03/30/2004, 00.00
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Martyred Priest revered by Christians and non-Christians alike

Bac Lieu (AsiaNews/Ucan) – Pilgrims came in droves to honor the tomb of a martyred priest who was killed with his parishioners on March 12 1946. The anniversary of the death of Father Francois Xavier Truong Buu Diep brought more than 30,000 Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians to Tac Say parish in the Bac Lieu province, 1,990 kilometers south of Ha Noi, to offer respect and gratitude to the holy man who many say is responsible for healing of physical ailments,  increased prosperity and good fortune. The current parish priest Father Jean Baptiste Tran Duc Hung led an outdoor anniversary Mass with 18 other priests, marking the day of Diep's martyrdom 60 years before.

Father Diep was born in 1897 and was ordained a priest in 1924, after completing studies at Phnom Penh Major Seminary in Cambodia. During his ministry as a priest in Vietnam, the country was torn with conflict between religious and political factions, and he was advised by an ecclesial superior to leave the area for a safer one. "I live among my flock and I will die among them. I will not go anywhere" the priest stated. Later, he and 30 lay Catholics were captured by enemy forces and held in a rice paddy storehouse. The priest's body was later found in a nearby pond, though authorities do not agree who killed him, and why.

Now pilgrims line up to touch his tomb and statue and give gifts of incense, candles, money, food and prayers. During the anniversary celebration, believers brought suckling pigs, roast pork, cake, flowers and fruit in place on tables in front of the shrine. Local boarding houses were filled to capacity, charging three times the regular price to the willing travelers. A 60-year old pilgrim from Ho Chi Minh City said that her 50-member group was fortunate to find a place to sleep on the steps of the rectory. "Father Diep cured me soon after I visited his tomb," she stated, referring to the severe arthritis that had previously prevented her from walking properly. Since then, she comes annually to thank him, bringing friends who also seek physical and spiritual favors.  Thousands of pilgrims have left expressions of gratitude for answered prayers with small stone slabs engraved with the words, "Grateful to Father Diep" to be placed on the walls surrounding the church. Many overseas Vietnamese also come and pray to the late priest. Father Hung said that the church has become a popular pilgrimage site in the region since the 1980's, after reports of answered prayers circulated among the people. It was officially recognized as a pilgrimage site by the diocese in 1996.

On February 24th, Bishop Emmanuel Le Phong Thuan of Can Tho celebrated Mass, to mark the beginning of construction of a 2,000 seat parish church to replace the current structure built in 1963. The Tac Say Catholic community, established in 1925 with 200 parishioners, now has 1,500 Catholics.

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