Bishop Jean Cassaigne (center) with ethnic villagers after his episcopal ordination on June 26, 1941, in Saigon. (Photo supplied)
Catholics in a southern diocese have been asked to model themselves on a French missionary who spent all his life among ethnic lepers and to work for his sainthood cause.
Bishop Joseph Do Manh Hung of Phan Thiet said June is the time for Catholics around the world to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is viewed as a symbol of God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.
Bishop Hung, who was appointed bishop of the diocese last December, said all Christians are called on to follow the Sacred Heart by giving witness to God’s love to the world.
He said the late French Bishop Jean Cassaigne (1895-1973) bravely lived out the mystery of the Sacred Heart by wholeheartedly serving lepers from ethnic groups in Di Linh district of Lam Dong province.
Father Cassaigne, a member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), arrived in Vietnam in 1926 and was assigned to serve the K’hor ethnic group at Di Linh Mission Station one year later.
The priest, who is praised as an apostle of lepers, gathered and cared for ethnic lepers who were abandoned by their relatives or neighbors and lived separately in forests. In 1929, he founded Di Linh Leprosarium that today is served by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul sisters.
He baptized the first local ethnic leper in 1927.
The missionary also studied the K'Hor language and culture and published a French-K’hor-Vietnamese dictionary in 1929 and K’hor Customs in 1937 and Catechism for K’hor in 1938.
Father Cassaigne baptized some 900 people in 1941 when he was named bishop of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Fourteen years later, he stepped down and returned to serve ethnic lepers in Di Linh.
Bishop Hung said the French bishop spent the rest of his life sharing lepers' sufferings and offering them love care, food, medicine and accommodation. Consequently, he was infected with the disease.
“He saw his disease as God’s gift to taste the lepers’ extreme misery,” the 63-year-old prelate said.
He said the bishop, who died in 1973 and was buried at the leprosarium, fulfilled his deepest wishes — to suffer great misery all his life for Jesus and other people and to rest in peace among his children with leprosy.
Bishop Hung, a Saigon native, said the Church began making the necessary preparations to open the sainthood cause of the late Bishop Cassainge in 2000. In October 2019, the Pontifical Mission Societies under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples proposed Bishop Cassainge as an example of faith and mission.
“He is also a witness actually living out the message of the Sacred Heart,” he said in a letter to local Catholics on June 1.
Bishop Hung, head of the Episcopal Commission for Clergy and Seminarians, said the documents asking for his sainthood cause need a miracle attributed to him. He called on Catholics “to pray to God to grant a favor through Bishop Cassaigne’s intercession.” Catholic families were given copies of his biography and a prayer to recite for the sainthood cause.
He also urged them to reflect and follow the late bishop’s shining example and bear witness to the merciful Sacred Heart of Jesus in their families and parishes.
Bishop Hung will inaugurate a Sacred Heart chapel at the Marian Center of Ta Pao on June 12.