This is the first time the communist nation is initiating canonization of a missionary
People pray in front of a picture and relic of Bishop François Pallu in St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi on Oct. 29. (Photo: UCA News)
The Hanoi archdiocese in Vietnam has begun the sainthood cause of a France-born bishop, a first in the communist nation for a missionary's canonization.
Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi presided over the formal opening of the diocesan inquiry, the primary step for canonization, of Bishop François Pallu in St. Joseph Cathedral in the national capital on Oct. 29.
Some 3,000 Catholics joined for the event, held on the occasion of the 339th anniversary of Bishop Pallu’s death.
“Today we open the beatification and canonization cause of Bishop Pallu, who devoted all his life to evangelization in our homeland,” Archbishop Thien said.
He said Pallu, the first bishop of Dang Ngoai (northern Vietnam), came "to sow the seeds of the Good News" nearly 400 years ago.
Joseph Vu Van Thien Hanoi archdiocese and 10 other dioceses in the northern region consider Dang Ngoai as their mother diocese.
Present at the ceremony were Singapore-based Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident representative of the Holy See to Vietnam, Fathers Vincent Sénéchal and Balthazar Castelino from the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP), and 17 bishops.Pallu is considered one of the co-founders of MEP, the prime missionary congregation that worked in the region.
Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said that this was for the first time the Church in Vietnam has opened a diocesan inquiry into a missionary's canonization cause.
The event brings joy and pride to the local as well as the Universal Church, the prelate said.
"We long for a missionary saint so that we can follow his evangelization examples and appeal to him to give us sheer inspiration and passion for proclaiming the Gospel. It is the main aim of the ceremony," Nang said in his homily.
The archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City said Pallu had a lifelong passion for bringing Christian values to Asia and built a firm foundation and evangelization guidelines for the local Church.
Joseph Dao Manh Tien from the archdiocese said that the opening of Pallu’s sainthood cause will help strengthen local Catholics’ faith.
“We try our best to keep alive the faith legacy left by Bishop Pallu and other MEP missionaries,” said the 77-year-old father of two.
He said his children, his wife and her two relatives were inspired by MEP missioners' service before they embraced Catholicism.
The archdiocesan board of inquiry includes the archbishop, Vicar General Father Anthony Nguyen Van Thang serving as an episcopal delegate, Father Joseph Nguyen Van Diep as the promoter of justice, Fathers Anthony Tran Van Phu and Peter Tran Quang Dieu as notary and copyist, respectively.
The members took an oath to discharge their duties.
On Oct. 28, Archbishop Thien received Pallu’s relic from Father Vincent Sénéchal, head of MEP. The relic is placed in the cathedral.
Father Vincent Tran Minh Thuc, postulator for the sainthood cause, said there are reasons why Pallu's canonization began late although he died on Oct. 29, 1684, in Fujian in China.
Pallu's missionary work and holy life became more widely known to local people thanks to some Catholic groups in Vietnam, who have had easy access to church materials abroad and researched the initial stages of evangelization in Vietnam and the Far East.
In 2009, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, then head of Vietnam's bishops’ conference, and Father Jean-Baptiste Etcharren, then superior general of the MEP, appealed to Pope Benedict XVI to initiate the canonization process for Pallu and his companion Bishop Lambert de la Motte.
In 2021, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the diocesan inquiry into Pallu's sainthood cause.
Pallu was born in 1626 in Tours of France to a noble family with 18 children, seven of whom were priests and religious.
He was ordained a priest in 1650 and was ordained bishop in 1658 after being named as the first bishop of the apostolate vicariate of Dang Ngoai.
Pallu served Dang Ngoai from 1659 to 80 but could never set foot in his vicariate on account of severe religious persecution there.
He along with other missionaries was based in Ayutthaya in Thailand and trained priestly candidates from China, Thailand and Vietnam to govern the local churches.
He devoted himself to making long round trips between Europe and Asia in 1665-1673 and 1674-1681 to seek papal approval for their initial pastoral activities in the local churches.
On Apr. 15, 1680, Pallu was officially appointed as Vicar Apostolate of Fukien based in Fujian province in China. He arrived at his new vicariate on Jan 14, 1684.
Although his health deteriorated rapidly, Pallu paid pastoral visits to local people and reorganized the local church.
Pallu died on Oct. 29, 1684, when he was 58 years old.
He was buried in Fujian and his remains were moved to MEP’s headquarters in 1912 and reburied in its chapel in 1954.
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