the Haitian sugar cane cutters who had to work in inhuman conditions for starvation wages. For 34 years he committed himself for the bateyes of Barahona, Palave and Bienvenido, near the capital city of Santo Domingo.

Since Flor had stayed in Haiti he could speak Creole, the language of the Haitians. Here he came to know the miserable conditions in which Haitians were living and he tried to find a solution to their situation. In his own way, he identified himself with the victims of modern slavery. In his Sunday homilies he explained the gospel and applied its contents to people’s daily life. He did not look at the other side of the road, but like the Good Samaritan, he tried to do something.

Flor loved very much his patron saint, the Archangel Gabriel. So when he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his religious vows he asked his confreres to call him “Gaby”. If we still happened to call him Flor, he would not answer. Flor was not home or pretended not to hear.

During his last years in the Dominican Republic, Flor or rather Gaby resided in the home for retired priests of the diocese in the pilgrimage place Gethsemane in San Francisco de Macoris. However, the bishop had asked the nursing sisters not to give work to the priests, and Flor felt also too far away from his confreres. He decided to return to Santo Domingo. However, he started to understand that it would perhaps be better to return to Belgium. He still kept in touch with the people of the Dominican Republic because he was a man of contacts.

During his a long and beautiful life Flor always relied on his shepherd Jesus Christ. He dedicated himself to the poor and the wounded. During his life he had to give up many things: China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and now his life here on earth, but to get another life with the Lord. Many people will remain grateful to him.

Marcel Peeters
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