The opening ceremonies took place in Sở Kiện, The Ba Giồng, and in the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. About 20,00 Catholics took part in the solemn Mass of the Ecclesiastical Province of Hà Nội. The faithful remember the heroic history of the Vietnamese Church. Almost 500 years ago the first cross was planted. About 300,000 people died during the various waves of persecution.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The celebrations of the special Jubilee for the 30th anniversary of the canonisation of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs began yesterday with three different opening ceremonies in the ecclesiastical provinces of Hà Nội, Huế and Sàigòn and will end on 24 November, the day the Church remembers their sacrifice.
Yesterday morning, Card Pierre Nguyễn Văn Nhơn, archbishop of Hà Nội, led at a solemn Mass at the minor basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Sở Kiện, Hà Nam Province.
The basilica was built 135 years ago. Sở Kiện is the birthplace of two martyrs: Fr Peter Truong Van Thi and Br Peter Truong Van Duong. About 20,000 worshippers from the ten dioceses of the ecclesiastical province attended the service.
In his homily, Mgr Cosma Hoàng Văn Đạt, bishop of Bắc Ninh, emphasised "the gratitude and joy of God's people in Vietnam and around the world". The prelate helped the assembly retrace the heroic history of the Vietnamese Church.
Almost 500 years ago, the first cross was planted in Chàm, a small island off the coast of Quảng Nam. Since then, when the seed of faith was planted, it has prospered and brought abundant fruit. However, even today Catholics endure a lot of suffering and countless trials and brutal persecution.
A few hours later, in the south of the country, Catholics in Ho Chi Minh City (Sàigòn) and ten other dioceses attended the opening ceremony of the Jubilee at the pilgrimage site of The Ba Giồng, Tiền Giang Province. Thousands of the more than 130,000 martyrs of the 18th and 19th centuries were native to this land.
People from the Archdiocese of Huế and five other dioceses in central Vietnam gathered in the evening at Our Lady of La Vang shrine, Quang Tri Province. Here, 220 years ago, Our Lady appeared to console some of the faithful who had fled to the jungle to shelter themselves from persecution.
Fr Anthony Dương Quỳnh, vicar general of Huế, reminded those present at the beginning of the Mass that "among the 117 martyrs who were canonised, more than a hundred lived at the times of the reigns of Trịnh, Nguyễn, Tây Sơn, Minh Mạng, Thiệu Trị and Tự Đức. About 300,000 people died during the various waves of persecution."
The clergyman especially noted the hundreds of Catholics who were burnt at the church near Tri Bưu. The 117 martyrs, who included 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spaniards and 10 Frenchmen, were beatified by Saint John Paul II in St Peter's Square on 19 June 1988.
The Holy See announced the decision to raise them to the honours of the altars on 12 October 1987. In response, the Vietnamese government's Religious Affairs Committee sent a statement to all the provincial committees and departments of the country.
"The Vatican's decision to declare martyrs 117 people is a deliberate and vicious political misrepresentation of Vietnamese revolutionary history, an incitement to fanaticism and martyrdom among the Catholics in Vietnam, designed to provoke division and damage the national unity of our people.”
This came "Above all, at a time when Party and State are working to implement a religion policy and strengthen people's solidarity, to successfully build socialism and firmly defend the socialist homeland of Vietnam."
On the order of the Prime Minister, the government tried to force the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, led at the time by Card Trịnh Văn Căn, to write a letter to the Vatican asking to cancel the event. Despite the threats, the bishops refused.
Nguyễn Quang Huy, a religious affairs officer in Hanoi, warned in March 1988 that the canonisation would create "an obstacle to Vietnam's desire to maintain friendly relations with the Vatican".
In response, the pontiff demanded an end to religious repression in Vietnam. "Catholics,” he said, “are faithful to their country as to their Church. They feel authentic Vietnamese, and they want to continue to be true disciples of Christ."
In the months preceding the canonisation, the authorities held seminars throughout the country to counter it. "Catholics and the nation", a state-funded and Communist Party-controlled journal, led a campaign to distort the history of the Church in Vietnam, making false accusations against Pope John Paul II.
Its articles suggested that the martyrs had not been killed for their faith, but for their alleged collaboration with the French invaders and that the pontiff wanted to interfere in the political affairs of the country.