Honoring Fighters for Faith : Vietnamese Martyrs Commemorated at Mass
Squinting into the bright sun, Huy Thi Vu hid tears as shereceived Communion at a special outdoor Mass on Sunday at Santa Ana Stadium to honor 117 Vietnamese Catholic martyrs.
Along with Vu, more than 5,000 Vietnamese Roman Catholics gathered as part of an annual celebration of the martyrs, slain in their homeland from the 16th to 19th centuries. All were proclaimed saints in 1988 by Pope John Paul II in the largest group canonization in church history.
For many, the annual commemoration represents one of the most significant events for this ethnic Catholic community.
“This is a big event for the Vietnamese people because it reminds us of the struggles our ancestors went through to fight for our faith,” said Pho Van Pham, president of the Vietnamese Catholic Community of Orange County.
The Mass began as a line of youths carried a gold-trimmed shrine and flowers onto the stage while the crowd joined the choir in singing Vietnamese hymns. During the ceremony, 18 red-robed Vietnamese priests sat with Bishop Norman F. McFarland, who in his sermon lauded the Vietnamese Catholic community and its growing solidarity with the church.
“The Vietnamese people have suffered mightily,” McFarland said in an interview before theMass. “As they say, the blood of the martyr is the sea of the church.”
Among those declared saints by Pope John Paul II six years ago for their martyrdom in Vietnam were both Asians and Europeans, priests and lay people, said Msgr. Peter Tien of the Diocese of Orange. Since the late 16th Century, when Christianity arrived in the then-Southeast Asian colony of Imperial China, 130,000 have been persecuted for refusing to denounce the Catholic faith, he said.
The most famous of the 117 is Ba Thanh De, the only female Vietnamese saint.
A housekeeper and mother of six, De hid priests from the Mandarin emperor. When the priests were found and arrested, authorities threatened De and asked her to renounce her faith.
She refused, was jailed for three years and died in prison at age 63.
Stories such as De’s serve as role models for Vietnamese children, said youth leader Thong Quoc Vu, helping them to learn and embrace their cultural heritage.
“Many kids come here and their self-esteem is low when they don’t have anyone to look up to. But at church they learn about their ancestors, the Vietnamese language and can relate to their own heroes,” said Vu, 24, whose church in Lake Forest is named after another famous martyr, Thanh Le Bao Tinh.
The church’s recognition of Vietnamese people and their history bolsters pride in the Vietnamese community, Tien said.
About 350 children from various Catholic youth groups attended the Mass, joining in the service, which was led by McFarland. During the ceremony, women danced to traditional music while clothed in red and golden ao dais, Vietnamese dresses worn over flowing pants.
Dureen Truong, 10, was among hundreds of children who came with their parents. “I was excited to come,” she said.
After the two-hour service ended, some celebrants and attendees wiped away tears as they exited the stadium.
A contained Nguyet Bui said, “It can be very emotional and painful to reminisce on how the saints sacrificed their lives to save our religious freedom.”
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