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Bells ring again as parish marks its centenary

War-ravaged parish church in Vietnam celebrates 100 years

Father Joachim Le Thanh Hoang (right) and Father Jean Baptiste Etcharren in front of an altar of ancestors
Father Joachim Le Thanh Hoang (right) and Father Jean Baptiste Etcharren in front of an altar of ancestors
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hue City
  • Vietnam
  • June 27, 2011
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Hue city’s St. Francis Xavier Church has stood for more than a century, one of many architectural treasures that distinguish Vietnam’s coastal former capital.

The church, once the locus of worship for the country’s colonial military forces stationed in the area, held its ground during the Vietnam War, where American and North Vietnamese forces struggled for control of the city.

Hue suffered substantial damage during the Tet Offensive in 1968, but Saint Francis Xavier Church survived.

To mark its centenary, Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu Thé of Hue, along with Auxiliary Bishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong and 70 other priests held a Mass of thanksgiving attended by about 400 Catholic parishioners and local residents of other faiths.

The gothic-style church was built in 1911 by the Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP). Archbishop Thé asked attendees of the Mass to express their gratitude to the MEP.

“One hundred years later, the church is still serving the religious needs of local Catholics,” he said.

Ahead of the commemorative Mass, parish head Father Joachim Le Thanh Hoang and Father Jean Baptiste Etcharren, former superior general of the MEP, lit incense at an altar of ancesters.

In honor of the centenary, parishioners arranged for repairs to the church’s bell tower, which was damaged in 1968 by U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War.

“In the past, they could not afford to repair the tower because of a lack of money,” said Father Hoang. “The MEP has covered the cost.”

The city, like the church, bore the scars of a war that raged across the country for more than 15 years. Thousands of civilians lost their lives when North Vietnamese soldiers were driven from Hue during the Tet Offensive.

The 800-seat church originally served the large community of French military and colonial officials based there. After the war, the church fell into disuse as many local residents were displaced to labor camps or new economic zones. Now, the church serves about 3,000 local parishioners.

Over the course of a century, St. Xavier’s has been served by 20 priests, including five from the MEP, as well as Archbishop Thé and the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

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