The feast of Vietnamese martyrs comforts persecuted Christians today
by Thanh Thúy
The memory of the 130,000 martyrs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries helps us to face the challenges of consumerism and compromise with power. The prayer for the martyrs of the present times, the Catholics arrested and persecuted by the government in Vinh, Hanoi, Thanh Hóa, Long An, Xuân Lộc, Cà Mau.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - "On my job I suffer injustice because of my faith. But when I think of the martyrs of Vietnam, of these saints who have been faithful and loyal in following Jesus, I feel comforted. They accepted to be condemned and killed rather than to renounce their faith. We are descendants of these martyrs and are called to live the same way. This is why I continue to live and bear witness to my faith at work and in society."

This is the testimony of one young Catholic to AsiaNews, on the occasion of the feast of the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs, which is celebrated in Vietnam on November 18 (in the universal Church, the feast is November 24).

The awareness of being "descendants of the martyrs" is very much alive among the more than 7 million Catholics in Vietnam and the more than one million expatriates in the world. "We are happy and we honor these 117 martyrs", continues the young man, "who represent the more than 130,000 of the faithful who were killed for their faith in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These saints are our heroes of the faith."

Two days ago, in all the churches and chapels of Vietnam, masses were celebrated in honor of the martyrs. And it was an opportunity to reconsider the way Catholics live the faith today.

Fr. Joseph Nguyễn, of the Redemptorists in Saigon, told AsiaNews: "Today we must be alert to the danger of compromise with evil and violence. In Vietnam, there are 'groups and false doctrines' that present themselves with their 'beautiful faces'. In appearance they are polite, full of values, but in reality they are neither true nor good. The danger of compromise is present in every age."

One of the dangers to be guarded against is consumerism. Fr. John Pham Quang Long, pastor of Vinh, points out: "In Vietnam, under any system, we always have to deal with some trap. We often have to face the temptation of consumerism. Material things keep us away from God. To keep the faith alive we have to go through many difficulties, even serious ones, to decide clearly whether to deny God or follow him."

"Today", he continued, "there is no persecution as in the past, but the culture and way of life marked by consumerism and atheism are obstacles that often make us deny the faith. And maybe sometimes we have already 'gotten down from the Cross,' and we haven't even noticed."

Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, provincial superior of the Redemptorists, recalled the resistance of the Hanoi government and some sections of the Church to the canonization of the martyrs. "In the 1980s", he told a group of young people, "the Vietnamese communist government severely opposed the canonization of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs. In addition, even within the Catholic Church, some bishops, priests and religious protested against the canonization, just as the Communists did. But God accomplishes his works and today we celebrate the feast of the Martyrs with great solemnity."

"Cardinal Trinh Văn Căn, at the time Archbishop of Hanoi", Fr. Vincent recalled, "even had to submit the profile of the martyrs to be canonized to the government. The Hanoi government is very sneaky and tries to bend the religions. Cardinal Trin Văn Căn also suffered as a result of being isolated by his brothers and sisters, by bishops, priests and religious. Why? Because they thought themselves more wise and prudent [than the Cardinal]. The government even put the bishop of Hanoi under surveillance, night and day."

From the past to the present, Fr. Vincent pointed out: "Recently, also Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiệt has experienced solitude and isolation because he protected the Church and defended the laity who were beaten and abandoned."

The celebration of the martyrs was an opportunity to remember the Catholics imprisoned by the government. Fr. Matthew, of the Redemptorists in Saigon, listed them: "There are 17 young Catholics in the diocese of Vinh, some from Hanoi, others from Thanh Hóa, from Long An, Xuân Lộc and from Cà Mau. Along with other non-Catholics they were imprisoned without trial, oppressed and persecuted by the government's violence. We continue to pray for all of them."