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Vietnamese Catholics revisit martyrs' virtues

Catholics are inspired by the humility and loyalty of those who died for their faith

UCA News reporter, Hue

UCA News reporter, Hue

Published: November 16, 2021 05:48 AM GMT

Updated: November 16, 2021 07:12 AM GMT

Vietnamese Catholics revisit martyrs' virtues

Members of the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception Association visit the grave of St. Paul Tong Viet Buong in Hue on Nov. 12. (Photo: UCA News)

Twenty years ago, Michael Tran Tan Huy was hit by a pickup truck while he was riding his motorbike on the way to work at Bai Dau bridge in the ancient city of Hue.

Huy, a plumber, said the terrible accident made him unconscious and local people took him to a hospital. He was saved from death but his motorbike was completely wrecked.

“I had not known this place used to be Tran Phu prison, where hundreds of Catholics were kept and tortured for their faith until the local Church celebrated the 30th anniversary of the canonization of the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs in 2018,” he said. Now an elementary school stands on the site of the former prison.

The 66-year-old father of four said that among the martyrs he deeply admired St. Father Francois Isidore Gagelin, a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), who gave himself up to the authorities after many Catholics were detained and tortured for priests’ information in Binh Dinh province. He was executed in Bai Dau on Oct. 17, 1833.

“I learned lessons about genuine humility but great bravery from the foreign missionary, who gave up all things and lived a simple life to care for local people,” the member of Phu Hau Parish said. “I daily pray to him for my family’s faith life.”

He shared his faith story with Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception Association members on Nov. 12, when they went on a tour of martyrs’ sites around the city. “I believe that this is the holy land, and the saints saved my life,” he said.

We admire St. Trung’s trust and love for God, so we must go to great lengths to live out the Catholic identity and faith heritage from our ancestors

They prayed at five sites including An Hoa and Bai Dau, where Catholics used to be kept and executed during the 19th century.

Elizabeth Vo Thi Ngoc Hau from Doc So Parish said the grand tour opened her mind to local religious sites. She daily carries bananas over Chem bridge to sell at An Hoa market but she did not know that the place was soaked with the blood of numerous Catholics who willingly accepted death as a way to show their loyalty to their faith.

During the visit, Hau was told about the story of St. Francis Nguyen Van Trung, a soldier who was beheaded on Oct. 6, 1858. His head was left hanging in a public place for three days as a warning to others.

“We admire St. Trung’s trust and love for God, so we must go to great lengths to live out the Catholic identity and faith heritage from our ancestors,” the mother of three said.

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Hau said the site, covering over 10,000 square meters, is believed to be holy land as local authorities and people used to build shopping centers, factories and a bus station, but they ran into grave difficulties and finally went bankrupt.

Joseph Huynh Van Tien voluntarily offers chao, a kind of porridge with rice and meat, to people with HIV/Aids at a hospital on a weekly basis in the ancient city of Hue. Tien, who started his service in 2008, receives the food from the convent of Saint Paul de Chartres Sisters.

He and other volunteers also visit and console patients at their homes and help arrange funerals for dead patients.

“Every time my family members kvetch about my service, advising me to stay home to do housework or enjoy myself, I come to pray at the grave of martyr Paul Tong Viet Buong and I find inner peace and happiness,” the 75-year-old father of five said.

The volunteer from Phuong Duc Parish said he followed St. Buong’s shining example of Marian devotion by daily reciting the rosary during movement restrictions to contain the Delta variant of Covid-19 in September.

Tien said St. Buong (1773-1833), a military officer, was devoted to Mother Mary and prayed for his loyalty to the Catholic faith in prison. The member of Phu Cam Parish was beheaded for his faith on Oct. 23, 1833, at Tho Duc, 600 meters from his home. He was beatified in 1900 and canonized in 1988 among the 16 martyrs of Hue Archdiocese.

“I could not leave my voluntary work, which offers me opportunities to have brought seven people to the Church,” he said. “That is a way I follow the martyrs’ example to bear witness to the religion of love today.”

Catholic prisoners offered their last meals to prison guards and they were happy to meet God in heaven soon

Sister Mary Do Thi Lan, an organizer, said the visit aimed at reminding association members to revisit martyrdom and show deep gratitude to their ancestors who used their own blood to glorify the local Church.

Sister Lan, an expert in Vietnamese Church history, said in the past the government erected dozens of leaf tents along the Huong River to detain Catholics from other places for trial and execution. Catholics were wrongly accused of embracing a foreign religion against the nation.

The 76-year-old nun, who gave a brief history of each site to visitors, said those on death row were traditionally treated to last heavy meals before being killed as it was thought that their souls would not return to exact revenge.

“Catholic prisoners offered their last meals to prison guards and they were happy to meet God in heaven soon,” she said.

Today local people can follow the martyrs’ spirit by living out Christian values, being in harmony with all people, giving tender care to their neighbors and people in need, and working for the common good.

Among the estimated 130,000 Vietnamese Catholics who were killed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, 117 martyrs were canonized in Rome in 1988 by Pope St. John Paul II.

This year the Church in Vietnam celebrated the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs on Nov. 14, instead of Nov. 21 that is the Solemnity of Christ the King. The feast is declared on Nov. 24 but it is usually held on the Sunday before the day so that all people can attend the national feast.

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