Catholics in Vietnam have expressed gratitude and faithfulness to their ancestors who died for their faith at ceremonies marking the anniversary of the canonization of martyrs. In the scorching heat, some 20,000 Catholics from Hanoi Archdiocese and nine dioceses in northern Vietnam attended a special Mass on June 19 in Ha Nam province to open a jubilee year
to mark the 30th anniversary of the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs. The opening ceremony was held at the Martyrs Pilgrimage Center of So Kien which includes the 135-year-old Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception of Mary based in Ha Nam province. The center decorated with colorful flags contains remains of many martyrs, plus ropes, chains, pillories and stocks used to torture martyrs. Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi presided at the event, concelebrated by 13 bishops and joined by 300 priests. The stage was decorated with a big picture of Vietnamese martyrs and flowers. "Today we can express our great and real joy to Vietnamese martyrs who really died with Jesus and live with Him in glory and happiness. Consequently the Catholic Church in Vietnam bears blossoms and fruits in abundance," Bishop Cosma Hoang Van Dat of Bac Ninh said in his homily. Bishop Dat said that within 50 years from when foreign missioners began proclaiming the Good News to the country nearly 500 years ago some 300,000 local people embraced the new religion. They did this despite severe persecution by the authorities. Among the martyrs are Blessed Andrew Phu Yen, a young catechist, who died for his faith in the ancient town of Hoi An in 1644. While Pope St. John Paul II canonized 117 martyrs in 1988, there were many more Vietnamese who bore witness to and died for their Catholic faith, said Bishop Dat. He said if they dedicated a day to telling the story of each martyr it would take 365 years to tell all martyrs' stories. Bishop Dat said martyrs made great contributions to the nation's culture, building values of justice, humanity and love, creating the national language and offering education and charitable care to society. "Today we are invited to follow martyrs' examples in new situations and new ways to bring justice and charity to other people, and bear witness to God in our love care and work," Bishop Dat told the congregation. He also urged them to "cooperate with people of goodwill regardless of their faiths, social positions and political views, to consolidate the civilization of love and life in our nation." Before the ceremony, Catholics in costumes said prayers, sang hymns and carried Martyr Father Peter Truong Van Thi's cranium and other martyrs' remains in a procession around the pilgrimage center. They also danced and offered flowers to martyrs. Joseph Nguyen Van Chien, a participant from Yen Bai province, said he is very proud of those Catholics who sacrificed themselves
for the sake of spreading the Good News in the country.
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"The ceremony helps strengthen our faith and encourages us to bravely live out our faith in the society without fear," the 40-year-old father of two said. Chien said this is the first time the local Catholic Church
has publicly celebrated the anniversary of the canonization of martyrs for 30 years. In 1988, no Catholics from Vietnam were allowed to attend the canonization ceremony in Rome because the government objected to the canonization. The state also launched a hostile propaganda campaign that included statements that the martyrs had worked with foreign forces to invade the country. "Today we all know the truth of the canonization of Vietnamese martyrs. We see the anniversary as the real canonization ceremony," he said.