ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh CityUpdated: February 21, 2017 10:03 AM GMT
Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, non-resident representative of the Vatican to Vietnam, with local priests visiting a Marian grotto in Vinh Diocese on Feb. 16. (Photo courtesy of Giaophanvinh)
A Vatican envoy has encouraged Catholics in central Vietnam to build a society of love and fraternity at a ceremony to celebrate a French missionary who was recently beatified in Laos.
Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident representative of the Vatican to Vietnam, wrote a letter that was read out during a special thanksgiving Mass in Ha Tinh Province that celebrated Blessed John Baptist Malo (1899-1954) of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
Archbishop Girelli was in Vietnam at the time of the Mass but local government authorities did not allow him to attend the ceremony which was presided by Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh on Feb. 16.
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Vien of Vinh read out the archbishop's letter during the ceremony held in the compound of Vinh Hoi Church in Huong Khe District.
In his letter, Archbishop Girelli said Blessed Malo spent 18 years evangelizing and serving the poor in China. After he was forced to leave China, he traveled to Laos and worked there for 16 months under difficult circumstances and where he suffered martyrdom.
"Father Malo loved Asia and Indochina. He became a Chinese among Chinese and a Laotian among Laotians. He really died not only for God but for those he loved," Archbishop Girelli wrote.
The archbishop asked the congregation to follow Blessed Malo's example in giving witness to Jesus Christ and Christian values in difficult situations, such as challenges found in secularism and restrictions to religious freedom in their daily practice of their faith.
The archbishop also said: "I am forbidden to Vinh Hoi Church although I am in Vinh." His words were understood to be a reference to his not being allowed to attend the event.
"God has his plan for the Catholic Church in Vietnam and He needs your cooperation. The future of the local church depends on you and your faith," the Vatican envoy said.
Finally, he urged them "to love God, love Asia and love your fatherland."
"Love is reality that Vietnam and Laos need to build for their future in the atmosphere of peace," he added.
Catholic martyrs in Laos
Blessed Malo was among 17 Catholic martyrs — priests, catechists and laypeople — beatified Dec. 11, 2016 in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
According to church documents, Blessed Malo was arrested in 1954 in Thakhek by Pathet Lao communist guerrillas who were supported by North Vietnamese communists. He was handed over to Vietnamese communists who imprisoned him in Do Luong, Nghe An Province, where other French prisoners were also kept.
Bishop Hop said Blessed Malo passed away on March 28, 1954 on a boat traveling the Ngan Sau River en route to Do Luong prison camp in northern Vietnam. He died of exhaustion and torture and was buried on the riverbank. In 1990, he was reburied in the compound of Vinh Hoi Church.
"Today we gather here to express our gratitude to Blessed Malo and other missionaries who sacrificed their lives to bear witness to the Good News in Laos and Vietnam," Bishop Hop said.
In his homily, retired Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum asked the congregation to follow Blessed Malo's example by building a society of fraternity, solidarity, peace and mutual respect.
Bishop Oanh urged them to pray for protesters from Song Ngoc Parish who have been beaten and detained by police while they traveled to sue the Taiwanese-owned steel plant for pollution at Ky Anh Court on Feb. 14. "Love for Christ requires you to seek justice, fairness, and human rights as God's children," said Bishop Oanh.
More than 80 priests including those from the Paris Foreign Missions Society and Laos also joined the ceremony attended by over 7,000 people. French diplomats were present at the event, which featured traditional dances and hymns.
Vinh Diocese covers three provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh with 550,000 Catholics who suffer religious persecution and environmental pollution. They have protested against mistreatment resulting in further suppression by the government.