Updated: September 23, 2021 06:12 AM GMT
Emeritus Archbishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue delivers his homily at Father Jean-Baptiste Etcharren’s funeral at Hue Major Seminary on Sept. 22. (Photo: UCA News)
Catholics and people of other faiths in central Vietnam have paid moving tributes to the late French missionary who spent all his life serving them.
Father Etcharren, a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) who spent his last 10 years in Hue, died of old age at the seminary on Sept. 21. He was 89.
The Mass, concelebrated by four bishops and joined by 70 priests, was livestreamed on the archdiocese’s website for other people to follow due to strict social distancing to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Before the ceremony, participants watched a video clip about the late French missionary’s life and services in Vietnam, and offered incense in front of his coffin placed at the center of the chapel.
Emeritus Archbishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue said Father Etcharren left the local Church the image of a perfect, enthusiastic and generous missionary who left his nation and family and landed in a remote and poor land to bring the Good News to those he met.
Father Etcharren devoted himself to serving all people in Hue at parishes, schools and seminaries during the Vietnam War
“Today we are in deep mourning and express our deep gratitude to the great father, master, pastor and benefactor of the Church in Vietnam, especially Hue Archdiocese,” he said in his homily.
Since arriving in Vietnam in 1958 when he was 26, he said, Father Etcharren devoted himself to serving all people in Hue at parishes, schools and seminaries during the Vietnam War. He walked with them on all paths and at any cost.
The prelate said that after being forced to leave his flock for France in 1975, the former MEP general superior helped train Vietnamese clergy by awarding scholarships to over 100 priests and religious to study at the Institut Catholique de Paris from 1992 to 2010. Sixteen of them have been named bishops of domestic dioceses, while others teach at local seminaries and institutes, serve as vicars general and hold high positions in the Church.
Father Andrew Ngo Van Nhon, who is at the archdiocese’s house for retired priests, praised Father Etcharren for speaking very good Vietnamese, gaining a profound understanding of local cultural traditions and deeply loving local people.
Father Nhon, who used to assist the late priest in Dong Ha Parish in Quang Tri province, said the French missionary founded five schools for 1,000 children, most of them from Buddhist families, in the two districts of Trieu Hai and Ben Hai. Local priests and sisters were assigned to run the schools.
The 78-year-old priest said Father Etcharren improved local people’s material and spiritual life by providing them with buffalos to plough their fields, building toilets and repairing their houses damaged by natural disasters.
The former professor at the Major Seminary in Hue said he was among five priests who were sponsored to study further in France by Father Etcharren. One of them later was Archbishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue.
Le Huu Kha, a Buddhist who used to study at a high school set up by Father Etcharren in 1966 in Dong Ha, said: “We owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for his services.”
Kha, who was in seventh grade in 1970 when fierce fighting raged between US troops and communist forces, said the missionary hired 10 buses to transfer many families to Hue to avoid the war.
The 64-year-old man, who resides in Hue, said the priest also offered money to those who could not return to buy houses in Hue and sent their children to study at Catholic schools.
In 1972, when communist forces attacked Dong Ha, Father Etcharren helped to move hundreds of families to Da Nang. The following year, he helped them to resettle in now Binh Thuan province where he supplied them with houses, farms and livelihoods.
Father Etcharren was forced to leave Vietnam for France in 1975 after the country was reunified under communist rule. He started to return to visit his beloved country in 1994.
He lived in harmony with all people and treated them with respect and like his relatives. His death is a sad loss to all who know him
Le Van Thai, a motorbike taxi driver in Hue, said Father Etcharren was his close friend and kind benefactor to his family members even though they are not Catholic.
Thai, 50, said the late priest, who daily walked to buy food at a local market, often made friendly conversation with him, asking about his conditions. The priest offered scholarships to his three children and money to his ailing wife.
“He lived in harmony with all people and treated them with respect and like his relatives. His death is a sad loss to all who know him,” Thai said.
Dominic Le Thanh Phuc from Gia Hoi Parish said Father Etcharren lived in rented housing, allowed students to live in, cooked for himself, taught French to students and provided his loving care for all people as he loved his adopted nation.
Archbishop Linh said the French missionary returned to Hue at the invitation of Emeritus Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The in 2010 as he wished to be full Vietnamese and die in the land he loved. Father Etcharren said missionaries who are separated from their flock are like widowers.
The prelate extended his sincere condolences and communion with MEP, who had lost a respected member of exemplary character. MEP sent 1,200 members to the Southeast Asian country and most made great contributions to the local Church.
Father Etcharren was buried at the seminary's cemetery where 37 of his confreres had been laid to rest.
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